Algonquin Chief imprisoned for two months: Quebec criminalizes Barriere Lake Algonquins for peaceful protest, ignores signed agreements

December 11, 2008


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quebec judge imprisons Algonquin Chief for two months for peaceful protest: Crown asks for one year to send “clear message” to impoverished community

Kitiganik/Rapid Lake, Algonquin Territory / – On Thursday December 4th a Quebec judge sentenced Barriere Lake Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway to forty-five days in jail, in addition to fifteen already served in pre-trial detention, for participating in peaceful blockades intended to draw attention to violations of Barriere Lake’s rights by the Canadian and Quebec governments.

Barriere Lake has been demanding that Canada and Quebec honour signed agreements and that Canada appoint an observer to witness and respect the outcome of a new leadership selection in accordance with Barriere Lake’s Customary Governance Code.

“It’s shameful that the government of Quebec would rather throw me in jail than fulfill their legal obligations by implementing signed agreements,” said Acting Chief Nottaway, a father of six who passed his twenty-eighth birthday in jail last Thursday. “Meanwhile, the Government of Canada continues to interfere in our internal affairs while trying to wash its hands of responsibility for this situation.”

Nottaway was charged with three counts of mischief and breach of conditions stemming from March blockades on Barriere Lake’s access road and a November blockade on highway 117 outside the community’s reserve in Northern Quebec. Another blockade in October was violently dismantled by Quebec riot police, who used tear-gas on a crowd that included Elders, youth, and children. More than 40 members of the community of 450 have been charged for these actions.

“Quebec has now joined the company of Ontario, which put the leaders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation and Ardoch Algonquin First Nation behind bars for peaceful protest. It seems like the provinces’ preferred method for dealing with our rights is to use the police and the courts to punish us until we forget about them,” said Marylynn Poucachiche, a community spokesperson who was arrested during the November blockade.

Crown Attorney France Deschamps asked Judge Jules Barriere for a sentence of 12 months, saying a “clear message” was required “to make sure Nottaway has no desire to do this again, and to discourage the group – because his supporters are waiting to hear what happens here.” Judge Barriere noted that the Crown’s request was “partly illegal,” as 6 months is the maximum possible sentence for summary convictions. But he agreed with Deschamps that a prison sentence was necessary, saying it was “important to pass a clear message to the community.”

The only message the Canadian and Quebec governments are sending is that they are willing to criminalize our community and split apart our families in order to avoid implementing precedent-setting agreements and respecting our leadership customs,” added Nottaway.

Barriere Lake wants Canada and Quebec to uphold signed agreements, dating back to the 1991 Trilateral Agreement, a landmark sustainable development and resource co-management agreement praised by the United Nations and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Canada has been in breach of the agreement since 2001. Quebec signed a complementary Bilateral agreement in 1998, but has stalled despite the 2006 recommendations of two former Quebec Cabinet Ministers, Quebec special representative John Ciaccia and Barriere Lake special representative Clifford Lincoln, that the agreement be implemented.

On March 10th, 2008, the Canadian government rescinded recognition of Acting Chief Benjamin Nottaway and his Council and recognized individuals from a minority faction whom the Barriere Lake Elder’s Council says were not selected in accordance with their Customary Governance Code. On March 2nd and 3rd, community members had set up blockades on their access road to prevent members of this minority faction from entering the reservation, anticipating the Canadian government would try to illegally interfere in Barriere Lake’s internal customary governance for the third time in 12 years.

In 2007, Quebec Superior Court Judge Rejean Paul issued a report that concluded that the current faction recognized by the federal government was a “small minority” that “didn’t respect the Customary Governance Code” in an alleged leadership selection in 2006 [1]. The federal government recognized this minority faction after they conducted another alleged leadership selection in January 2008, even though an observer’s report the government relied on stated there was no “guarantee” that the Customary Governance Code was respected [2].

The Algonquin Nation Secretariat, the Tribal Council representing three Algonquin communities including Barriere Lake, continues to recognize and work with Customary Chief Benjamin Nottaway and his Council.


Media Contacts:

Norman Matchewan, Barriere Lake spokesperson: 819 – 435 – 2171

Marylynn Poucachiche, Barriere Lake spokesperson: 819 – 435 – 2113


[1], pg 26-27
[2] , pg 2

Collectif de Solidarité Lac Barrière


Canada’s apology

June 14, 2008

On Wednesday, June 11th 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a long-overdue formal apology to the native survivors of Canada’s residential schools.

For over a century, more that 150,000 aboriginal children were arbitrarily removed from their parents and communities and placed into residential schools, under the guise of giving the children a ‘proper’ education. But the intention was far more venal. It was to completely ‘take the Indian’ out of the children — their language, customs and heritage — in order to assimilate them into settler society. The reasoning behind this long-standing government policy was that this would eliminate ‘Canada’s Indian problem’. It was a ‘final solution’.

Protestant and Catholic churches colluded in the century-long profound atrocities inflicted on aboriginal people by the residential school policies.  Those running the schools committed physical, psychological and sexual abuse on the children. Children who died were buried in unmarked graves. Many parents never saw their children again, never knew what became of them.

Can we even begin to imagine their agony? The anguish of parents losing their children? The suffering of the children?

“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history”, said the Prime Minister. But it is much more than a ‘sad chapter’. It is also testament that our nation was built on the blood of the people whose lives and lands we stole.

Have we Canadians learned from our past?

Not enough, for we are still perpetrating injustices against the people whose only ‘crime’ was that they were inhabiting this land we so coveted — a land rich in natural resources which we exploit at their expense.

The federal apology is a start but we still have a very long way to go. Until we expeditiously and justly resolve the numerous long-outstanding land claims; respect the human rights of all First Nations peoples in Canada and stop building and mining on their land without consultation and permission; and until we alleviate the deplorable, toxic conditions on most native reserves, this federal apology and the settlement monies paid to residential school survivors lack sincerity. These are merely tokens to assuage our collective guilt.

Stephen Harper’s apology can begin the healing when we begin to address those issues — when we right the wrongs we continue to perpetuate on our aboriginal people to this day — and when more Canadians, not just First Nations peoples, become active participants in the newly created Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The Commission is charged with the tasks of assisting Canadians to know and understand the truth of our Indian Residential School legacy and of promoting reconciliation through new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect.”


However, for the Inuit of Labrador the federal apology rings hollow. (I heard something on CBC Newsworld earlier that aboriginal people of PEI and another province were also not included because those regions were not part of Canada at the time the residential schools were started, but I can’t find the link to this anywhere. So I don’t have the facts on this and I didn’t hear the entire report…)



Links on


Truth & Reconciliation: Stolen Children: Featured CBC Video and Audio

Main page
Analysis, background, history
FAQs: Aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation Commission
About the commission and its purpose
Commission panel
About the members of the commission
Indian residential schools
The history of Canada’s residential schools and education policy for aboriginal peoples
Prime minister’s statement of apology
Full text of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s address to Parliament, June 2008
Timeline of aboriginal education in Canada
Video: Stolen children
From The National: Can Truth and Reconciliation Commission start the healing?