Land claim negotiations languish

By Brian Back                                              POSTED: MAY 21, 2009

                                                                                               

Has anyone noticed the land-claim negotiations drifted over the horizon and didn’t come back?

They were suspended in August by the newly elected Chief and Council, led by Chief Gary Potts, of the Temagami First Nation.

Normally, one side of a negotiating table stands up, glares at its opposite and storms out. This time half of one side stood up, glared at family, and stormed out. The other side — Ontario and Canada — was left rubbing its eyes.

John McKenzie, chief of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai, the TFN’s negotiating partner, was shocked when he received a memo on August 15 from Potts notifying him of the halt. It said “any previous working Agreements between the TAA and TFN Chiefs and Councils” are suspended until the community has reviewed and considered the "TAA Executive Council status and how it affects the TFN community and their chiefs and councils regarding land and land use negotiations concerning our motherland (Daki Menan).”

The memo provided no schedule or reason for the review. Potts would not comment for this story.

As all negotiation agreements were joint, it effectively halted negotiations just as the Draft Settlement Agreement was being finalized. There had been no advance discussion with McKenzie, the TAA’s Executive Council or in a combined meeting of the two councils, which jointly direct negotiations.*

Now, the fate of the negotiations will be determined by an impending court ruling on the controversial election, which brought Gary Potts back as chief after a 13-year absence from office. The decision could replace the Potts-led council with the pro-negotiation council of Chief Roxane Ayotte, elected in a re-run.

The court may rule for Potts' election, Ayotte's election or a new one. In the latter case, it is expected to go to Ayotte because of the overwhelming support shown her at recent assemblies, the impeachment of Potts and the election re-run. The court will not render a decision until after the close of mediation, underway today and tomorrow, on Bear Island.

The TFN constitution, as McKenzie noted, required all major decisions to come from the tribal assembly. Potts had tried that route on at least two occasions with a resolution for suspension: June 2005 and March 2008. Both were defeated.

Chief and Council probably could not directly suspend negotiations, so it suspended the joint agreements — which had the same effect. But that action, too, according to the constitution, required assembly approval. It did not have it.

Although little was said during the election about suspending negotiations, it was widely understood on the reserve that this was the platform of the chief and second chief, Second Chief Peter McKenzie said.

The March suspension resolution (both are similar) said the review process would include “taking the time necessary to share our understanding of who we are; reconnect with Daki Menan; address our governance issues, including citizenship; understand the impact of the Robinson Huron Treaty from the signatories perspective; foster an understanding of the court process and its impacts; and development of a community vision with one voice.”

Ayotte thought these were valuable ideas, but saw a disconnect. “I don’t understand why we have to shut down negotiations to do all those.”

“Our time has come to re-unit as a People,” the resolution read. Ironically, the suspension may have done the opposite. It was carried out unilaterally by the smaller TFN, excluding the nation as a whole.

Tribe united

Two groups represent the aboriginal community: Temagami First Nation and Teme-Augama Anishnabai. The 653-member TFN represents status Indians, defined by the Indian Act, who are also band members. The 1,200-member TAA represents the entire Temagami tribe, which includes the TFN members and non-status Indians — also known as Metis, lost their status, or their forebears did, under Indian Act rules. Until 1992, the TAA was the sole aboriginal negotiator.

Teme-Augama Anishnabai is the traditional name for the tribe, in use when non-aboriginals arrived on their land. In 1907 the Canadian government, flexing the Indian Act, created the Temagami Indian Band. It made a list of the members, excluding some, and anyone not on it was neither an Indian nor part of the band. A bureaucrat now knew better who was a “citizen.”

Over the years others lost their status, their nationality.

"My aunt [Rita O'Sullivan] next door was considered non-status and my mother [Laura McKenzie], her sister, was status," said John McKenzie. "That made no sense to me. We are all blood related." O'Sullivan lost her status, under Indian Act rules, when she married a non-Indian.

(She regained her status after the 1985 revocation of the Indian Act clause that took it.)

