An Algonquin Perspective to the Algonquin Land Claim

I have a vague recollection of a biblical story from my tender years. It went something like this.

A young man had come into an inheritance, a substantial amount of gold. He took it and left the family home, heading straight for the high life. He wasn’t wise with the wealth he had inherited. He partied hearty, foolishly spending his money as if it would be everlasting. In a short while he was penniless. In rags, dirty and starving he returned to his former home and family, begging for forgiveness. The young man’s family welcomed him back into their loving circle. The fatted calf was slain, a great feast was prepared to celebrate the homecoming of the ‘Prodigal Son’.

The family’s decision to welcome a member of their bloodline, a close family member, back into their midst was a wise and proper one. The story being told today by the Algonquins of Ontario is much different than that of the Prodigal Son. The story the AOO tell, speaks of a large, proud family living in a grand house. One day, a distant cousin, ten times removed shows up on their doorstep. “Kwey, kwey,” he shouts into the house. “It’s me! I’m here! Step aside, I’m taking over your home.” The AOO would have you believe that their story makes every bit of sense. But to many, like perhaps 99% of status Algonquins, the story they tell makes absolutely no sense at all. REAL Algonquins ask, “Who the hell is this long lost cousin? What gives him the right to take over negotiations on our land claim?”

I recall very clearly back in the 1970’s that in Pontiac County a group calling themselves ‘The Indian Alliance’ suddenly showing up. They lobbied for housing and other benefits for citizens of Indigenous bloodline. A lot of people in the Pontiac saw an opportunity and signed on as an ‘Indian’. In short order subsidized housing became available to them. It was pretty crazy! Hardly 10 years before the Indian Alliance appeared, the Dumont family (my family) was on their own as ‘Indians’ in the Pontiac. But with the creation of the Indian Alliance and the promise of something in it for them, people who had shouted at the Dumont family to ”Go back where you came from, you damn Indians” or “Monje Savage” or “Fuckin’ Redskins” were all of a sudden identifying as Indians. None of them were identifying as ‘Algonquin’, only as Indians (this is an important fact, keep reading). Today, those former Indians are referring to themselves as ‘Off Reserve Algonquins’. I expect that they’ll be making a push to be recognized as legitimate voters in our land claim in the near future.

The experience of the Dumont Family in Pontiac County is more likely than not to be also that of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn. People who cussed down ‘Reserve Indians’ back in the 50’s and 60’s are now claiming to be Algonquins. Not only are they claiming to be Algonquins but they expect to have voting rights when Algonquins eventually decide what will be proper compensation for our unceded territory.

On the matter of blood quantum and how and why it matters on the topic of the Algonquin land claim, my feelings are this: The Algonquins who endured the oppression of the Indian Act and have become known as ‘Status Indians’ should decide on what blood quantum is acceptable to those who hope to have a vote on our land claim. If your blood quantum is at a level deemed to be too low by the Algonquin Nation, then step back. You do not have a right to a vote.

The AOO tell us that they “lived as Algonquins”. Let them agree then that investigators randomly choose 500 from the 1000’s of them claiming today to be ‘Real Algonquins’. If they are indeed REAL Algonquins, they won’t mind to be scrutinized so as to prove their claim of blood quantum and/or Algonquin ancestry. I know that in Pontiac County, members of the Indian Alliance did not ID as ‘Algonquin’. I recall a lot of them saying, “My grandma told us that her grandma was an Indian” (could have been Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk etc. etc.). Such a revelation should not give a person voting rights in our land claim. An Algonquin Chief recently stated, “The AOO are Michelle Latimer times five thousand.” The land claim cannot be partially settled as the AOO would do in Ontario. A land claim can only be settled in its entirety. The Michelle Latimer types do not have voting rights.

I end by saying that those people of my long ago memories who claimed ‘Indian’ bloodline will never become the Prodigal Son, to be welcomed with open arms as members of the Algonquin Nation. The Indian Act, for all of its destructive measures, clearly defines what an ‘Indian’ is. We do not need the Crown to tell us who we are and we’ll never let go of our right to say who it is that we bring into our community as a strong and contributing member.

Check out the song ‘Where Were You When’, one of my heroes sang. The words are as follows:

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN

Where were you when we needed you our friend
Where were you when we needed you to bend
Now you claim to be part Sioux or Cherokee
But where were you when we came close to the end?
When our land was being stolen, you just stood by
When we were being massacred, you didn’t even cry
When they put us on reservations, you didn’t lose any sleep
When we were starving half to death, you had enough to eat.
Where were you when we needed you our friend
Where were you when we needed you to bend
Now you claim to be part Sioux or Cherokee
But where were you when we came close to the end?
When we had no voice, you never said a word
When we cried out to you, you never even heard
When our freedom was bein’ denied, you never questioned why
And when we needed help, somehow the well was always dry
And, where were you when we needed you our friend
Where were you when we needed you to bend
Now you claim to be part Sioux or Cherokee
But where were you when we came close to the end?
Where were you when we needed you our friend
Where were you when we needed you to bend
Now you claim to be part Sioux or Cherokee
But where were you when we came close to the end?

Floyd Red Crow Westerman

Keep the Circle Strong,

South Wind (Albert Dumont)

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2 Responses to An Algonquin Perspective to the Algonquin Land Claim

  1. Robert Ransom says:

    Kwe my friend, your words pierce the clouds and let the sun shine down on the reality of the world.

  2. Chris says:

    It’s important to know that when Pikwakanagan started this claim, they went to every Algonquin Nation and asked them to join. They all said ‘we aren’t ready’. All Algonquin First Nations have been repeatedly invited to the table, negotiations, businesses and more and yet they don’t show up. As a member of Pikwakanagan I have been repeatedly been treated badly by other Algonquins, punished for something that started before I was old enough to vote, living off reserve and too young to understand the importance of what was happening. Do I support the AOO? I still don’t know, I know that there are at least 2 ANRs who are status members yet they advocate for the non-members. This issue is bigger and more faceted than people realize. Our leaders in the past have a lot of explaining to do from both sides of the river. It won’t happen, but it seems that river will always divide us regardless. There has to be a better way forward but no one seems to want the division to end.

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