Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Log 465 March 26 2015: A little history lesson: how the Algonquin people of Barriere Lake have been treated in Canadian history: I revive a talk from 2008, still relevant

English: Highway 117 at Reservoir Dozois and t...
Highway 117 at Reservoir Dozois and the Ottawa River, Quebec,  built in Algonquin lands(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Rapid Lake reserve of the Barrière La...
Rapid Lake reserve of the Barrière Lake Algonquins, Quebec, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Rapid Lake reserve of the Barrière La...
Rapid Lake reserve of the Barrière Lake Algonquins, Quebec, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Rapid Lake reserve of the Barrière La...
Rapid Lake reserve of the Barrière Lake Algonquins, Quebec, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A friend of mine this week produced unexpectedly the script of a talk I gave in Ottawa in 2008 about the perilous life lived over the centuries by the Algonquin people of Barriere Lake, situated in the La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve, in Quebec several hundred miles north of Ottawa.
The talk dealt with the history of these particular lands which were occupied by the Algonquins when Europeans first came to Canada, and are still so occupied. But what happened to these people, or should I say what has been done to these people, how they have been treated by Euro-Canadian legislatures,  businessmen and officials, constitutes a history lesson that I would venture to say hardly any Canadians have ever learned in their schools.
First, I decided to leave aside the inherent rights of indigenous people, stemming from before Europeans came among them, rights that have been recognized by the Supreme Court, have been included as inalienable rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, although largely denied by society at large. So my talk dealt with only those rights that indigenous people have secured under the white man’s law that has governed them ever since colonial Canada was founded.
In 1763 the Royal Proclamation winding up the years of war between England and France provided that no lands should be settled without the agreement of the Indian tribes who occupied them, that agreement to be given at some sort of public assembly. In fulfilment of this undertaking, between 1870 and 1921, what are called the Numbered Treaties were signed across the country, from Ontario to Alberta, under which the native people undertook to cede and surrender all their rights  to the land, in return for provisions written into each  of the  treaties. These were, of course, woefully unequal negotiations, to such an extent that one could be forgiven for calling them fraudulent; but they form the basis of much Indian politics as it exists to the present day.
However, this provision did not apply to the vast territories ceded in the seventeenth century by the Sovereign to the Hudson’s Bay Company, in which Barriere Lake rests, but these lands were sold to the federal government by the company in 1870, and so became subject to the Royal Proclamation.  In 1912, the lands in what is now Quebec province were transferred from the federal government to the province of Quebec, which undertook to obtain surrender of Indian rights in the same way as Canada had done in the past. Somehow or other, this law was never applied in Quebec, or in most of British Columbia, for that matter, another part of the country in which treaties were, for the most part, never signed.
Of course, the lower Ottawa Valley --- including the city of Ottawa --- was occupied by loggers and other businessmen without the legally necessary consent being obtained. The Algonquins who had lived in these lands from time immemorial repeatedly petitioned to have their rights respected, but eventually so many of them were moved away that those who remained were treated by the law as squatters on their own lands. (I invite my readers, as I invited my audience, to reflect here on the monstrous arrogance and injustice of this.)
Many of those who were moved away from their traditional lands --- I believe most of them came from the Ontario side of the river --- were gathered by priests at Oka, Quebec; and in 1851 at the urging of the Roman Catholic Church, a large reserve was established at Maniwaki by the federal government , where all Algonquins were supposed to be gathered --- safely out of the way of loggers and others wanting to use their lands; and easy of access for the priests.
The Algonquins of the northern Ottawa valley in Quebec --- the Ottawa is a long, meandering river across the middle-northern part of  Quebec, finally coming down in a wide sweep to form the boundary between the two provinces, before flowing into the St Lawrence at Montreal --- the Alqonquins from northern Quebec never did move to Maniwaki. These included the people of Barriere Lake, and other settlements that remained  independently living their traditional way of life were those of Grand Lake Victoria and Lake Simon, hidden away almost until the present day, in the vast Quebec wilderness.
Barriere Lake got that name because  the waters of the Gatineau and Ottawa rivers would, at a certain time of the year, cross a natural stone barrier, and run into each other. Fish would spawn and feed in the shallows around the stone weir, which became a central place for the Algonquins --- so they have always called themselves the People of the Stone Weir.
