Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/The Efforts of the Algonquin Indigenous Communities of Ontario to Regain Control of their Traditional Territory

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The Algonquin Indigenous Communities of Canada have traditionally occupied parts of Western Quebec and Ontario. Their traditional territory has always included the Ottawa Valley and adjacent lands including the Ottawa River, which is the border between the present-day Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The territory covers approximately 36,000 square kilometers and includes the Algonquin National Park. There are presently ten Algonquin Indigenous communities living in Canada; nine are in Quebec and one is in Ontario with a total population of around 11,000 people. The Algonquin communities: Kitigan Zibi, Barriere Lake, Kitcisakik, Lac Simon, Abitibiwinni, Long Point, Timiskaming, Kebaowek, and Wolf Lake reside in Quebec and Pikwakanagan is in Ontario. The Algonquins have never surrendered title to their traditional land and the territory, which is comprised of several thousand square kilometers, nor has the territory ever been deal with by a land-sharing Treaty. As such, Algonquin title continues to exist (Schie & Haider 2015, 72). 


The Algonquins have been known since at least 1603 when Samuel de Champlan first encountered them. The Algonquins made military and trade alliances with both the French and other Indigenous tribes in order to facilitate trade. However, through this period, the Algonquin communities were decimated as a result of the diseases brought over by the Europeans and war with other communities, which ultimately weakened their political and territorial influence (Tucker 2011, 1610). In 1971, the Great Peace of Montreal treaty ended hostilities and many Algonquin people frequently traveled to Montreal to participate in the fur trade. However, when the British defeated the French in North America and signed the Royal proclamation in 1973, the Algonquins had to claim large portions of the Ottawa River watershed. These rights became increasingly threated with European settlement (Tucker 2011, 1610). During the 19thcentury, the Algonquins began to assert their rights and petition the government for land to be set aside for reserves. Land outside of the reserves was being sold or granted to European settlers. This went on into the 20thcentury as settlement continued and residential schools were established. The Algonquin traditional way of life was now under threat more than ever. The residential schools had a lingering effect on Indigenous communities resulting in cultural and generational dislocation, seizure of traditional lands, loss of traditional identity and ultimately leaving many Algonquin communities in very poor conditions. In the mid 1980’s, the Algonquins formally submitted a land claim to the Canadian governments (provincial and federal), asserting that the Crown never entered into a treaty with the Algonquins (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016). From 1991 to 1992, the Provincial Government of Ontario and Federal Government of Canada agree to enter into negotiations with the Algonquin communities. In 1994, to guide the conduct of negotiations, the provincial government, the federal government and the Algonquins agree to publicly release a Statement of Shared Objectives and a Framework Agreement. In 1996, the Ontario’s Municipal Advisory Committee and Committee of External Advisors were established (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016). In 2006, all parties reaffirm the shared objectives and negotiations begin. In 2012, the terms of the negotiations are put into a Preliminary Draft Agreement-in-Principle and this agreement is released to the public for review and comment. This is unique as seeking public input at this stage of negotiations is unprecedented. From 2013 to 2014, over 2,000 people attend nine tripartite public information sessions to learn about the Preliminary Draft Agreement-in-Principle and provide comments. In 2015, after a series of consultations, amendments are made to the draft Agreement-in-Principle and is realized to the public as the Algonquins of Ontario Proposed Agreement-in-Principle. In 2016, the Agreement-in-Principle is ratified and signed by the Ontario government and Federal Government of Canada (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016).


Map of the Traditional Territory of the Algonquin Indigenous Communities.gif

Map of the traditional territory of the Algonquin Indigenous Communities of Canada.

