Some Ottawa-area Algonquin members have accused a Toronto law firm of hijacking a 20-year land claim negotiation that is close to a final agreement.
The tract of land in question is in Golden Lake, Ont., just west of Renfrew and about 150 km west of Ottawa.
As the negotiations come to a close, some non-status Algonquins are accusing provincial status Indian insiders and Toronto law firm Blaney McMurtry LLP of moving forward without a local say.
The chief of the Kinounchepirini Algonquin band, which sits along the Ottawa River near Petawawa, claims his band has been excluded from the claim. Grant Tysick said the law firm's chief negotiator Bob Potts has created his own lists of Algonquin and even created communities to construct a façade of agreement.
Tysick used the Ardoch band, a long-established eastern Ontario group in the Frontenac area, as an example where traditional leaders did not want to get on board.
In that case, he said, the Toronto law firm created a new band called Snimikobi and found a new chief who lives in Eganville, Ont., 100 km away from where the Ardoch band is based.
"They went out and they gathered a few individuals that would disadvantage their own people for money to make it look like the non-status Algonquin were being represented," said Tysick.
Ottawa Algonquin chief quit negotiations
The chief of Ottawa's Algonquin First Nation, Paul Lamothe, said he was invited to join the land claim's negotiating team five years ago and resigned shortly after because he felt the process was unfair.
Soon after, he said, the law firm told him he would no longer be considered an Algonquin for the purposes of the land claim.
"I don't think a Bay Street lawyer should be negotiating on behalf of Algonquin people," said Lamothe.
"I believe it's an Algonquin that should be sitting at that table on our behalf. I think when it comes down to the fine points of the jargon that we don't understand, that's when you call in a lawyer."
Potts, the chief negotiator for the land claim, declined to be interviewed, saying he did not want to give legitimacy to the critics. But he did say he expects the great majority of Ontario Algonquin people to be enrolled in the agreement.
When this land claim process began, only one community out of about 10 — the Pikwàknagàn Algonquin band — was legally recognized. That means most Algonquin in Ontario, unlike those in Quebec, did not have Indian status.