The traditional chief of the Algonquian people has symbolically adopted members of Canada’s Haitian community living in his traditional territory, a vast expanse stretching as far west as Saskatchewan and as far south as North Dakota. The article, published in the Ottawa Citizen, asks, “But what does that really mean?” Apparently, this opens up a legal can of worms regarding limitations to the rights of the Algonquians and transferability of these rights. See excerpts below:
For Pascale Annoual, 50, who was born in Haiti but now lives in Montreal, the adoption means that those Haitian-Canadians now have the same hunting and fishing rights and ability to cross freely into the U.S. as members of Canada’s First Nations. A nice notion, perhaps, but legally one that holds little water, says an expert. Canada has given aboriginals special rights, Richard Van Loon said, but the government has believed those rights cannot be given freely to any other group.
The adoption ceremony took place Sunday on Victoria Island in the middle of the Ottawa River in the bright sun and brisk cold of Sunday morning. Traditional Grand Chief of the Algonquian Federation, Leo Shetush, listed the commonalities between his people and the people of Haiti: both groups, he said, have great respect for their ancestors. “We share a traditional spirituality and common values” such as a great respect for “Mother Earth,” he said. “We both survived colonization and secretly protected our traditional ceremonies through generations.”
[. . .] The Algonquian family includes 143 First Nations stretching from Saskatchewan in the west to North Dakota in the south. Although each group, such as the Neskapee, Cree, Ojibwe, Algonquin, Atikamekw, Innu and Abenaki among others, have their own traditions, they all fall under the larger umbrella of the Algonquian family, said Shetush. “We’ve just adopted the Haitian community like our own children — they are an integral part of this community now and this land is their land.”
However, it’s unclear how the adoption will stand up legally. Van Loon, who was an associate deputy minister with the department of Indian Affairs from 1984 to 1994, said “the government’s position traditionally has been that, if there are rights — and the government is always guarded about what aboriginal rights actually consist of — they belong to Canadian aboriginal people, but they cannot be transferred by Canadian aboriginal people to somebody else.”
While he stressed that he could not speak for the current government and could only give his informed opinion, he said “the Haitians would still be subject to broader Canadian law, not to any rights which the Algonquian people may have.” But, for Shetush, speaking on land he says his people never ceded, he has every right to welcome the Haitian community into the Algonquian family and confer upon them the rights of brothers of sisters. “We are a sovereign people. We can do what we want. The government (of Canada) can do what it wants,” he said.