Tenure Arrangements

The traditional territory of the Algonquin Indigenous Communities is legally classified as Crown land and under the jurisdiction of the provincial government of Ontario. As such, laws governing use and access rights are up to the discretion of the provincial government. However, this is in the process of change. The Algonquins of Ontario negotiated and signed an Agreement-in-Principle on October 18, 2016, which is one step in a lengthy process towards a Final Agreement (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016). The particulars of the agreement are as follows:  

  •  The Algonquin Indigenous communities are actively fighting for Indigenous rights. There are currently ongoing treaty negotiations between the Algonquin people of Ontario, the provincial government of Ontario and the federal government of Canada. These negotiations are based on the fact that the Algonquin Indigenous communities never signed a treaty with the Crown, have never surrendered title to their traditional land, which is comprised of several thousand square kilometers, and therefore are entitled to lay claim to land never surrendered (Inksetter 2018, 125). 
  • The Algonquin community of Ontario proposed a comprehensive land claim that was based on the unresolved rights and title of Aboriginal people with an emphasis on the fact that land was never surrendered and a treaty was never signed with the Crown. This land claim is one of the largest and most complex land claims in Ontario because the territory being claimed covers approximately 36,000 square kilometers and is currently populated by approximately 1.2 million people. An agreement must be reached without displacing those who already live/rely on the land (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016).
  • The terms of the negotiations were put together into a Preliminary Draft Agreement-in-Principle (AIP). In December of 2012, this AIP was released for public review and comment with the aim to seek the input of affected stakeholders. Revisions, negotiated by the Algonquins, Ontario and Canada, were made to the AIP following a series of consultations with stakeholders in 2013. These revisions, which were shaped by public consultation efforts, were reflected in the newly proposed AIP. The amended AIP was made available to the public in June of 2015. On March 17, 2016, the Algonquin’s of Ontario, the provincial government of Ontario and the federal government of Canada held a voted in a referendum on this proposed AIP. While less than 50% of registered Algonquin voters actually voted, the referendum passed. All three parties signed this non-binding AIP on October 18, 2016. Now, they are in the process of working towards a Final Agreement that is fair to all parties with a direct interest and balances with the interest of the Algonquins. This process can take years. The rights of the Algonquin Indigenous Communities will be defined in the Final Agreement on an ongoing basis and will receive constitutional protection. These rights will be defined in relation to land, natural resources in the region and give legal force to a lasting comprehensive settlement  (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016).
  • Agreement-in Principle sets out the main components of a potential settlement and requires (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016):
  • The transfer of approximately 115,500 acres of land under the control of Provincial government to Algonquin ownership
  • A settlement capital in the amount of $300 million from the Provincial and Federal governments 
  • Defined rights of the Algonquin people of Ontario that relate to land and natural resources within eastern Ontario on an ongoing basis

Key Topics in Agreement-in-Principle

The key topics in the AIP include: land, land transfer, harvesting, the Algonquin Provincial Park and Certainty and Economic Development. The particulars of each key idea are as follows: 

  • Land will not be taken or expropriated from private owners and no one will loose or be displaced from existing access to cottages, private property or navigable waterways. Provincial Crown land will be transferred to the Algonquin’s of Ontario after a Final Agreement as been reached. No new First Nations reserves will be created and any land that will be transferred to the Algonquins of Ontario will be held in a fee simple or private ownership. This means that this tenure arrangement will be subject to the same land use planning, taxes and development approvals and authorities as other private lands.  Transferring land transfer will, ideally, restore sites of historical significance to the Algonquin Indigenous Communities; contribute to the social and cultural importance of the Algonquin Indigenous Communities of Ontario; and be a source of income and economic development.  

In terms of harvesting, land will not be taken away from people who have private ownership so arrangements will be negotiated for existing interests to continue on transferred land. Algonquin harvesting rights will be treated like other harvesting rights and will be subject to provincial and federal laws necessary for conservation, public health and public safety. For example, the Algonquin Park will continue to be under the jurisdiction of the Ontario government and a part of the Ontario parks system. It will be preserved for the enjoyment of all. Ontario will continue to manage the Ontario parks but the Algonquins’ will have a greater planning role in the overall management system. However, two non-operating parks along with certain parts of five non-operating parks are proposed for transfer to Algonquin ownership. A new provincial park totaling 20,000 acres of land is being recommended near Crotch Lake (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016).

Certainty and Economic Development is another important key topic included in the AIP. Benefits and legal certainty will result in eastern Ontario as a result of the resolution of this claim. Greater certainty will further help increase investor confidence in eastern Ontario and create potential for economic development, jobs and growth (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016). 

