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Time to re-look at land claims

  Posted By MICHAEL- ALLAN MARION, Brantford Expositor June 9 2008  


To turn around an old call to action, now is the time for all good parties to come to the aid of the long-running Six Nations land claims negotiations.

More to the point, it's time to give the ongoing talks more relevance by training a stronger focus on those claims in the Haldimand Tract that currently are home to the greatest areas of conflict.

Right now, the focus of discussions in that meeting place in the Oneida business park at Six Nations seems to be mainly on the latest offer the federal government put forward about five months ago to settle a claim over the flooding of land for the Welland Canal in the 1820s.

When chief federal negotiator Ron Doering made the $26-million offer months ago, he said it was meant as a show of good faith to get negotiations that were stalled at that point going again by concentrating on a claim that was easiest to solve.

It was arguably a good move at the time and Confederacy negotiators signaled their belief that it was serious by responding with a bargaining strategy that allowed both sides to begin to move things along again, albeit slowly.

In the intervening months, though, the facts on the ground have moved considerably faster and have changed the landscape. Intensified blockades by a group of Confederacy activists led by Floyd and Ruby Montour at the construction sites of high-profile development projects around Brantford, Brant County and Cayuga, along with visits to other sites in a bid to prime the status of an emerging organization called the Haudenosaunee Development Institute, reached the point that the city was facing a threat to the confidence of the business community if it didn't take decisive action.

The city responded to the gathering crisis by hiring Fasken Martineau Du- Moulin LLP, an expensive law firm that has built a reputation on providing clients with legal counterattack strategies and getting injunctions to shut down native protests elsewhere in the country.

The city's foray appears to be bearing fruit. Since the city won an interim injunction a week ago, construction is underway on two prominent sites, Kingspan and the Hampton Inn Hotel at Oak Park Road and Fen Ridge Court in the northwest business park, and there appears to be a lull in visits to other sites on behalf of the HDI.

It is normally the recourse of those shortsighted commentators to issue the usually fanciful declaration that a government should withdraw from negotiations until a party they regard as the "enemy" halts their activities.

But under the management of Mayor Mike Hancock and united council, the city's strategies in the courts, in the business community and in public have managed to change the facts on the ground once again, by taking away that impediment.

For their part, the activists have said they're willing to take a short time-out to evaluate the altered landscape.

So, now is a good time for Ottawa to seize the opportunity to inject fresh direction into the negotiations and offer new approaches to the outstanding claims where Six Nations and non-native communities are the most in conflict. It would also be a bit of an olive branch.

Brant Liberal MP Lloyd St. Amand has tried on different occasions during Question Period in the House of Commons to get Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's attention on the need to find a better course.

Each time, however, Harper has remained seated, merely pointing to Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl to respond. Strahl trots out the line that the government is moving on the file and says that the Welland Canal canal offer is evidence.

The line is getting tired, and the people of Six Nations, Brantford, Brant County, Caledonia and Cayuga are also getting tired of a lack of concrete progress on issues that are affecting them and their collective futures.

The never tired maxim carpe diem (seize the day) is in order. Let's see if the negotiators are up to it.

Michael-Allan Marion is The Expositor's city hall reporter.

Article ID# 1064747