The controversial Algonquins of Ontario modern-day treaty cleared another hurdle Tuesday on the path to a final agreement.
Ottawa, Queen’s Park and representatives for the Algonquins of Ontario signed an agreement-in-principle on the modern-day treaty, setting the stage for the three sides to negotiate a $300 million land claim settlement that also includes about 3.6 million hectares in eastern Ontario.
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The lead negotiator for the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), Toronto lawyer Robert Potts, said the signing marked a “critical step forward” in a journey that began 250 years ago with a 1772 petition to the Crown.
“We believe that together we can work towards reconciliation and securing the long delayed justice that the Algonquin people deserve,” said Potts, in a statement.
Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Relations David Zimmer and federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the signing was an example of reconciliation in action.
“This major step toward Ontario’s first modern treaty shows what’s possible when strong partners work together in the spirit of reconciliation,” said Bennett, in a statement. “More than a million people share this land with the Algonquins of Ontario and a modern treaty will clear a path for neighbours to become partners.”
There are 10 Algonquin communities in the AOO, but only one, the Algonquins Pikwakanagan, is a recognized band under the Indian Act.
Pikwakanagan was the only AOO community to reject the agreement-in-principle when it was put to a vote last March.
Pikwakanagan band members voted 327 to 256 against the deal.
Despite the rejection of the agreement-in-principle, AOO negotiators pressed ahead with signing the non-binding agreement.
The vote on the agreement was also marred by controversy after it was revealed many of the individuals who appeared on the voting list had questionable links to actual Algonquin heritage.
A report by Kebaowek First Nation, an Algonquin community in Quebec, found several examples of eligible voters who were essentially “non-Aboriginal.” The report examined the genealogy of 200 people on the AOO voters list and found 72 only had one “root ancestor” stretching between for two six generations in the past.
Some of Kebaowek First Nation’s territory, which spills over into Ontario, will be impacted by the AOO modern-day treaty. Kebaowek, Timiskaming and Wolf Lake First Nations are currently mulling court action to stop the AOO deal. The three communities say they have about 346,000 hectares of overlap territory with the AOO claim.
The AOO claim covers about 3.6 million hectares stretching from Algonquin Park east to Hawkesbury, Ont., including Ottawa, and down into territory near Kingston, Ont.
If finalized, the deal would see $300 million in capital funding and 47,550 hectares of Ontario Crown land transferred to the AOO.