Six Nations Solidarity

News | Background | What you can do | Links 

Caledonia dispute far from over

Mike Oliveira
Canadian Press
May 24, 2006. 04:35 PM

[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.]

The end of the blockade in Caledonia, Ont., has been heralded as progress toward settling a centuries-old dispute over territory, but the road ahead could produce decades of arguments and waiting before the land claim is resolved.

Land claims have averaged around 10 years to reach a resolution and some have taken as long as three decades to complete, said Chief Angus Toulouse of Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation, who is the Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

"Right now there's approximately 1,000 specific claims before the government of Canada and I believe about 300 of those have been validated and are making their way through the process," he said.

"But it takes an average 10 years to resolve a legitimate claim, which is way too long," he added. "It really is a real slow snail's pace process and that's what's creating the frustration and the anger at the community level."

Protesters first began occupying a 40-hectare piece of land in Caledonia, southwest of Hamilton, on Feb. 28, saying it had been stolen from them more than 200 years ago. The land was being turned into a subdivision by Henco Industries Ltd., which bought the land from the Ontario government in 1992.

The aboriginals concede they agreed to lease the property for a road in 1835, but dispute arguments that it was later sold to the Crown.

The blockade was erected on April 20 after provincial police unsuccessfully tried to evict occupiers and it was torn down on Tuesday, as a sign of good faith since negotiations to end the dispute have gone so well, protesters said.

But there are no plans to end the occupation of the land without a resolution and there is no indication of when that will happen.

University of Toronto Prof. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux said one of the settlement options to end the dispute that has been discussed is a government buyout of Henco's claims to the land.

It's also been suggested that the Six Nations could be given a contiguous piece of property in exchange for the disputed land.

Michael Bruder, a lawyer for Henco, said he's not concerned about the land being held in limbo for a decade because he'd launch a legal fight before it could come to that.

"We're not worried about that simply because we have a certificate of title from the province which basically guarantees we own the property," Bruder said.

"If we're not satisfied with the process and the progress in our discussions with the government then ultimately our recourse is to take legal action," he said.

"There's no question that the province has always stood by title and I think quite candidly has to acknowledge we're the legal owners of the property."

But if all sides can't come to an agreement the land claims process will be lengthy, complicated and costly, said Toulouse, citing a current claim he's working on.

"We really scraped the barrels to get the research done (for the land claim) and I think after about five to six years the claim finally did get some validation and right now they're in a waiting process," he said.

"(In Caledonia) they've done all their research and have something like 70,000 to 80,000 supporting documents in relation to their claims. That gives you some kind of an idea of how complex and comprehensive these claims are."

The Caledonia case has at least one unique barrier in negotiations because it doesn't fall into one of the three categories Ontario uses to distinguish land claims.

Typically land claims are either labelled as an aboriginal land claim, a reserve land claim, or an unsold surrendered reserve land claim. But in this case it is being presented as neither, said Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs spokesman Lars Eedy.

"It's difficult to characterize (the Caledonia dispute) in a category, the land claims put forward by the Six Nations are unique and they don't fit any one category of land claims," he said.

"It's a challenge but we're committed and working hard to see it through."

Wesley-Esquimaux said a long settlement process could hurt Henco but wouldn't necessarily be disruptive to the community of Caledonia.

"If negotiations are going well at the table the people in Caledonia should not even know that it's going on, just like they didn't know before this particular impasse that there are more than 30 (Six Nations) land claims on the table."

BackBack to updates

Back Top