Administrative Arrangements

While regaining control over their community forests is still underway, the negotiating Algonquins team has a notably admirable administrative arrangement. The Algonquin negotiating team consists of a chief and council of Pikwakanagan and one representative from each of the other nine Algonquin communities. These representatives are elected by the Algonquin people through a series of democratic elections for a three-year term. The Algonquin Negotiation Representatives are as follows (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016): 

  1. Clifford Bastien Jr. – Mattawa/North Bay
  2. Steven Benoit – Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations
  3. Ronald Bernard - Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations
  4. Lynn Clouthier – Ottawa 
  5. Robert Craftchick – Whitney Area
  6. Doreen Davis – Shabot Obaajiwan
  7. Stephen Hunter – Kijicho Manito Madaouskarini
  8. Davie Joanisse – Antoine 
  9. Wendy – Anne Jocko - Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations
  10. Randy Malcolm – Snimikobi 
  11. Jim Meness - Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations
  12. Connie Miekle – Greater Golden Lake
  13. Barbara Sarazin - Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations
  14. Kirby Whiteduck - Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nations
  15. Richard Zohr - Bonnechere

The role and responsibility of the Algonquin Negotiating Representatives is to represent the best interests of the Algonquin Indigenous Community of Ontario in terms of their traditional territory in Ontario in the ongoing negotiations of a modern day treat with the Government of Canada and Ontario. 

Social Actors

The social actors involved can be divided into stakeholders who are directly affected and interest groups who could potentially be affected in some way.

Stakeholders (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016): 

  • The Algonquins of Ontario, which are an aggregate of ten Algonquin communities in the Ottawa River watershed: the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation and the communities of Antoine, Bancroft, Bonnechere, Greater Golden Lake, Mattawa/North Bay, Ottawa, Shabot Obaadjiwan, Snimikobi and Whitney and Area
  • The Algonquin negotiating team: Chief and Council of Pikwakanagan and one representative from each of the other nine Algonquin communities who are elected by the Algonquin people through a series of democratic elections for a three-year term (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016)
  • Land use permit holders and others who have tenure on Ontario Crown lands who’s control is under the provincial government of Ontario and is proposed to be transferred to Algonquin ownership
  • The Provincial Government of Ontario: Ontario Chief Negotiator Doug Carr, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ministry of Northern Development and Mines   
  • The Federal Government of Canada 

Interest Groups (“Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiation”, 2016):

  • The forest industry – This includes all those involved either directly or indirectly in the forest sector
  • Sports industry and outdoor recreation industry
  • Environmental groups – NGOs – concerned with how to manage/conserve diversity on the land – This could be problematic because of conflicts with indigenous way of managing/conserving vs. western way of managing/conserving 
  • Local businesses – Under current managing regime (provincial government), they are able to derive benefits from this land but that is not guaranteed once ownership is transferred to the Algonquins


Just like many other Indigenous communities of Canada, for the Algonquin Indigenous communities, their traditional territory and forests within it are their home, hunting grounds and ceremonial lands (Schie & Haider 2015, 75). The forests on their territory have sustained and engaged these communities for centuries- far before the European settlers came into the equation (Pasternak 2017, 1).Despite still retaining their original language, culture and traditional system of government, lost access to food and hunting rights is at the core of this community being one of the poorest in Canada (Pasternak 2017, 1). The Algonquins have asserted their rights and demanded protection of their rights and their land but this has happened yet. Despite guarantees to land and of autonomy over their territorial practices outlined in past agreements, the Algonquin First Nations have slowly been displaced from their land by means of mounting restrictions and encroachments aimed at replacing their Indigenous system of land tenure and jurisdiction with the laws and regulations of ‘settler society. In reality, large portions of their land have been lost to logging, hydro-dam flooding and creation of a provincial park to facilitate settler tourism and they get no benefits from these activities. The indigenous members have no say in this matter and are forced to stand by while they natural resources of their traditional territory get exploited with no benefit sharing. Indigenous communities are struggling to preserve their traditional practices and land uses, which are dominated by profit-oriented forest companies (Koschade & Peters 2006, 301). These are critical issues and conflicts facing the Algonquin indigenous community of Ontario and they are working towards getting this resolved in the Final Agreement. 

