Vast Indigenous Land Claims in Canada Encompass Parliament Hill

Some claims involve hundreds of millions of dollars, and tribes are often interested in controlling the land at issue, by, for example, having a say over logging, oil exploration and mining.

One claim by various Algonquin groups involves the 8.9 million acres of the Ottawa watershed — which includes Canada’s Parliament buildings and Supreme Court. The government thought it had settled that claim in principle a year ago, but it has ended up in litigation anyway.

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The land conflict in eastern Ontario and western Quebec started for the Algonquins in 1800, when a group of settlers established a town near the Chaudière Falls, just upstream from where Canada’s Parliament now sits.

Credit
Cole Burston for The New York Times

The claims are legally thorny, often requiring historians, archaeologists, geographers and geologists to give evidence sometimes stretching back before recorded history to support, or challenge, them.

In some regions, land may have been occupied by different indigenous groups at different times, even changing hands after battles that were unrecorded. These groups may all assert rights, and claims can overlap.

Then there is the problem of treaties. Some indigenous groups, like the Algonquins, never signed treaties giving up their land. The government says it is talking with about 140 indigenous groups in that situation.

Others did sign treaties, and a government tribunal that deals with treaty disputes has 72 cases and is so overwhelmed that it cannot estimate how long it will take to resolve them.

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Jean Guy Whiteduck, the chief of Kitigan Zibi, a reserve about 70 miles north of Ottawa in Quebec. “This government is good at talking a lot but not very strong on action,” he said.

Credit
Cole Burston for The New York Times

The result is that…

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