(I might mention here – I didn’t in my original talk --- that the Algonquins have played an important role in Canadian history, not surprising when one considers they lived astride the great Ottawa river, and controlled access for the first whites who penetrated Canada in the sixteenth century. When Champlain, fresh from founding the new town of Quebec in 1608, noticed that it was the Hurons, from what is now northern Ontario, that were bringing in all the furs, he decided he had to reach them, so as to establish himself and his community as first buyers. For some years his access was stopped by the Algonquins, who were part of the Hurons’ immense network of trading contacts across eastern North America. That is another story, one also probably unknown to most Canadians, but it has been the subject of one of the greatest works of history written by a Canadian, Bruce Trigger’s Children of Ataaentsic whose subtitle is A History of the Hurons until 1660).
In 1871, without any warning, the land occupied by the Barriere Lake people was flooded behind a large dam, whose purpose was to store water so that logs could be floated down the Gatineau, to Ottawa. So, the fish, animals and people had to move elsewhere. None of the legally required consent was obtained, no meeting or assembly was held, nothing like that: the Algonquins were simply treated as if they weren’t there.
At first the northern Algonquins were able to survive, because the logging techniques used in those days were simple, and the loggers did not build roads or settlements. But by the 1890s, the whole of the Algonquins’ traditional forest was subject to timber leases, given away by the provincial government for $8 a square mile. Naturally, no consent or consultation delayed the deal --- again, in fact, a veritable steal for the companies.
From 1928 for the next five decades, Quebec province passed more than  100 orders-in-council governing the Barriere Lake traditional lands. In that year the Grand Lake Victoria Indian game reserve of 6,300 square miles was established. This is the closest that Canadian law ever came to recognizing the rights of the Algonquins in and to their traditional lands, It did recognize that Indians had previously been exclusive occupants of these lands and gave them exclusive hunting rights.
So what happened to this Indian game reserve? Well, a year later, 1929, Gatineau Paper, a subsidiary of Canadian International Paper, built the Cabonga dam to create a reservoir in the very heart of the Barriere Lake lands. No consent was obtained; no compensation for flooded lands was paid; the Algonquins were never even told how much land was to be flooded or that the reservoir would have a fluctuating shoreline --- a matter of essential importance to the Algonquin way of life. The company paid 13 or 14 people $30 each to enable them to build small cabins --- a total of $525 in compensation. Another really good deal. Nobody could say the law wasn’t generous --- to the companies.
The province made no effort to enforce the exclusive indigenous hunting provisions of 1928 ; in fact in 1936 they revoked them. Three years later the province built a major road right through the hunting reserve --- again without consultation --- and declared 10 miles on each side of the road to be a reserve forbidden to all hunters, specifically ending the indigenous “privileges,” as they called them.
In 1948 what was left of the 1928 hunting reserve was renamed a beaver reserve, in which the Algonquins now had an exclusive right only to trap beaver.
In 1945, 1950 and 1955, the highway reserve that had been carved out around the road was gradually increased in size and re-named LaVerendrye Wildlife Reserve, in which all hunting was forbidden.
As a result of this a running Algonquin battle began with game wardens. But again, preferential treatment was given to outside hunters; a large tourist establishment was built by Euro-Canadians that was given exclusive hunting rights in the area in which hunting was otherwise forbidden.
In 1965, the Wildlife Reserve was opened for one year to a moose hunt. That has been renewed every year since then. At first, Indians were given some priority as guides, but this was removed in 1980. Henceforth white sports hunters have taken more moose than the Algonquins whose whole way of life depended on the moose. (This was true at least in 2008, and I would be surprised if it is still not true.)
(It is worth observing in parenthesis that the designation of the reserve as being for wildlife protection was surely either the most farcical joke ever attempted in Canadian nomenclature, or a cruel and pitiless measure designed to humiliate the traditional occupants of the land. The department of natural resources was given control over the wildlife. But another department, concerned with industry was in charge of the forest. Such confusion gives an idea of the inchoate incompetence of the provincial government.)