Until the Final Agreement can be negotiated and signed where jurisdiction can be shared, there cannot be a form of true community forestry. Since jurisdiction is not shared yet, no management situation in the past is a true example of community forestry (Koschade & Peters 2006, 301). Without recognized land title, which is a vital component to self-determination for Indigenous Communities, they can’t truly exercise their rights and management skills (Koschade & Peters 2006, 303). One crucial difference between Indigenous forestry compared to western forestry is a deep-rooted ethical responsibility for the land that has evolved over centuries (Brown & Harris 2005, 100). This ethical responsibility is the fundamental essence of their identity and self-determination. Indigenous people see themselves as a small but important part of a larger web (Pasternak 2017, 5). Practices emanating from this belief encompass respect for all aspects of life. Ideally, in the case of Indigenous forestry, the practice would require sustainable community development and balanced use of resources (Zubra et al 2012, 1130). For this, there needs to be recognized shared jurisdiction (Koschade & Peters 2006, 301). Uncertain tenure arrangement/ownership: we see loss of natural resources, displacement of Indigenous Communities, overlapping land claims, protests, lower social capital(Zubra et al 2012, 1130)

Once a Final Agreement can be reached, there will be a high chance for a successful community based forest management arrangement in which all stakeholders interests can be satisfied. In the case of Ontario and the Algonquins of Ontario, I think a successful community based forest management/ co-management system/joint-venture system would entail western knowledge merged with Indigenous traditional knowledge. Indigenous peoples should be a vital part of the planning and managing systems as more times than not, they know more about the land (Koschade & Peters 2006, 307). An official or agreed upon management system would serve to add to the cultural and social goals of Indigenous Communities, higher social capital, more natural resources, sustainable management, more jobs, economic development (Zubra et al 2012, 1130).


It seems that the real power struggle is actually just between the Indigenous Communities of Canada and the governments of Canada. Currently, control over a lot of traditional territory is under the governments of Canada with no agreement for this arrangement by all parties involved. As such, the relationship between these three parties appears to be hostile more times than not, with the governments of Canada on one end of the spectrum and the displaced First Nations communities on the other end. Until a fair and equitable agreement can be reached, protests and acts of civil discontent are going to continue to prevail. As such, reaching a Final Agreement in which all stakeholder interests are considered and clearly defined is a big step in the right direction.


Algonquins of Ontario Land Claim Negotiations. (2016, October 21). Retrieved from:

Brown, R., & Harris, G. (2005). Co-management of Wildlife Corridors: The Case for Citizen Participation in the Algonquin to Adirondack proposal. Journal of Environmental Management, 74(2), 97-106. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2004.08.005

Crosby, A., & Monaghan, J. (2012). Settler Governmentality in Canada and the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. Security Dialogue43(5), 421–438.

Inksetter, L. (2018). Back to Where It All Began: Revisiting Algonquin Resource Use and Territoriality. Anthropologica 60(1), 119-132. University of Toronto Press. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from Project MUSE database. 

Koschade, B., & Peters, E. (2006). Algonquin Notions of Jurisdiction: Inserting Indigenous Voices into Legal Spaces. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 88(3), 299-310. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0459.2006.00223.x

Pasternak, S. (2017). Introduction: Jurisdiction on Indigenous Land. In Grounded Authority: The Algonquins of Barriere Lake against the State (pp. 1-36). Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from

Schie, R., & Haider, W. (2015). Indigenous-based Approaches to Territorial Conservation: A Case Study of the Algonquin Nation of Wolf Lake. Conservation and Society, 13(1), 72-83. doi:

Tucker, S. C. (2011). Algonquins. In S. C. Tucker, J. Arnold, & R. Wiener (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607-1890A Political, Social, and Military History(Vol. 1, pp. 11-13). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from

Zurba, M., Ross, H., Izurieta, A. et al. Environmental Management (2012) 49: 1130.

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