“It’s going to kill our identity”: The Algonquin of Barriere Lake Defend Their Lands and Waters from Mining

Since September of 2016 the Algonquin of Barriere Lake (ABL) have had a land protection camp set up to block the junior mining company Copper One from drilling.

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Copper One needs to cut trees before they can build the access roads they will need to start core sample drilling for their proposed copper mine.  To date the Quebec government has not issued the necessary permits for Copper One to begin cutting, but the permit could be issued any day now.

Although there are twelve mining companies with claims in ABL’s territory, ninety percent or more belong to Copper One.

I spoke with Michel Thusky, an Elder from the community of Barriere Lake, on Monday, Dec. 18.  “It’s going to kill our identity,” he said, referring to Copper One’s plan to dig mines in ABL’s territory.

“It’s going to destroy everything, the waters that we rely on, the spawning areas, and all those wildlife habitats.  It’s definitely going to have a, you know, irreparable damage to our way of life.”

The Quebec Government Fails to Honour its Word

Since 2015 ABL has been in negotiations with the Quebec government on a sustainable development and resource co-management plan for the 10,000 square kilometers of their traditional territory.  The 2015 negotiations built on the previous trilateral and bilateral agreements reached with the Federal and Provincial governments in 1991 and 1998.  For the ABL one of the goals of the 2015 negotiations with Quebec was to have the bilateral agreement implemented.

However, in the midst of these negotiations, the Ministry  of Energy and Natural Resources reactivated the mining claims for ABL’s territory.  Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada said that the mining companies and the provincial government had, in 2011, mutually agreed “to suspend the claims because of opposition from the community [of Barriere Lake].”

This summer, said Lapointe, the Quebec government, “reactivated those claims without previous notice, previous information, previous consultation.”

Whether the decision by one ministry of the Quebec government to reactivate the mining claims while another ministry was negotiating a sustainable management and resource co-management plan with ABL was an intentional ploy to sabotage these negotiations remains an open question.

Mining Watch Canada is part of the “Ministry of Mines Canada” consulting committee. Ugo Lapointe said that the Provincial government informally confirmed to Mining Watch that “they were under pressure from [CopperOne] to reactivate those claims.”

The Trilateral Agreement

Michel Thusky wants the Provincial government “to designate the trilateral territory as a no mining zone.”

In 1991, ABL blockaded Highway 117.  Highway 117 links all of South-Eastern Quebec to Montreal and Ottawa, and is the only highway in the area.  As a result of this blockade, the Federal government entered into negotiations with the community, resulting eventually in the Trilateral agreement.

The Trilateral agreement was considered to be “trailblazing” by the UN.  In addition to environmental protection, sustainable development and resource co-management, the agreement is completely separate from the Federal government’s Comprehensive Land Claims Policy.  The Comprehensive Land Claim Policy forces First Nations to extinguish their Aboriginal Rights and Title in exchange for land in fee simple, and tiny lump sum payments.

Ever since, ABL has been fighting to have the Trilateral agreement implemented, despite government opposition.  This opposition has included dirty tricks, such as recognizing a pro-government faction as the legitimate leadership of the community, and using section 74 of the Indian Act to impose the band council system on the community which had until then governed itself using its traditional governance system.

Despite the Federal and Quebec governments’ efforts to divide and rule them, the ABL persist in fighting for the Trilateral Agreement, for a return to their customary governance system, and to defend the land, and the water.

When I asked Elder Thusky what people could do to help he said, “We will need some financial assistance to cover with the legal fees.”

To donate money for the Algonquin of Barriere Lake’s Legal Defence Fund, visit: http://www.barrierelakesolidarity.org/

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