Marianne White , Canwest News ServicePublished: Thursday, October 16, 2008
QUEBEC - The Huron-Wendat nation presented Thursday a potentially costly claim against Quebec and the federal government over a 24,000-sq.-km stretch of land that encompasses the cities of Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City.
Based on historical research, the Huron-Wendat claim their ancestors occupied the vast territory - almost half the size of Nova Scotia - which includes the two cities, as well as most of the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve and three Quebec provincial parks.
The nation will seek a retroactive financial settlement for past development on the territory. While it declined to put a figure on the claim Thursday, the Huron-Wendat nation received $12 million in 2000 from the federal government for a specific land claim settlement over a 2.5-sq.-km territory located outside Quebec City.
The Quebec minister responsible for aboriginal affairs acknowledged Thursday that the claim, if upheld, could end up being costly for both governments.
"This is an ambitious claim in the sense that they are seeking an important territory that encompasses strategic locations," said Benoit Pelletier.
Pelletier said the federal government will review the claim when it is officially filed and said the province will get involved in negotiations with Ottawa if there are any. "But this is the kind of process that will take years," he added.
Max Gros-Louis, chief of the Huron-Wendat nation, said a comprehensive land claim will be filed in the spring over the traditional territory occupied by the Huron-Wendat over the past 300 years.
"It's a historic day," Gros-Louis said.
The Huron-Wendat - who originate from the Georgian Bay-area in Ontario - migrated to the Quebec City-area in the mid-1600s. They occupied six different sites before settling in 1697 in Wendake, a village located some 15 kilometres north of Quebec City.
The band council has made several specific claims over the years for territory surrounding Quebec City. This is the first time they unveiled the extent of their land claims in the province.
Gros-Louis said he is not looking to wage war on the governments and the cities affected by the claim, but wants the nation's rights to be recognized on this territory.
"We want to be able to use our territory and be part of its development," Gros-Louis said, noting his people also want to have fishing and hunting rights.
Since 1998, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has run a program to deal with comprehensive claims for land that is known to have traditionally belonged to the First Nations.
A spokeswoman for the department said Thursday the government couldn't comment on the Huron-Wendat claim since it hasn't been officially filed.
The territory under claim stretches from the St. Maurice River, in the Mauricie region, to the Saguenay River, near Tadoussac. From south to north, the land stretches from the St. Lawrence River to the north of the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve.