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Harper rapped on Caledonia issue

Peterson contradicts PM: Ottawa has biggest role 'by a long shot' in solving Six Nations land claim

Marissa Nelson
Hamilton Spectator
(May 26, 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.]

Former Ontario Premier David Peterson contradicted the prime minister yesterday, saying Ottawa has the biggest role to play in the Caledonia crisis "by a long shot."

"I'd love to see the federal government say, 'We have to take responsibility.' It's not constructive to play Ping-Pong on this issue," said Peterson, who was appointed by the province to solve immediate issues to get Caledonia back to normal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assertion that the crisis in Caledonia is a provincial matter has raised the ire of people on both sides of the issue.

The Six Nations people have said from the start they want a federal ear to deal with land claims issues and that their fight is with the Crown, not the town.

But Harper said during a brief visit to London, Ont., this week that he won't get involved in settling the land claim that's at the heart of the dispute, saying it is a provincial matter.

This comes despite the fact the Conservative government appointed former Tory cabinet minister Barbara McDougall as a negotiator in the dispute.

The comments aren't washing well in a town that elected both a Conservative MP and MPP.

"I think that's very noble of Mr. Harper to wash his hands of an issue that's happening in his country," said Ken Hewitt, a spokesperson for the Caledonia Citizens Alliance.

Hewitt said it was "ludicrous" for Harper to say it's a provincial issue, when the land claims are clearly federal.

Generally, the federal government is responsible for native issues including land claims, while the province has responsibility for land use planning and law enforcement.

Hewitt said the prime minister's statements raise real questions about what is happening around the table. Who has the power to negotiate a settlement? He said people want to be represented, not tossed around in an argument about jurisdiction.

"What happened here should be dealt with by both levels of government."

Hewitt pointed out that on the Six Nations, the debate is about who had the power -- the hereditary chiefs or the elected band council. "On our side, the battle is no one wants to take the power. Everyone is trying to avoid leadership."

He criticized MP Diane Finley for not paying enough attention to the issue.

"A lot of people feel let down by the lack of support and attention paid by (Conservative MP) Diane Finley," Hewitt said. "It's an absolute sign of disrespect how unimportant the votes are."

But in an interview, Finley defended her work, saying the Six Nations land claim has "been advanced.

"I have no idea what kind of time it will take. It depends on the people at the table," she said, noting in 1993 there were 300 land claims in the country and now there are 900.

Finley said she's been in "constant communication" with Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, who was unavailable again yesterday.

"I have been in Caledonia on numerous occasions," she said. "My job during the week is in Ottawa, particularly because it's a minority government."

She has been in regular contact with the developers and the mayor but has not been in touch with anyone from Six Nations.

"I've been focusing on the people who live in Caledonia," she said, adding perhaps people don't know what she looks like or don't see her since she's only 5-foot-3.

She would not comment on the prime minister's comments because she hadn't heard them.

A group of McMaster academics released a list of recommendations on the issue yesterday at a press conference. They recommended the moratorium on development on Douglas Creek Estates be maintained until there's a "just resolution."

Professor Will Coleman said the prime minister's statement is inconsistent with constitutional law. "It's an abdication of responsibility," he said.

Dawn Hill, academic director of McMaster's Indigenous Studies Program, said that even if the right people aren't at the table, they can't walk away.

"They're moving as slowly as they can," she said, noting developers often heavily lobby the government on land claims. "Obviously the process is inept ... This country has to come up with new ways to settle these claims."

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