Tuesday, March 4, 2008

When will it end?

Last week marked the second anniversary of the standoff in Caledonia. There still doesn't seem to be any end in sight to the crisis; although affairs between the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities have certainly quieted down -- it's more of a stalemate and relatively quiet at this point but there are obviously some outstanding issues.

The big one is that new housing and commerical starts have ground to a halt. Many businesses are refusing to pay "development fees" to the Haudenasonee, viewing it as a form of extortion, until the issue of who actually owns the land is settled. While the feds have offered to put the outstanding land claims of the Six Nations -- more than two dozen -- to settlement, there's no sign that it's being put on the fast track. An offer has been made regarding the expropriation of the Welland Canal diversion channel, but there's no indication of whether the Haudenasonee or the elected band council will take it.

This is indicative of a much bigger problem -- there are literally hundreds of such claims on the shelf at Indian Affairs in Ottawa. In fact, at the current rate they are being processed, it will take 1200 years to resolve all the issues. Many claims overlap to the point that more than 100% of the land mass of Canada is claimed to still have outstanding aboriginal title.

Six Nations is certainly better off than many other reserves, no part thanks to the dozens of smoke shops that cater to off-reserve people who want to buy contraband tobacco at cut rate prices. It's a sad fact that this must be, but there is a market for it and I suppose anything that helps natives to be more self sufficient isn't a bad thing; as long as it's a transition to having a truly self-sustaining economy.

Another sticking point is that the reserve seems to be a favourite dumping ground for stolen cars off reserve (mostly stolen by white people who will just drive to the reserve, drop off the car in one of the many wood lots, then rendezvous with a get-away team waiting), since the OPP is reticent to enter the reserve without the permission or the co-ordination of the reserve police. Both groups are trying to stop the dumping and the chop shops but acknowledge it's an uphill battle. The fact there's been a huge jump during the land dispute is not, in my opinion, a coincidence.

So what's to be done?

I think first should come first. Since Six Nations is the largest band, it should be the template for land dispute resolution in Central Canada. Package all the land claims together and put them to time-certain negotiation; and failing that, submitted to binding arbitration. Whether this involves exchanges of land or a substantial and satisfactory land settlement is to be decided; but both sides can't wait another five or ten years. Aboriginals and non-aboriginals need a solution, now.

Once the land question is settled, then the Six Nations should find a meaningful way to become self reliant for the long term. Scandals such as Six Nations Mills are still fresh in the minds of a lot of people. A steady stream of income from successful businesses will benefit both groups in the long run.

That is the ideal. Right now, there's still too much residual resentment to even consider step one, and that's just not a good thing.

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