Frontenac News - Land Claim Agreement-in-Principle elicits varied responses

Published on January 17th, 2013 in the Frontenac News

by Jeff Green

The long-promised Ontario Algonquin Land Claim Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) was quietly released in early December, and comments about its implications have been somewhat muted since then.

To a certain extent this is due to the political focus on Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More protests against new environmental laws and proposed changes to the Indian Act.

There is also little in the AIP that came as a total surprise. It consists of, as the negotiators have been indicating for at least the last two years, a transfer of land and a cash settlement that includes provisions for harvesting rights.

Nonetheless, some of the municipal councils within the claim territory, some landowners in the vicinity of certain proposed settlement lands, as well as a number of Algonquins, are concerned and in some cases dismayed by the implications of the AIP.

About two thirds of the large Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington political riding is within the claim territory, and this has led MPP Randy Hillier to take an interest in the AIP.

Hillier has been in contact with the federal and provincial negotiating teams for clarification and has written to the Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, John Duncan, expressing some of his concerns about the agreement. However, his basic attitude about the agreement is positive.

“I'm certainly not opposed to it,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week. “This agreement is long overdue, and there are elements that are exceptionally good and should be a pattern for other agreements.”

Hillier is particular pleased with the process for the transfer of Crown Lands.

As he said in his letter Minister Duncan, “It is proper and appropriate that those crown lands that will be transferred to Algonquin ownership be appropriately zoned and in compliance with municipal regulations at time of transfer. If this streamlined process is practical for disposal of crown lands to the Algonquins the same streamlined process must be adopted for all other future transfers of crown land.”

Hillier said that in the past when Crown lands were sold to private landowners for personal or commercial interests, there has been no certainty about municipal zoning.

“Someone can buy 100 acres from the Crown hoping to open a resort, and then face a long, tortured zoning process that can lead to the proposed use not being approved after years of expense. The process being used for the Algonquins is an improvement; the zoning process is part of the purchase. I am seeking assurances that this will be the case for future transfers of Crown land for everyone, so there is no advantage for one group over everyone else,” he said.

Among other things, Hillier also expressed his concern about the language in the agreement about forestry rights, which he said was “disconcerting and will cause discontent unless clarified to ensure it does not convey favourable status to the disadvantage of those presently engaged in the forestry sector.”

The other thing that troubles MPP Hillier is the uncertainty about the proposed use for the lands that will be transferred and the nature of the corporate entity that the lands will be transferred to.

“As of now, an undefined and unknown number of Algonquin institution(s) will in practice own over 100,000 acres of lands and $300 million,” he said.

The Federation of Ontario Cottage Associations (FOCA) views the AIP with suspicion, at least partly because of the timing of its release and plans for public consultation.

“The Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations (FOCA) was distressed to receive word of the Preliminary Draft Comprehensive Algonquin Land Claim Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) immediately before the holiday break, and to see these discussions arrive at such a critical phase of stakeholder consultation during the winter months when many affected waterfront property homeowners and their support associations will be dormant,” wrote FOCA Executive Director Terry Rees. “FOCA notes that there has been little fact-based discussion, and a lack of in-depth consultation on issues like land use planning, enforcement, fish and wildlife management plans, fair sharing, and other issues. The proposed public consultation is scheduled for a very brief period in early 2013 - a timetable wholly inadequate for such a complex process.”

Concern has also been expressed to the councils of both Addington Highlands and North Frontenac Township from residents, particularly as concerns some of the parcels of land that are to be transferred. Two of the largest parcels are located on opposite sides of Highway 41 north of Bon Echo Park and Mazinaw Lake in Addington Highlands.

In North Frontenac, the proposed provincial park surrounding Crotch Lake has raised questions as well.

At a meeting of North Frontenac Council on Monday of this week, Mayor Clayton said that the township has been informed that the proposed park will not impact on the campsites the township runs on Crown land surrounding Crotch Lake and others in the Mississippi River system for at least five years.

Clayton also said that public meetings are being set up for early March to discuss the Agreement-in-Principle.

He also said North Frontenac has requested that a meeting to talk about the boundaries, access and management of the provincial park be arranged, and that it take place in North Frontenac.

Within the Algonquin community, the claim has been the subject of controversy for some years. The source of much of that controversy is opposition to the component of the plan that most pleases MPP Hillier, the fact that the entire claim territory is to be ceded for a certain amount of land and cash, leaving the Algonquin's with no aboriginal rights over the ceded territory, and no more governing authority over the lands that they will end up owning other than those that any landowning corporation would be entitled to.

Algonquin academic Dr. Lynn Gehl recently wrote a blog post encouraging Algonquin voters to reject the deal when it comes to a vote later this year.

She says that through the AIP “our jurisdiction, land, and land related rights are not protected but rather further denied and placed within the confines of a small box ... Canada imposes on us what Canada thinks Indigenous Nations are entitled to: a very small percentage of our traditional territory and a one-time buy-out. Clearly 117,000 acres which merely amounts to 1.3% of our traditional territory and $300,000,000 is a bad deal.”

Gehl's concern is that the agreement will not lead to a rebirth of the Algonquin First Nations in Ontario, but rather their demise.

“I am pointing out the error in the ways of so-called Algonquin leadership sitting at the table and making a deal with the devil. And yes, I do appreciate their heads are in a vice. Regardless, it is a bad deal that will only lead to our demise,” she wrote.