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Dispute over tract of Ontario land clouded by history

Gillian Livingston - Canadian Press
The Windsor Star
Published: Friday, April 21, 2006

[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.]

TORONTO -- The history of the disputed land at the heart of the ongoing native occupation in the town of Caledonia, Ont., began more than two centuries ago when a band of Six Nations natives aligned with the British Empire in its war against the United States.

Ever since, some form of dispute over the land has existed between the government and the Six Nations, began living on the property in the late 1700s.

Although much of the history of the land's ownership is meticulously documented in libraries in Ottawa, the truth has been clouded by years of abandoned promises and decisions by leaders long dead, experts say.

"I don't think it's clear cut,'' said Darlene Johnston, a University of Toronto law professor with experience in native land claims and a member of the research advisory committee at the ongoing inquiry into the deadly 1995 clash at Ipperwash Provincial Park.

"I think the fact there's been land claims research done for 30 years, and a case filed in the court more than a decade ago, shows it's not frivolous.''

Sam George, whose brother Dudley was killed by a sniper when police clad in riot gear marched on protesters at Ipperwash, said the latest occupation highlights a similar dispute.

"Every piece of land has a story about its history,'' George said Friday. "Sometimes we forget that story.''

George said aboriginal communities in Canada have for years endured the same experience: parcels of land that were promised to First Nations in writing, complete with a guarantee of ownership in perpetuity, "are unfairly taken away.''

The land claims process doesn't always get them back, he added.

The story of the Caledonia lands began when the British were beaten in the American War of Independence in 1783 and Six Nations natives who supported the Brits were kicked out of the United States.

In return for their allegiance, the British government bought up nearly 400,000 hectares of land to give to the displaced Six Nations people in 1784. The eight-kilometre-wide parcel snakes down from north of Orangeville, about 75 kilometres northwest of Toronto, some 150 kilometres down to the shores of Lake Erie.

"On the strength of British promises that they would always have this land, they moved from the States up into Ontario,'' Johnston said.

"And now they're left with just a little postage stamp.''

The first debate arises early on as to whether the British gave the Six Nations the land outright, which was always the belief of the natives, or held it in trust for them, as was the government's view.

Another issue arose in the 1830s when the Crown wanted to develop the lands on either side of what's called Plank Road, a major road running through the lands south from Hamilton. The Six Nations people agreed to lease out the land, but not to sell it.

It was sold nonetheless, and the Six Nations protesters say they never consented. They also say the government didn't account properly for any ensuing proceeds.

Ontario Native Affairs Minister David Ramsay called the dispute an "accounting claim'' focused on whether the Six Nations got all the proceeds they were entitled to when the land to which they were initially entitled was sold off.

Talks about how to resolve the claim have been going on for the past two years, Ramsay said.

In 1992, Henco Industries bought the property where it was building the Douglas Creek Estate housing development when the natives moved in nearly two months ago.

The developer argues the parcel of land was surrendered in 1841; the protesters disagree.

The Six Nations filed a lawsuit in 1995 against both the federal and provincial governments over the land.

Janie Jamieson, a spokeswoman for the protesters, has said Six Nations members dismiss the developer's claim, since the land was never to be sold in the first place.

"If we're not going to sell our land, why on earth would we ever give it away?'' she said.

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