News Local

Challenge to land claim process

SEAN CHASE

schase@thedailyobserver.ca

Three off-reserve First Nations communities, including the Pembroke area-based Algonquins of Kinounchepirini, have announced they intend to contest historic aboriginal land claim negotiations in court.

Lawyers representing Kinounchepirini First Nation, Ottawa Algonquin First Nation and the Metis of Ontario have filed a notice of a class-action lawsuit against the province challenging the legality of the land claim process by the Algonquins of Ontario.

The Algonquin Negotiation Representatives is comprised of 16 individuals, including seven from the Pikwakanagan First Nation led by Chief Kirby Whiteduck. Bob Potts is the chief negotiator and senior legal counsel for the Algonquins of Ontario in the ongoing land claims negotiations with the Ontario and federal governments.

Grant Tysick, chief of the Kinounchepirini, repeated his contention Monday that the current talks fail to consult with his community. He added Chief Whiteduck was chosen to run his First Nation but not to speak for the Algonquin people.

"The chief and band council have never been democratically elected to negotiate on behalf of the Algonquin people," he said. "They are in a conflict of interest even to negotiate. They are employees of Canada. They are illegitimate to be speaking."

The Algonquin land claim covers a territory of 8.9 million acres that fall within the Ontario portion of the Ottawa and Mattawa River watersheds. The area that is the subject of the Algonquin claim includes most of Algonquin Park as well as CFB Petawawa and the National Capital Region.

Representing the three communities under the name Elders Without Borders, Ottawa-based native rights lawyer Michael Swinwood said the notice of action expires on Jan. 28 so he anticipates filing submissions before Ontario Superior Court in North Bay on Feb. 1.

The intended class-action filed in November claims that the province is engaged in discussions with illegitimate Algonquin representatives. The plaintiffs will seek declarations on the basis of the breach of the Crown's duty to consult and accommodate, the notice states.

"We've continually talked about that as not being representative of the Algonquin people," said Mr. Swinwood.

"What they're asking for and they look like they are heading towards an agreement in principle is a little bit of money and a little bit of land. It's just not representative of the land claim that the Algonquins of Ontario and the Algonquins of Quebec are entitled to," Mr. Swinwood said.

The plaintiffs are also seeking damages for the tort of genocide and damages for institutional bias and discrimination against the province and the Ministry of Natural Resources in regards to how members of the Kinounchepirini First Nation and the Metis of Ontario were treated during prosecution for hunting and fishing charges. Mr. Swinwood said they will be seeking a stay of 2001 provincial charges against Mr. Tysick and several other aboriginal hunters until the class-action has been heard.

The Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs did not return calls to the Daily Observer.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist