RAPID LAKE, Algonquin Territory, March 12 /CNW Telbec/ - Speaking about
the blockade of Highway 117 by community dissidents, Harry Wawatie,
Spokesperson for the Elders Council of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, today
stated that the community does not support the blockade of Highway 117, and he
denounced the federal Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) for meddling in the
internal affairs of the community by refusing to recognize the Customary
Council led by Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan.
Matchewan's Council was selected in July/August 2006, in accordance with
the First Nation's ancient customs on governance, known as the "Onakinakewin".
The First Nation's customs give the Elders a prominent role in the leadership
selection process. Since August, the Elders Council has been calling on DIA to
recognize the First Nation's selection, but federal officials from the Quebec
Regional Office of DIA have refused - basing their refusal on what they claim
is the existence of a rival chief and council put forward by a dissident
faction in the First Nation.
Elder Wawatie, who believes DIA's actions to undermine Matchewan has
empowered the dissident faction, said "DIA's divide-and-conquer tactics have
caused this". He added, "After the leadership crisis in 1996, we codified our
Onakinakewin with the guidance and support of Superior Court Justice Rejean
Paul. We followed our Code exactly this time! There is no reason DIA should
refuse to recognize Chief Matchewan's Council". Justice Paul has again been
called in to make recommendations to Minister Prentice on the matter.
In the meantime, National Chief Phil Fontaine has recognized Chief
Matchewan's Council: the National Chief wrote to the federal Minister of
Indian Affairs, Jim Prentice, on December 22, 2007, informing him that "the
Assembly of First Nations recognizes Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan, and his
Council, as the leadership of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake." Matchewan's
leadership has also been recognized by AFN's Quebec branch, the Assembly of
First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, as well as the tribal council of which
Barriere Lake is a member, the Algonquin Nation Secretariat.
Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan stated today: "It is Indian Affairs that is
to blame for this mess! They did the same thing to me in 1996, when I was the
Chief at that time. They don't like me because I refuse to bow down to them.
As a result, they are always trying to undermine my leadership. We see the
results now with the dissidents operating outside of our First Nation's
authority and blocking Highway 117. We do not support their blockade and we
will not accept any responsibility arising out of the dissident groups'
actions. Let Indian Affairs fix it. They started the problem."
There is a larger conflict between the Algonquins of Barriere Lake and
the federal government. Matchewan is accusing the government of breaching
agreements it signed with Barriere Lake; one which he signed as Chief in 1991
with Canada and Quebec, called the Trilateral Agreement. This Agreement,
Matchewan hopes, will result in economic opportunities for Barriere Lake and
lift them out of their deplorable social conditions.
For further information:
For further information: Russell Diabo, Policy Advisor, Algonquins of
Barriere Lake, Cell: (613) 296-0331