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Confederacy demands envoy with decision making power

Karen Best - Chronicle Staff Writer
Dunville Chronicle
Local News - Friday, March 31, 2006 @ 05:00

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

SIX NATIONS -- The Six Nations Haudenosaunee chiefs said the appointment of a fact finder a positive first step in addressing land claim issues but called on the Canadian government to send a delegate with a stronger mandate.

They will meet with government appointed fact finder Michael Coyle if he has the authority to solve the issue of land reclamation in Caledonia.

At a press conference held at an Onondaga longhouse on March 27, they asked Canada to open discussions on Confederacy land rights worth more than $400 billion in outstanding leases, illegal sales and lost trust dollars. The land claims issue dates back to the 1700s when squatters started coming in, said Chief Allen McNaughton. "Our people own most of southern Ontario," he noted.

"We believe that Canada has the power to end the dispute today," he continued pointing out that the federal government has had the facts for over 200 years.

"Our neighbours want the Canadian government to act. We want the Canadian government to act," said McNaughton.

If Canada gave a commitment in writing to a moratorium on construction and commitment to enter meaningful discussions on land claims with the Confederacy, their citizens would leave the Caledonia subdivision, said Chief Leroy Hill.

The chiefs, who support their people's occupation of the Caledonia Douglas Creek Estates subdivision, want all development to cease in Caledonia including projects set to begin. Six Nations citizens launched a reclamation of Six Nations land on Feb 28 after a developer began building homes on land that had not been surrendered, they stated. In 1848, the land was taken by the Crown and sold, the chiefs contended.

Hill criticized the Canadian government for only working with the elected band council, which he said is overwhelmingly opposed by the community. The elected council has no authority to handle land and treaty rights, he said.

Across the world, Canada has helped nations experience freedom and this is the kind of leadership role Hill wanted Canada to take with Six Nations. "We have every right to stand here and call ourselves a nation. We need that spirit to enter this," he added.

Coyle, a mediation expert, listened intently to the chiefs' statements. Later he said there was some urgency to his appointment and to the completion of his fact finding mission but he had no deadline for submission of his findings.

"If situation continues, it will be more challenging to deal with," Coyle opined. In a few days, he expected to have a good understanding of both sides of the issue.

On the evening of March 23, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) minister Jim Prentice asked him to investigate grievances, identify jurisdictional implications and explore the possibility of mediation in the Caledonia situation. That can only occur if parties are willing and can come to an agreement on the issues to mediate, he said. "So far everyone is saying they want to work it out in discussion," he observed.

Immediately after Coyle accepted the assignment, Prentice and Haldimand Norfolk MPDiane Finley passed on the news to Haldimand Mayor Marie Trainer and deputy mayor Tom Patterson in a conference call.

Later Coyle said he accepted the assignment because he wanted to make a difference. "It seems to me this is a difficult situation and it raises important issues," he said. If he can promote understanding then this was a worthwhile effort, he added.

Now a professor at the University of Western Ontario, Coyle, who has a mediation business, spent 11 years working on native issues, including disputes between Six Nations and the Crown. While he was director of mediation at the Indian Commission of Ontario, he facilitated the first land claim settlement in the province. Recently he completed a report on land claims and government policies used to resolve them for the Ipperwash Inquiry.

Now in the midst of a troubling crisis in Caledonia, he accepted a letter for the government of Canada from the Confederacy chiefs, who say they are waiting for response to another missive they gave him almost a decade ago.

In the late 1990s, Coyle was involved in discussions on the Six Nations notification protocol that requires communities next toSix Nations to provide information on proposed developments. Two years ago when notification was sent on the proposed Douglas Creek Estates subdivision, the elected band council did not raise land claims issues.

The subdivision is within the Haldimand tract granted in 1784 to Six Nations for their alliance with Britain in the American War of Independence. The 950,000 acre tract includes six miles on either side of the Grand River from its source to its mouth. In the grant document, Frederick Haldimand wrote that the lands would belong forever to these allies and their posterity.

When asked if people who own homes in the subdivision will ever be able to move in, Hill said the chiefs are prepared to enter discussions and it is in Canada's power to iron things out. While non- natives are enjoying prosperity on Six Nations lands, education, health care and seniors issues are not properly addressed in the Six Nations community, he continued.

An explosion in housing is underway in Caledonia and Six Nations people are running out of land, noted Hill. His people do not want to cut into the forest, he said motioning to trees standing behind the longhouse. They want to keep forests standing for the health of the environment.

Confirming that OPP have talked to their leaders, Hill said police want protesters to leave voluntarily. Police have been respectful and are keeping a line of communication open, but he hoped that Ottawa would order them to disengage.

"Our people down there are not criminals. Police understand that," he stated.

When asked about the potential for violence from Akweasne warriors, who are on the site, Hill said the clan mothers have kept things peaceful but he held out the impression that conflict is possible and natives across Canada are prepared to help. "I hope Ottawa responds in a good way and in a rapid way," he said. "We don't want to see violence."

"I've been so troubled about what's going on all around us," said clan mother Bernice Johnson, who with other clan mothers, supported peaceful occupancy of the subdivision until a solution is reached. Clan mothers select and advise Confederacy chiefs.

OPP Constable Paula Wright said Coyle's appointment does not influence police response. "If anything, it' s a positive step for everyone," she added. "Nothing has changed for us. We are continuing with our goals and our focus."

Police are seeking a peaceful resolution through discussions between aboriginal officers and Six Nations individuals. It is still in the OPP's responsibility to lay charges if and when it is necessary, added Wright.

Throughout the week, Coyle intended to meet with as many involved parties as possible including Confederacy chiefs, clan mothers, Six Nations elected band council members, Trainer and developers John and Don Henning who own the subdivision. He is also interested in speaking with anyone who may have ideas on how to move forward in a quick way to resolve the situation.

Aware from experience, he said situations like this begin with people with different views. This case involves some challenging issues, he observed.

At the subdivision site, Wes Elliott who is a Six Nations resident, had a suggestion. He wanted neighbours to call their MP (Finley) to ask her to get Canada moving to resolve all these land claims. "The only viable solution is for them to apply pressure to their government," he added. "Everyone who sits on our land are our neighbours. Anything that they can do to help will be greatly appreciated," he said.

At Monday's county council meeting, Coun. Buck Sloat criticized the federal government's search for facts that have been known for 200 years. Reading from a letter from a county lawyer, he stated that the occupation is trespassing and contravenes the Criminal code because it obstructs an owner's access to his property.

It is the duty of police officers to prevent crime, he continued, hoping youth were not getting the wrong message because police are not arresting the subdivision occupiers. "The occupation is illegal," he said. Anyone who disagrees can go through the court system, he added.

While not making an opinion on the complex land issue, he advocated lobbying the federal government to move forward with it.

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