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First Nation lays claim to downtown Ottawa

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OTTAWA—A Quebec First Nation has filed a lawsuit seeking aboriginal title over much of downtown Ottawa, including Parliament Hill.

“The Algonquin Anishinabe Nation has never surrendered its title to the Kichi Sibi lands,” says the band’s statement of claim filed Wednesday in Ontario’s Superior Court.

The claim includes islands in the Ottawa River, as well as a long portion of its south bank that includes Parliament, the Supreme Court, the National Library, and the Canadian War Museum.

It stretches southwest along the river to include the LeBreton Flats—federally-owned land that’s the proposed site for major new developments that could include a new hockey arena for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

That proposed development is a key reason why the lawsuit has been filed now, said Eamon Murphy, a lawyer for the Anishinabe.

“These LeBreton lands, for the very first time in well over a hundred years, are vacant,” he noted.

“[The band is] looking at them and saying these lands have been occupied for a very long time—it’s now time that our title’s dealt with before the next project happens and the lands are sold off again.”

The band argues the Anishinabe once used the land for fishing, hunting, farming, and camping. It maintains the band not only used those lands, but controlled who had access to them.

The statement of claim says that, although the band signed agreements with various other First Nations and European countries, all those agreements were made on the basis of the band retaining its land.

Since then, the band says, Canada has wrongly used and sold off that land.

The lawsuit seeks to have the aboriginal title recognized. It also seeks negotiations with both the federal government and the province of Ontario, which also is named in the suit.

Murphy said it’s too early to suggest what kind of settlement the band might seek.

“The first thing they want is for the court to say, ‘You’ve got title to these lands,’” he noted.

“What happens after that . . . we’ll see.”

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