South Algonquin receives special Algonquin land claim update

·10 min read

At a specially convened meeting of council on Nov. 13, South Algonquin Township council got an update on the Algonquins of Ontario land claim, some of which will directly impact the South Algonquin Township area. While the negotiations have taken nearly 30 years at this point, all parties have reached an agreement in principle and are currently in phase 2 of the public consultations. According to Doug Carr, Ontario’s chief negotiator, the negotiations are going well and they hope to conclude them by 2023 and have a treaty signed a couple of years after that, pending the Algonquin and the government appeals process.

In addition to council and the township’s clerk and treasurer Holly Hayes, the following delegation presented their updates to council: Carr, C.B. Pappin, spokesperson for the Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, Jennifer Griffin, senior negotiator with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource and Forestry, Cara Hernould, associate negotiator at the Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and Norm Lemke, co-chair of the municipal advisory committee, municipal focus group.

Mayor Jane Dumas welcomed everyone to the meeting, and after adopting the agenda, passed the meeting over to Carr. He explained to council that they would be splitting the meeting into three sections; an overview of where they were at in the negotiations, the settlement lands and municipal engagement portion and a question and answer portion at the end.

“We’ve been negotiating for a very long time with the Algonquins of Ontario and the federal government in terms of a treaty that would settle the land claims of the Algonquins of Ontario,” he says.

While the current land claim was submitted to the Canadian government in 1983 and the provincial government in 1985 by the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan (at the time, known as the Algonquins of Golden Lake), Algonquin petitions on this issue date back over two hundred years before that. The claim for negotiations was accepted by both branches of government by 1992.

The proposed treaty would assure the survival of the Algonquin people and their culture, with elements addressing natural resources, compensation, jurisdiction and economic opportunities.

The land claim covers an area of over 14,000 square miles (nine million acres), within the watersheds of the Ottawa and the Mattawa Rivers, with a current population of 1.2 million people, covering 43 municipalities.

The Algonquins of Ontario contend that their Aboriginal rights and title to the lands in question were never handed over and they have continuing ownership of the Ontario parts of the Ottawa and Mattawa River watersheds and their natural resources. According to information provided about the land claims on the Ontario government website, no private property will be taken away from anyone in this area to settle the claim, nor will anyone lose existing access to cottages, private property or navigable waterways. Until the final agreement has been reached no provincial Crown land will be transferred to the Algonquins of Ontario, and no new First Nations reserves will be created. Lands transferred to the Algonquin will be privately owned and subject to the same land use planning and development approvals and authorities as other private land. Additionally, the transfer of the lands will restore historically significant sites to the Algonquin, add to the social and cultural objectives of the Algonquin communities and provide the seeds for economic development.

According to Carr, all parties reached an agreement in principle back in 2016 which has been the basis of what they’ve been negotiating ever since. This non-binding agreement in principle included; the transfer of 117,500 acres of provincial Crown land to Algonquin ownership, a settlement capital amount of $300 million from the federal and provincial governments, and defined ongoing rights of the Algonquins of Ontario in relation to the lands and natural resources in eastern Ontario.

There was a round of public consultations in 2017, including an open house in South Algonquin. Since then, they have been negotiating hard, specifically on land and money portions of the proposed treaty. From Oct. 26 to Dec. 10, Ontarians are invited to provide feedback on the draft settlement package, and share their views on the changes to the provincial lands proposed for transfer to the Algonquins of Ontario, and the boundary related notices for the recommended addition to Lake St. Peter Provincial Park and the recommended White Duck Provincial Park in the area of Crotch Lake Conservation Reserve in Frontenac County.

Carr sees it as a sign of the momentum they’ve been able to generate over the last couple of years.

“Having made such good progress on land and money issues, we’re now turning our attention to other important matters like harvesting rights, heritage and culture issues, forestry and the implementation agreement on how the treaty will be rolled out over the next 25 years it will take to implement all the provisions,” he says.

Everyone involved is hoping to conclude negotiations in 2023 and realize it will take a couple of years to navigate the extensive government and Algonquin appeals process to get to an actual treaty.

Carr says that although COVID-19 has put some difficulty on the negotiating process, it has not been as difficult as he thought it would be having to go virtual.

“So that’s kind of a high-level overview of where we’re at in the treaty negotiations,” he says.

Carr then passed the meeting over to Griffin to speak in more detail about the lands portion and public consultations, while Hernould discussed their municipal engagement approach to this land claim process.

Since 2017, Griffin noted some notable changes to the land claims. Of interest to South Algonquin residents were some new sites added to the land claims at the confluence of the Madawaska and Opeongo Rivers and at the old mill on Hay Lake. There are also some additions to existing land parcels at McKenzie Lake, Bark Lake and Aylen Lake. There is also an approximately 750-acre land parcel addition to Lake St. Peter Provincial Park.

However, there have also been some reductions in land claim areas at Galeairy Lake, at Hay Lake dam and the removal of the Aylen Lake boat launch, docking area and parking lot from the land claim.

Mayor Dumas asked if South Algonquin had the largest number of areas identified in the land claim, out of the 43 municipalities. Griffin replied that it wasn’t the largest, however, it was certainly a significant number of settlement lands within South Algonquin Township.

“We have heard from quite a few residents in South Algonquin regarding some of the changes that have been proposed, particularly around Bark Lake. We are very appreciative of the feedback we’re getting as it helps us to better understand the interests and some of the questions that are being asked. You have a very engaged community, and they have an interest in this claim. They certainly have a strong connection and ties to those lands,” she says.

Public consultations are now in phase 2. This was preceded by a phase 1 consultation that began on July 10 that targeted residents with legal interest in the Crown lands or those landowners within 120 metres of any proposed parcels to be transferred. Phase 3, which will begin in early 2021 will be a 30-day final public notice mailout, with a completed final Environmental Evaluation report for the public to peruse.

Hernould, taking over from Griffin, informed council that Ontario is responsible for the integration of settlement lands into the private ownership lot fabric across the Algonquin settlement lands.

“The application of land use designations and zoning will bring these settlement lands into municipal land use designation at the time of transfer and will be done through treaty implementation legislation. The proposed land use designations and zones will conform to local planning document schedules and policies,” she says.

At that point, the meeting was opened up to questions from the councillors.

Councillor Joe Florent had a question about the removal of the docking facilities, boat launch and parking facilities and the parking and accessibility issues it would create. Dumas echoed this concern, stressing that it was imperative that this issue be dealt with in a satisfactory manner during the negotiations. Griffin said they’d be looking into this going forward and welcomed Florent and Dumas’ feedback.

Florent also had a query about the large nation parcel north of Whitney that abuts the boundary with Algonquin Provincial Park, specifically about services being rendered within it despite limited access, and whether there were any developments on public access or future use by non-Algonquins.

Griffin replied that as part of the settlement package, this parcel is one of three nation parks within the Algonquin land claim area.

“If the Algonquin were looking to develop any of these nation parks, they’d need to negotiate services. At this point in time it is our understanding that the lands are being requested for community recreation and cultural development. So, there are no development plans for these lands,” she says.

In terms of public access, she couldn’t speak to what the Algonquin interests were, but she noted that the Algonquin were looking to build strong relationships with local municipalities and some of them have been part of these communities for generations.

Dumas was glad to hear that, and brought up the popularity of winter fishing in South Algonquin as a specific example, and the ability to keep doing that going forward, for all residents of the township, Algonquin and non-Algonquin alike.

“It would be a very great neighbourhood handshaking to have that access continued into the future,” she says.

Carr intervened at that point, suggested brokering a meeting between the Algonquin and representatives of South Algonquin to discuss this and other issues related to the land claims that affect the township and its residents. Dumas thanked Carr for the suggestion and said she would take it up with council at the December council meeting and get back to him.

Councillor Sandra Collins had a question regarding whether property taxes and assessments in these proposed transferred lands would be under the township’s control or under the federal government’s purview. Griffin said that with a few exceptions, the lands being transferred would be privately owned and would be subject to municipal taxation and MPAC assessments.

Replying to another query from Collins about the Algonquins suddenly having to pay taxes on a large number of transferred lands in South Algonquin, and the township also suddenly having a new influx of tax revenue, Griffin noted that the transfer process would be taking up to 20 years, so the taxation issue would be phased in over time. This would give both parties ample time to adjust.

Dumas asked council if there were any more questions, and there were none. Hayes thanked the negotiating team for coming, and said they had given the council a lot to think about. Dumas also thanked the team for their update, and said that it had been excellent.

“Our dialogue is sincere and we are pleased it is moving forward for the Algonquin and for the community,” she says.

Carr expressed his gratitude for the whole delegation to council, for their attention and their astute questions on the land claims negotiations process.

“It’s been a very long process, but the end is in sight. We look forward to working with your municipality to help us get there.”

For more information on the Algonquin land claim, and its continuing progress, please go to

https://www.ontario.ca/page/algonquin-land-claim

Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times