In an act of defiance, Potts, as a young chief, led his people to take back from Ottawa the right to decide their citizenship, the most basic lever of self-determination.

“The Metis were all organized and they knew who they were and we knew who we were," said McKenzie. "It’s just that one was called non-status and one status. We decided if we are going to court [over the land claim], we are going as one people.”

In 1975, a resolution passed in the tribal assembly calling back together the Deep Water Nation and the creation of an organization for all descendants of the traditional families. They called it the Teme-Augama Anishnabai.

Tribe undermined

The suspension of negotiations, particularly in a manner that leaves the appearance of internal squabbling, can only weaken the TFN's hand with Ontario. The province is the key player as these negotiations are primarily about land, and it is the landlord.

It is the fourth settlement round — 1980-82, 1986-87, 1990-94, and 1999-2008. Memories are still vivid of the internal aboriginal acrimony in 1994 that resulted in the settlement’s rejection. Ontario watched taxpayer dollars walk out the door with each effort. How much will government invest in negotiations or the settlement if it is wary that the aboriginal community will ever sign? Or even stay to talk?

There is concern among some members that the influence of local interests over Ontario and Canada is rising. A park on reserve lands on the shoreline of Lake Temagami was added to the settlement agreement. Locals wanted it to protect the shoreline from aboriginal development.

The settlement will inject economic development funding. That, now, is postponed.

The land claim has been a dark cloud for everyone in Temagami, particularly on Lake Temagami. They have been waiting since 1973 for clear skies.

Potts continues to file the minimum paperwork. Negotiations aren’t dead.

* The halt also created its own legal crisis. Back in 1989, the TFN-TAA did not have the money to pay its lawyers for the land-claim appeal. Borden & Elliott went to court in 1996 to collect $1.1 million. Finally, in 2003, the court judgment made the money payable out of settlement funds.

When the council halted talks, the bill came due. Borden tried to garnishee the funds that the band receives from Casino Rama revenue sharing. (The bulk of the band’s $7-million budget is ungarnishee-able government funds.) Since 2000, the TFN has received over $3.5 million. Back in court, the judge ruled on April 7 that the Indian Act protected the money, despite coming from Rama, and it could not be garnished. Borden has appealed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"My aunt next door was considered non-status and my mother, her sister, was status. That made no sense to me. We are all blood related."

Chief John McKenzie,

    Teme-Augama Anishnabai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  TIMELINE
1907 Band created under Indian Act
1972 Potts becomes chief
  1973  

Land caution – a notice of land claim – filed

  1975

Teme-Augama Anishnabai tribe reunited in a formal organization

  1980-82

Negotiations with Ontario and Canada

1984

Court ruled against land claim

  1987

TAA rejected Ontario settlement offer

1989

Land claim lost on appeal

  1990-94

Negotiations led to preliminary agreement, ultimately accepted by TAA but rejected in close vote by Temagami First Nation

  1991 Supreme Court rules on land claim: fiduciary rights only due 
  1995 

Potts ended term as TAA chief, left politics

  1999-2008

Negotiations almost completed the draft agreement

  2008

June 12: Potts elected TFN chief

August 15: TFN's Chief and Council suspended negotiations

____________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Gary Potts] wanted a review on the negotiations and he’s not done it yet. "

      — former chief Alex Paul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  BACKGROUND:  Land claim negotiations

 

 

  RELATED STORIES: 

       Three Elections, Two Chiefs, One Quagmire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

   Home   Rupert Battle   Rupert River   Temagami   Che-Mun

    Forum   Crees   Camps   Canoes   Keewaydin Way   Search   About   Contact Us

Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect. 
All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice. 
The author/publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for use of the information on these pages. 
Wilderness travel and canoeing possess inherent risk. 
 It is the sole responsibility of the paddler and outdoor traveler to determine whether he/she is qualified for these activities.
Copyright © 2000-2014 Brian Back.  All rights reserved.
We do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of any linked document on an external site.