In 1993 I wrote in my book People of Terra Nullius (p 116): “For more than 40 years, from at least 1919, the Quebec government repeatedly refused to confirm the Algonquin ownership of their land, arguing that it was under timber licence and within a game and fish reserve. In contrast land grants were given to the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Church as soon as they asked.” (This is a common theme of Canadian history: e.g. in the area of Banff national park, established in the traditional lands of the Stoneys, the Stoneys were booted out, while a German mining company was given immediate priority over the Indian interest. In fact, the Stoneys were confined to a small reserve in which they could not make a living, and had to be reluctantly supported by the government, so reluctantly that the Stoneys found themselves wanted neither in the reserve nor out of the reserve, where they were a nuisance in the way of tourist and other development. And, closer to home, in James Bay, the people who originally lived where the town of Chibougamau now stands had to move around at least 10 times to make way for industrial developments of some kind or other.)
“Finally, in the late 1950s, at the urging of the Church, Quebec offered the Algonquins the use (but not the ownership) of 59 acres of sand on the shores of the Cabonga reservoir. The people themselves were not consulted. The reserve was established by an order-in-council of September 7, 1961, it referred to the Algonquins as les sauvages, a term that has long since lost its benign meaning, even in French. This is not remote history, the man who signed the order-in-council was Jean-Jacques Bertrand, who was premier of Quebec just before the first term of Robert Bourassa.”
The Parti Quebecois government carried on this noble record of ignoring the Indian interest. Thanks to the PQ’s efforts, today (2008) Barriere Lake lands are subject to administration by at least four government ministries (each ministry has two regional offices with something to say), two forest management units, a Crown corporation  SEPAQ set up to manage recreational activities within wildlife reserves, with a requirement to make money. I know that fifteen years ago none of these took any account of the aboriginal interest.
But I believe a proposed new Quebec Forestry Act will set up regional committees in which aboriginal communities are supposed to take part. (This is presumably the initiative which, when challenged by the Grand Council of the Crees, was declared to be unconstitutional because it ignored the aboriginal interest. As a result a judge ordered Quebec to suspend forestry operations for six months while they wrote a new law. .The Quebec government appealed for a new judge, so the old one was dismissed and the new one  turned out to be more amenable to the government’s  interests, and Quebec won the case. Wow!)
So far as I know land planning in the region does not even mention the Algonquin interest. And this is a region in which they are almost the only permanent population.
I better stop it there. I imagine that no one here has learned any of this history when going through the education system. But perhaps this outline may give you some idea of how the Barriere Lake reserve --- which, of course, does not appear on any map of Canada that I have ever seen --- became one of the poorest communities in Canada.
When I first visited the reserve late in 1980, some four million dollars of support payments of one kind or another were coming into the reserve, but there was no shop, not even a taxi, not a single business, so all that money went straight out to be spent in Maniwaki. This is almost the definition of a colonialist situation. Right here, within a few miles of
the nation’s capital.

Long before I gave that talk, of course, in 1991, the people of Barriere Lake signed what has become known as the trilateral agreement, with Quebec and federal governments, designed to take account of the indigenous interest in their own forest, that has continued to be clear-cut around their ears ever since. The agreement was hailed by several noteworthy observers as a landmark in government-indigenous relations, that could lead to more similar agreements across the country. But here we are in 2015, and still one or other of the governments is resisting having to implement this agreement. The governments have taken advantage of a split within the community by suspending the band council, elected by traditional methods, naming an alternative band council that had to make its seat of government outside the community, imposing Third Party Management on the reserve, and using various other of the tricks that governments have always used to avoid taking honest responsibility for the affairs of the Indians whose care is assigned to them under the constitution.
Although I do not have chapter and verse for each move in this tragic drama, I know that still, 35 years after all this began:
     *the housing crisis in the community has reached tragic proportions
     *The Quebec government continues to use its police forces to impose its will on the people of Barriere Lake.
      *Children have been prevented from speaking Algonquin in school by teachers hired by Third Party Management --- a grim throwback to the era of residential schools.
And so the grim and tragic dance continues.


  1. Our Family spent over 100 years in the bush after our ancestors were forced to Maniwaki. They refuse to acknowledge us as members and the Government will not give title to our lands

  2. My Grandparents lived at Grande Lake Victoria. Grandfather was a factor for the Hudson Bay Company. They were remote and had access by canoe only. The Cedric Hotel was part of I believe Barrier Lake. My Uncle was named after the hotel he was born in.