Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is Six Nations asking for too much? No and yes ...

I don't know too much about this one -- I'm just sounding off so hear me out.

Last week, the Mississaugas of the New Credit, just outside of Hagersville (about a half hour drive south of downtown Hamilton) signed a tentative agreement with the feds regarding two land claims -- one to a large part of Toronto (from the Humber to Ash Ridges Bay) and the other to much of the land around Hamilton Harbour. The settlement -- about $185 million -- requires ratification but many see this as a formality.

It naturally raised the question as to why the neighbouring Six Nations can't "get its act together" and make a deal with the feds. Complicating the matter is the band is generally divided into two factions, those who support the Haudenasonee or "traditional" chiefs and those who support the elected band council and its elected chief -- who would be a mayor were it not for the fact that Ottawa can veto anything Oshweken does just as it can with any other band with which it hasn't made a "final" treaty.

The elected chief, William Montour, responded to these questions in the Hamilton Spectator with an excellent op-ed piece a few days after the New Credit deal.

The point of Chief Montour's essay is that Six Nations wouldn't be satisfied with just money. Their current reserve is just 5% of the original Haldimand Tract which stretches six miles on either side of the Grand River from its source at Dundalk to where it empties into Lake Erie at Dunnville They want more land and the ability to be self-sufficient -- but also do not want to sign away their claims to aboriginal title. That's something even I can agree on. I have also said quite a few times on this page I would like to see the matter go to binding arbitration -- and there are 27 land claims in particular the elected band wants to address.

But I have to wonder if there needs to be some reason involved. The feds under Chuck Strahl (the current czar of DIAND) has offered $27 million (give or take) to settle just one claim -- when lands were flooded in Dunnville to build the first iteration of the Welland Canal in the 1820s. Six Nations says not good enough -- they want $1 billion. Okay, I'll concede that the feds' offer lowballs what lands in that part of Haldimand and Niagara Counties are worth ... but a billion? The car parts plants and coat factories closed years ago and the only major plants left are a pickle cannery and a fertilizer factory.

In total, the elected band -- and I stress the elected band, not the Haudenasonee -- is asking for $82 billion as compensation for the land that they say was either stolen from them, or for the money that was misappropriated from trust funds when by choice or deceit the bulk of the tract was deeded back to Ontario. I can't speak for others who might think this is "blackmail" or something worse. I can only speak for myself but I have to say that were I arbitrator, I would say a much lower figure -- in a range of $5 to $10 billion.

What I think is needed is a comprehensive, province-wide agreement with all the Indian bands -- one that addresses title and land base issues and compensation and gives bands a level of self-sufficiency with a large share of income tax and GST or HST revenues (on a per capita basis) as is the case in the Yukon. (The Yukon solution basically redirects 75% of federal income tax and 95% of provincial tax to the respective authorities that manage the dozen or so global land claims -- and lets the bands keep GST collected; of course, this meant they had to give up their tax-exempt status and no doubt this would have to be a precondition for this to work in Ontario and it might not be popular at first.)

It will be expensive from the outset but giving natives a chance to contribute back to society across the board and to no longer be wards of the state would be an important step forward and would pay back dividends over the long run. Doing so will require a willingness from the feds and First Nations to be reasonable. And with all due respect to Chief Montour, the province cannot merely be a spectator -- after all, much Crown land which would have to be handed back is under provincial control. (Ontario owns 87% of the province, after all).

Perhaps a permanent mediation board, à la the Waitaingi Tribunal in New Zealand which deals with Maori grievances and tries to resolve them before court action, might be a possible way to move forward. (The Maori are also guaranteed representation in NZ's parliament, but while I like the idea of set aside seats for our First Peoples it may not go over well with some sectors of society.) I don't know what the ultimate solution should be, but the stalemate we have now is unacceptable.   Again, reason is required on both sides -- from the feds as well as the band councils.

Some from the tribes is necessary, I think -- but a heck of a lot more is needed from DIAND.   It's time to put that stupid agency out of business once and for all and to let natives, and people of all races who live in the territories, run their own show.

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1 comment:

Troy Thomas said...

You're a hell a lot more fair than any of the newspapers I've read on the Six Nations. Glad to read some decent opinion on this matter than the sewage that leaks out of the pens of columnists of The Star, and The Globe & Mail, who've taken it upon themselves to equate all of the Six Nations who blockaded Caldedonia as simply criminals while ignoring the issues that created the situation in the first place. (Although you didn't mention Caledonia.)

(Especially the Globe's agitator and race baiting Christie Blatchford, who seems to have some issue with First Nations on the whole. I'd do a post criticizing the entire past three or four month's of Blatchford's almost-vendetta against the Six Nations, but alas, there's a subscription firewall.)