The three groups negotiating an Ontario Algonquin land claims settlement have released a draft agreement-in-principle (AIP).
Even if the document, worked out by Algonquin representatives and the provincial and federal governments, is accepted by all sides, it could still take another four or five years before a final settlement is in place, says lawyer Bob Potts, the chief negotiator for the Algonquins of Ontario.
But public meetings, to provide an overview of the draft AIP and field questions, are expected to take place in March 2013 in eight communities — Pembroke, Perth, Mattawa, Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Bancroft and North Bay.
“It is still a preliminary draft,” said Potts. “The intention is to have some discussions with the public at large, including the Algonquin public, to make sure we’re heading in the right direction.”
Eventual approval would have to come from more than 8,000 registered voters.The voters come from 10 Algonquin communities (including Pikwakanagan, Greater Golden Lake, Bonnechere Algonquins, and Whitney and Area Algonquins), and then from the Ontario and federal governments.
The public meetings might have been earlier, but business has been delayed somewhat because Potts is recovering from January 2013 knee-replacement surgery.
The draft deal suggests the Algonquins would receive 184 square miles of Crown land in eastern Ontario and $300 million.
“The preliminary draft AIP just released for public review is not a final product,” said Durga Thiru, senior issues co-ordinator at the provincial Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.
“Although it is a milestone in the negotiation process, additional public consultation is being undertaken by the parties before a final draft AIP will be completed.
“Once that occurs, the Algonquins will prepare to put the draft AIP to a vote of their membership, possibly in mid-2013.”
After that, there will be more negotiations.
“If approved by all three parties, an AIP will form the basis for a number of years of negotiations and public consultations in crafting a Final Settlement Agreement,” said Thiru.
“Such a Final Settlement Agreement would have to be formally approved by all three parties. If approved by the three parties, and then given legal force through legislation, a lengthy process of implementing the terms of a Final Agreement would begin.”
Last week, Brian Crane, the chief negotiator for the Ontario government, and Potts both spoke to The Renfrew Mercury about the draft AIG.
If approved, this agreement would be the first Aboriginal land claim to result in a treaty in Ontario since 1924.
With the treaty, Crane said he believes “the conditions for the Algonquins will improve immensely and the business climate will improve. It’s a major piece of unfinished business, to get this resolved for Ontario and for Canada as well.”
Major components of the draft agreement include the provision of land, harvesting rights and a financial package.
Harvesting rights refers to hunting, fishing and trapping, including rights to do so in Algonquin Provincial Park according to guidelines that include a fish management plan.
Crane says there will be no change in Algonquin Provincial Park administration, but the Algonquins are to be consulted on the park’s use and development, possibly through an Algonquin central liaison group.
Economic development is a major theme of the agreement, with $300 million (based on December 2011 values and adjusted for inflation upon transfer) scheduled to go to an Algonquin institution or institutions.
Also, land transferred to the Alqonquins will be subject to local municipal taxes, but not until it is developed.
Some financial compensation will also have to be provided to the County of Renfrew, from the provincial and federal governments, for more than 30,000 acres of land in the Jacks Lake area, just east of Round Lake, in Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Township and Laurentian Valley. This map, and others that are part of the draft AIG, can be viewed at www.aboriginalaffairs.gov.on.ca. The website features 11 maps, including map G for Renfrew County proposed Algonquin settlement lands, and the entire text of the draft AIP.
Land proposed for transfer includes more than 200 parcels of provincial Crown land ranging in size from a few acres to more than 30,000 acres, for a total of not less than 117,500 acres.
Lands proposed for transfer include Westmeath (Bellows Bay) Provincial Park, which will be renamed by the Algonquins and Ontario.
A final agreement would also establish a recommended addition to Lake St. Peter Provincial Park and a recommended provincial park in the Crotch Lake area.
“It’s really an attempt,” says Potts of the AIG, “to provide certainty and clarity to the rights within the Algonquins in the settlement area … and it provides a roadmap for an ongoing relationship with those people that share that area with them.
“There are a variety of issues, like land and development and the parks, that factor into the relationship. All of this is in aid of what I would describe as reconciliation … of past grievances, and trying to bring the relationship into a well-articulated historic document.”
The more than $300 million in financial payout, said Potts, is to be used for economic development, to supplement social services, to stimulate social programs yet to be developed, to provide future education and other stimuli for Algonquins for generations to come.
Putting the eventual treaty together, says Potts, is probably a three- or four-year process. The treaty would then be subject to approval by the Ontario and federal governments before becoming constitutionally-entrenched.
The negotiator says it’s important the general public in the affected areas “needs to know that this is a piece of unfinished business that has been waiting to be finalized for a very long period of time. It was started by people to bring this to conclusion almost a quarter of a millennium ago.
“We’re doing our best to reconcile these various issues,” added Potts.
“I can tell the people that are not a part of the direct negotiations … that we have made a real honest effort to put together an agreement that would be fair to the Algonquins while not overly intrusive to the public that we recognize are our neighbours in the region.”