New report’s findings could kick 1,000 people off Algonquin membership rolls and out of land claim deal
A new report says there is no evidence that Thomas Lagarde dit St. Jean, a man born in the early 1800s near Montreal, was in fact Algonquin.
This is significant, because more than 1,000 Canadians claim to be Algonquin because Lagarde is one of their ancestors.
They are among the approximately 8,000 members of the Algonquins of Ontario (AOO), an organization on the verge of concluding a billion-dollar land claim agreement with the governments of Canada and Ontario.
In April 2021, the AOO began a tribunal process aimed at determining who has a legitimate claim to have Algonquin ancestry and to be a beneficiary of the pending agreement.
Next year, the tribunal will be considering whether 14 disputed root ancestors, including Lagarde, have verifiable Algonquin ancestry. A report on Lagarde’s wife, Sophie Carriere Dit Jammes, also a disputed root ancestor, is expected any day now.
In her 550-page report released Friday, Joan Holmes, the enrolment officer for the AOO, said that after an exhaustive review of all available genealogical documentation, she has concluded there’s no evidence that Lagarde was Algonquin.
Holmes said none of the “documentation regarding Thomas, his ancestors or immediate descendants, name these individuals as having any indigenous or Algonquin heritage.”
“No one in Thomas Lagarde dit St. Jean’s immediate family marry into known Algonquin families, reside with known Algonquin families, sign any Algonquin petitions, or witnessed or had events witnessed by known Algonquins.”
In fact, she concluded, the documents show that all of Lagarde’s ancestors can be traced back to France.
This report, however, is not the final word. Starting in February, the AOO’s tribunal will be considering submissions from the public providing evidence for or against the report’s conclusions.
Veldon Coburn, an Algonquin professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies, said if the report’s finding is upheld, the more than 1,000 people relying on Lagarde as their Algonquin ancestor could be booted off the list.
“For those people who have used this root ancestor, who are today running around town or the country claiming to be Algonquin, they are not Algonquin,” Coburn said. “These people will be removed from the AOO list. They won’t be able to claim they’re Algonquin.”
A mysterious letter
The debate around Lagarde has been going on for almost 25 years.
He was first placed on a list of Algonquin root ancestors in 1999. That decision was challenged, and he was removed in 2000.
However, that decision was also challenged, and he was then placed back on the list.
That decision was once again appealed in 2013, during a hearing before retired Ontario Superior Court justice James Chadwick.
In that 2013 hearing, all genealogical evidence presented told the same story — that Lagarde was not Algonquin.
However, a mysterious letter was entered as evidence to the contrary, and based on that letter, Chadwick said, “I am satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that Thomas Saint Jean dit Laguarde is an Algonquin Ancestor.”
A CBC investigation into that letter last year cast doubt on its authenticity.
Letter’s authenticity ‘could not be verified’
CBC learned that the letter had been provided to the 2013 hearing by Bill Mann, the author of conspiracy theory books about the Knights Templar. Mann also served as the grand historian of a Canadian Knights Templar group called the Sovereign Great Priory of Canada.
He was also one of the people claiming to be Algonquin because of his family connection to Lagarde. He told CBC that the letter, purportedly written from a priest to his superior in the mid-1800s, mysteriously showed up in his mailbox back in 2011. The letter said Lagarde was “descended from Algonquins.”
CBC’s investigation, involving handwriting analysis, archival research, historical review and extensive interviews, concluded that the letter was highly suspicious and likely fake.
In her report, Joan Holmes of the AOO came to a similar conclusion.
She said the letter is “the only document that indicates that Thomas Lagarde dit St. Jean was of Algonquin or Algonquian descent.”
And she said on examination, there’s no reason to believe it’s authentic.
“The document does not have a proper archival source and its provenance has not been verified by an archive. The document is difficult to decipher and some of the content could not be verified by supporting documentation or appeared contradictory,” Holmes wrote.
The AOO says following a series of submissions from the public next year, a hearing will be held in June to make a decision about Lagarde.