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UPDATE: Algonquins of Barriere Lake supported in Ottawa this evening

This evening there was a fundraiser for the struggle of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake at the Cube Gallery in Ottawa featuring actor August Schellenberg (perhaps best-known for his roles in ‘Black Robe’ and Terrence Malick’s film ‘The New World’, and who is currently in the city playing the lead role in the National Arts Centre production of King Lear), as well as Tantoo Cardinal (who was in ‘Dances With Wolves’, is performing in King Lear, and notably who was arrested in August 2011 at a large protest outside the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline), and other cast members.

Barriere Lake is a community of about 450 people located on 59-acres of unceded territory 300 kilometres north of Ottawa in Quebec.

The Harper government is using a section of the Indian Act to abolish the customary method the Algonquins of Barriere Lake use to select their leaders. Their method is a consensus-based, directly democratic process, in which leaders are chosen based partly on their ability to protect and manage the land. Barriere Lake’s inherent right to customary self-government is protected by section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On February 17, 2010, Federal Court Judge Robert Mainville concluded in the case of Ratt v. Matchewan that Barriere Lake can “select their leadership in accordance with their customs unimpeded by any conditions or requirements which the Minister may deem appropriate.” A May 2010 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples affirmed that First Nations have the right to maintain control over their internal affairs and be free to pursue their vision of customary government.

Tony Wawatie, a Barriere Lake community spokesperson, has said, “The government is attacking our governance system because it is intimately tied to our continuing use and protection of the land.” The Ottawa XPress has reported, “The impoverished Algonquin community of Barrière Lake has already been waiting for more than 20 years for the government to comply with a landmark 1991 agreement to conserve the forest and wildlife, and to give them a share in the revenue from the logging and hydro projects on their traditional territories. Corporations extract $100-million a year, while the local unemployment rate is 90 per cent.”

In June 2011, the CBC reported, “The federal government stepped up surveillance of First Nations across Canada shortly after the 2006 election to better monitor political action such as protests over land claims, according to internal Indian Affairs and RCMP documents obtained by a Mohawk policy analyst. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada was given the lead role to monitor First Nations, according to the documents, copies of which were given to CBC News.” Among the First Nations being monitored were the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, the Tsilhqot’in (who are defending Fish Lake from mine tailings), the Wet’suwet’en (who are opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline), and the Grassy Narrows First Nation (who had their waters polluted with mercury).

For more on this evening’s event, please see http://ipsmo.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/poster_bl_fundraiser_may-21.jpg. For more about the Mitchikanibikok Inik (the Algonquins of Barriere Lake), go to http://ipsmo.wordpress.com/mitchikanibikok-inik/ and http://www.barrierelakesolidarity.org/.

Thank you to MiningWatch Canada, Pei-Ju Wang, and everyone involved in organizing the event this evening.