Six Nations Solidarity

News | Background | What you can do | Links 

Spirit of the age

After Caledonia, many native leaders say the old way of settling (or ignoring) land claims is dead

Rob Ferguson - Queen's Park Bureau
Toronto Star
Jul. 8, 2006. 01:00 AM

[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.]

While casual observers see conflict in the 130-day standoff in Caledonia, many aboriginal people see the grassroots of a new civil rights movement.

The occupation of a housing development to back an officially recognized 200-year-old land claim has been the young native generation's wake-up call that the slow, cumbersome process for settling claims needs a massive overhaul.

"Caledonia has galvanized it," says Dawn Martin-Hill, a Six Nations woman who heads the indigenous studies program at McMaster University in Hamilton and has taught more than 1,000 students in 10 years.

"They're young and educated and know their rights. And they know that doing it the way their parents and grandparents did it didn't work."

With more than half of Canada's aboriginal population under age 25, and more going to university and college than ever, there is potential for a new generation of leaders to rise.

In 1952, there were two native students in university or college in Canada. In 1969 there were 100. Today there are about 30,000, according to the Assembly of First Nations.

As the first major incident since the occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park that led to the police killing of native Dudley George a decade ago, Caledonia serves as a reminder there's plenty of work to do.

Stacey Green, 24, of Six Nations, a recent Brock University child and youth studies graduate who's been to the Caledonia standoff several times, said the young native people there are not looking for violence.

"So many young people aren't there to fight," she says.

"It's not just a political thing for us, it's a spiritual thing. It's for future generations," adds Green, taking a break from babysitting six nieces and nephews on a warm July afternoon.

Green is trying to spark a movement for civil rights, led by youth, but warns that "if we make one wrong move, it's going to reflect badly on us."

"We're trying to educate people about who we are and what our fight is. It's time for the youth to step up."

She is an activist with Spirit of the Youth, a group formed two years ago to impress upon young aboriginal people the need to "stand up for our rights and land" and build awareness of their culture and history.

We promised to follow through with it and live by it," says Green, who spent the last year in an intensive course with 10 others, learning the Mohawk language.

The Six Nations alone have 20 outstanding land claims along the Grand River corridor near Caledonia. There are another 40-odd claims from other native groups across the province, including one involving much of Toronto and another stretching from Algonquin Park to Ottawa.

No one knows how much they will cost to settle.

But with the average land claim taking 27 years to negotiate, according to the Assembly of First Nations, the money question is moot for now.

"Under the current system we're never going to be able to resolve these claims," says Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, noting there are 1,000 land claims across Canada and only 300 have been researched and recognized as legitimate by the federal government.

"It takes forever."

For example, negotiations on the Toronto claim by the Mississaugas of the New Credit, whose reserve is near Hagersville south of Hamilton, are proceeding at the pace of one day a month.

The claim was filed in 1987 but it took 15 years of research before the federal government recognized it. The one-day-a-month talks began in 2002.

"It's ridiculous, it doesn't give you time to get into the nitty-gritty," says Chief Bryan LaForme, who notes one appraiser recently put the value of the land and buildings on the Toronto claim at up to $400 billion. "We know we're not going to get that kind of money."

Money and land from claim settlements, a process led by the federal government with provincial participation, are needed to "revitalize" native communities struggling with high unemployment, poverty, substandard housing and, in many cases, water that has to be boiled before drinking, adds Fontaine, who is up for re-election next week.

He has been pushing federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to make changes to speed up the claims process. He was "frustrated" last week when the federal government announced billions in new spending for military transport aircraft and other equipment.

"They couldn't find the money to follow through on the Kelowna accord," he says, referring to the major aboriginal funding deal reached by then-prime minister Paul Martin and the provinces late last year.

"We're very disappointed."

A spokeswoman for Prentice blames the previous Liberal government that took power in 1993 for not doing more to fix the claims process. The backlog of claims doubled during a dozen years of Liberal rule.

"That's simply not acceptable," says Deirdra McCracken, who says Prentice has asked officials for proposals to ease the crunch.

Native leaders and observers say more needs to be done in getting the Canadian public on side for speedier claim settlements, both to help aboriginal communities develop and ease the strain that occupations like the one in Caledonia caused.

Barricades erected by native protestors in the town south of Hamilton forced townspeople and tourists to take long detours and disrupted daily life, hurting businesses. Premier Dalton McGuinty eventually agreed to buy out the subdivision developer and offer cash compensation to business owners.

"There's a real interest in whether these things can be solved more quickly for everyone's benefit," says Cynthia Wesley-Esquimau, an instructor in the University of Toronto aboriginal studies program.

Fontaine praises the Ontario government for its buyout in Caledonia as an interim step to ease tensions. "If the same consideration went into other situations ... that wouldn't be such a bad outcome."

One of the problems in settling land claims is that there are a limited number of people working in the field, either as negotiators or researching claims through centuries-old treaties.

Another is that the plight of Canada's native people hasn't captured the public imagination the way the U.S. civil rights struggle did for blacks in the 1950s or for blacks suffering under apartheid in South Africa, native leaders say.

What's needed, says McMaster professor Martin-Hill, is a native Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, the black woman who made history by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus.

"We have to have our own person that will take the bull by the horns and say, 'We're not riding the back of the bus anymore,'" says Laforme.

BackBack to updates

Back Top