Development must stop on our land

Natives protest city site; ‘Development must stop on our land’

By John Paul Zronik
Brantford Expositor
Saturday, October 20, 2007

Members of Six Nations staged a 12-hour protest Friday at Henry Street and Wayne Gretzky Parkway, halting construction of a $40-million commercial development.

The peaceful protest was in reaction to a provincial statement made Thursday that a new Six Nations development institute has no right to charge fees or demand permits for construction on lands within the Haldimand Tract, the six miles on either side of the Grand River at one time granted to Six Nations.

“The provincial government has made statements that constitute a direct assault on our people,” said Six Nations spokeswoman Ruby Montour. “The statements made (by the province) go right to the core of our existence, our land.

“To be very clear, development must stop on our land. We will not go away and we will not be silenced.”

First Gulf Development Corp., based in Mississauga, is planning a 267,000-square-foot commercial centre on the 24-acre site. The protesters say the land belongs to Six Nations.

About a dozen natives arrived at 6:30 a.m., blocking the site entrance to stop workers from driving in. They erected Six Nations flags and signs that read “Six Nations Land” and “Your Lease is Up.” City police monitored the site during the protest, which ended at about 6 p.m.

The First Gulf development was also the site of a Six Nations protest in March, when natives asked for a delay in work until the company met with the Six Nations Confederacy.

The position put forward by the province on Thursday said Six Nations has no right to stop developments in the Haldimand Tract, but that mechanisms to consult with Six Nations about land use need to be further developed.

“Consultation does not mean a veto over development,” the provincial statement said. “Nor does consultation require developers to pay licensing fees or taxes to the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI).”

The development institute was recently created by the Confederacy as a mechanism for native approval of development taking place within the Haldimand Tract. The Confederacy has said developers will be granted construction approvals if they consent to enter agreements deemed necessary by the HDI, including the payment of development fees.

In an interview Friday, Murray Coolican, principle representative for Ontario in land claims negotiations with Six Nations, repeated the government’s position that the HDI has no authority to stop development or charge development fees.

But he said the HDI could serve a useful purpose in providing a mechanism for dialogue between Six Nations, municipalities and the province.

“The role that HDI can play is to provide an entry point for municipalities and the provincial government to consult the broader Six Nations community about development issues,” Coolican said. “I certainly hope we can get a consultation process that works for all.”

Coolican said the province is not prepared to make private property any part of a land claims settlement with Six Nations. He said some owners are worried they will lose the title to their properties once a settlement is reached.

“Ontario’s position is that private property owners have title to their properties,” Coolican said.

The Confederacy says the province’s position will worsen relations between Six Nations and government.

“Ontario has chosen… to proceed in what can only be seen as an attempt to incite violence and raise doubt and more confusion in the minds of their own people and ours here at Six Nations,” a Confederacy press release said.

Montour said the province showed a lack of respect to Confederacy chiefs and the Six Nations people with its statement this week.

“They finally had a press conference and said how they felt about our land rights all along,” Montour said. “They’ve been doing underhanded things to us for a while.

“They took our land and they have no intention of giving it back – they’re just playing games.”

Protester Kelly Powless urged local residents to contact politicians to get action on the land claims issue.

“(Brant MPP) Dave Levac said he wants to work with Six Nations and be a partner with us,” Powless said. “Where is his position on this statement?

“I would like him to say that was an irresponsible statement for the province to make.”

Levac was out of the country Friday and unavailable for comment.

Powless said Six Nations is prepared to step up its land rights campaign in light of this week’s announcement by the province.

“They think we’re just going to get tired and go back to our reserve,” she said.

“That’s not going to happen.”

City Mayor Mike Hancock welcomed Thursday’s provincial announcement. “From the standpoint of cities, I think we welcome the clarity of the statement,” Hancock said. “We needed to know what the provincial position was.”

The mayor said Friday’s protest in the city wasn’t entirely unexpected.

“Given the current state of discussions, it doesn’t surprise me – especially in light of the provincial statement – that there may be some other actions going on,” he said.

On the specific target of Friday’s protest, First Gulf Development Corp., Montour said the company needs to consult with Six Nations about its project at Henry Street and Wayne Gretzky Parkway.

“They have to come to us – the HDI – and talk to us about what they plan to do here,” Montour said. “There’s been a lack of communication for a while now.”

First Gulf representatives did not respond Friday to an interview request.

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