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The indigenous peoples of Canada are very likely to be happier and more prosperous if they have lands and other resources of their own, rather than being dependants, ad infinitum.

So it's encouraging that the Algonquins of Eastern Ontario and the federal and Ontario governments have reached an agreement in principle to transfer 36,000 square kilometres of land to the Algonquins.

Non-aboriginal people who have bought land in this territory over the years – the Parliament buildings, for example – will not be expropriated. Essentially, this will be an acquisition of Crown land. For example, an obsolete military base in Ottawa will be part of the Algonquin territory, along with a lot of other lands stretching all the way to North Bay, Ont. (Algonquin Park will stay as it is.) We can hope the Algonquins will before very long become economically independent.

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Chief Kirby Whiteduck, the chief of the largest reserve in this territory, said, "We were once wealthy, we lived well off the land. Then we were begging for a piece of land." The memory of their former well-being is partly true, partly romantic tradition. The Algonquins of our time are hardly likely to dispense with modern technology or simply live "well off the land," but they should have real economic opportunities.

The federal and Ontario governments will also pay the Algonquins $300-million – or probably rather more, depending on further negotiations – as a long-overdue rent payment for a few centuries.

The main problem is a potentially vast genealogical research project to decide which natives have rights to which lands. And some Algonquins of Quebec are claiming rights to territories in Ontario, too.

The Algonquin agreement raises hope that there will be more "modern treaties" – that is, comprehensive ones. There are already several in northern Canada, but the negotiations for treaties in most of British Columbia have dragged on, as if in perpetuity.

If the Algonquin transaction goes well, much of this could progress, and actually get resolved, in many regions of Canada.

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