Friday, January 16, 2009

Barriere Lake: Blockades for Broken Promises

by Farshad Azadian
Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

On November 17th, 2008, the Algonquin community at Barriere Lake in Northern Quebec blocked traffic on Highway 117 for several hours. As the Canadian and Quebecois governments are refusing to honour their end of the Trilateral Agreements, the Barriere Lake Algonquins are resorting to direct action.

The Trilateral Agreements were signed in 1991, and included provisions that the Algonquin community would have a say in logging, mining and other developments on their traditional territory, and would also ensure that their hunting grounds remain protected. In addition, the treaties state that a portion of the profits from resource extraction would be given to the community, which would help fight against the extremely high levels of poverty on the reserve.

The two levels of government, putting the interests of business ahead of those of the community, have ignored these agreements. After years of lobbying the government to no avail, the community resolved that the only way it was going to get its voice heard was by fighting back.

Therefore, on November 17th, the Algonquin community took to the streets. Instead of addressing the community’s claims, however, the Canadian state resorted to police violence to suppress the peaceful protestors. Within a couple hours, the highway blockades were torn down by the police and a community spokesperson was arrested. Despite this, the Algonquin community, including children and elders, refused to leave the highway.

Unable to end the protest, the police brought in a riot squad. This peaceful demonstration, just like one which occurred a month earlier in the same place and for the same reason, was met with familiar blows of violence from riot police batons.

By the next day, a total of six people had been arrested. This included acting Chief Benjamin Nottoway who, along with other outspoken members of the community, was specifically targeted to weaken the Algonquin resistance. To this day, Benjamin Nottoway remains in custody as a political prisoner.

Despite state violence, the struggle of Barriere Lake Algonquins is building broader support. Indigenous solidarity networks have been established in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. At the blockade itself, some 30 non-native activists came to offer their support.

In Toronto, a solidarity protest took place on November 19th, 2008. Demonstrators blocked off Queen Street in the downtown core for 30 minutes, demanding that the two levels of government adhere to the agreements they have signed.

We can be sure that the struggle at Barriere Lake is not over. Just as the last generation blockaded the highways two decades ago, winning recognition of Algonquin territorial rights, this generation is also standing up for the survival of their community.