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Talks on Caledonia, Ont., land dispute on break after 2 long sessions

Jennifer Graham, Canadian Press
Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, April 23, 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.]

CALEDONIA, Ont. (CP) - Talks to end a native land dispute near Hamilton recessed Sunday after almost 24 hours of negotiations over two days, with Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay saying he was "very optimistic" about reaching an agreement.

Native leaders and provincial and federal officials met for about five hours Saturday night following a gruelling 19-hour session Friday in a bid to end the seven-week standoff.

"We're having very constructive dialogue, the atmosphere is very positive, and I think there's goodwill on all sides," Ramsay said, but cautioned there's still more work to be done.

"It's step by step. I would characterize it as 'we're on our way,' but I wouldn't say (a deal is) close at the moment."

Saturday's talks resulted in the provincial and federal governments reaching an agreement with aboriginal leaders that would have each party appoint a representative with the authority to negotiate a draft agreement, which would then be subject to ratification.

Native spokeswoman Hazel Hill said no talks were held Sunday because the aboriginals' confederacy council was holding its own meetings.

She called the negotiations productive, but admitted the two sides are far apart.

Henco Industries - which is developing a subdivision called Douglas Creek Estates on the contested 40 hectares - has said it is on the verge of bankruptcy and needs a resolution soon.

"We are extremely frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations," the company said Sunday in a statement. "We are particularly upset that no compensation has come to us from the provincial government."

"We were encouraged to hear that (Ramsay) had publicly stated that the province would consider providing us with compensation. That was 11 days ago. We cannot afford a long negotiating process."

One suggestion repeatedly put forth by the Six Nations protesters has been a government buyout of Henco's development.

"(The government) sold Henco property that didn't belong to them," Hill said. "I know that that's one of the key issues of trying to resolve this, getting Henco out of the middle of it."

The protesters claim the land was taken from them more than two centuries ago. They say they agreed to lease the property for a road in 1835, and dispute arguments that it was later sold to the Crown.

Henco said it doesn't want to abandon the Caledonia development, but is open to negotiations.

"While we want to continue with our subdivision project, we are willing to consider other options to end the standoff."

Ramsay said he is sympathetic to the company's plight, and added the Finance Ministry will look into its concerns.

"(Henco) is a small developer and works with many of the small local contractors in the area, and I understand their financial jeopardy," Ramsay said.

Throughout the talks, a barricade blocked a busy highway through the heart of the community.

On her way to a closed-door, emergency council meeting Sunday afternoon, Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer said reopening the road "would be a big goodwill gesture."

Council was meeting to discuss the possibility of litigation to end the conflict.

While protesters said the barricade must stay, it was moved aside briefly on Sunday morning to allow local residents to attend the nearby Caledonia Baptist Church.

Inside the church, about two dozen people were asked to pray for an end to the standoff, which has divided the town of about 10,000.

Non-native residents have organized their own protest for Monday evening, and Trainer said she hopes it doesn't get out of control.

"I would hope people use common sense and cool heads," she said. "That's all I can hope, is that people will stop and think about it, that after this is all over we're still going to be friends, neighbours and family."

But protester Clyde Powless said he thinks the rally is a great idea.

"It brings the town closer together," he said. "I don't see no reason why it should (spark tension). They're saying the same thing I'm saying: Wake up, government....They're just adding to our voice, and I like it."

After Sunday's council meeting, Trainer said she was "encouraged" by Saturday's agreement between the protesters and the federal and provincial governments.

"The agreement demonstrates that negotiations are making progress," she said near the blockade, while asking for calm and patience from all parties.

However, Trainer's presence near the disputed site angered local resident Mark Watson, who shouted at the mayor for her handling of the situation.

"What was she doing over those last three days to bring peace and civility to our whole encounter down here?" Watson asked. "Caledonia is being painted as this confrontational full-time place right now - it's not."

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