Tag Archives: Land Claims

Mohawks take PM to task over unanswered land claims on 30th anniversary of Oka crisis

Mohawks from Kahnawake on Montreal’s South Shore stage a rolling protest on Route 132 to the Mercier Bridge on Saturday, July 11, 2020, to mark the anniversary of the start of 1990 Oka Crisis. JOHN MAHONEY / Mont

Members of the traditional longhouse organized the convoys to commemorate the historical event — a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers over the proposed expansion of a golf course in Oka.

Mohawks from Kanesatake to Kahnawake took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to task Saturday for failing to answer their centuries-old land claims on the 30th anniversary of the start of the Oka crisis.

A convoy of about 100 vehicles carrying Kahnawake residents — many of them sporting Mohawk flags — crossed the Mercier Bridge into LaSalle and back Saturday morning as part of a “rolling blockade” to commemorate the event.

Hours later, a second caravan — this time, carrying Kanesatake residents — took over Route 344 northwest of Montreal though a new development in an area used by Mohawk farmers for generations. Many onlookers stood on their front porch and waved.

Members of the traditional longhouse organized the convoys to commemorate the historical event — a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers over the proposed expansion of a golf course in Oka.

Three decades later, the impasse over land rights remains unresolved — despite Trudeau’s numerous pledges to work toward reconciliation and foster a “nation-to-nation” dialogue with Indigenous communities.

“The summer of 1990 serves as a reminder that the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) are willing to defend their land and protect their people, by any means necessary,” Joe Deom, a spokesperson for the Kahnawake longhouse, told a small gathering in the village Saturday. “The same holds true, 30 years later.”

Ellen Gabriel, a member of Kanesatake’s longhouse, later read the same statement in her community.

Organizers chose to hold rolling blockades instead of marches because of the coronavirus pandemic and the contamination risks that would have resulted from demonstrators being in close proximity to each other, Gabriel told reporters.

The demonstrations come as Kanesatake’s Mohawks continue to fight residential developments in nearby Oka they say would encroach on the pine forest they planted nearly 200 years ago.

“Under Canada’s constitution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could intervene and stop all development that’s taking place here, and he refuses,” Gabriel said. Indigenous relations minister Carolyn Bennett “is part of that problem of refusing and trying to silence the voice” of First Nations peoples, she added.

“We are fighting for our land.”

Gabriel and her fellow citizens were joined in Kanesatake by New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and one of his MPs, Manitoba’s Leah Gazan. Singh said he came to Kanesatake “as an ally” to listen, fight for justice and ensure contested lands are returned to First Nations peoples.

He also took time to reflect on the events of 1990, saying: “What happened on this land was the beginning of a powerful movement. Future movements were all inspired by the strength and resilience of the people here. Thirty years later, the lessons have not been learned. The same problem continues.”

Gazan was more blunt.

“There will never be reconciliation in Canada in the absence of justice,” she said. “The people of Kanesatake have waited for over 300 years for this justice, and their justice continues to be infringed upon. It is time that this longstanding land dispute be resolved, that it gets the attention that it deserves from the current federal government to act now. The people of the longhouse have waited long enough for justice.”

The message — and the anger — was the same in Kahnawake.

Trudeau “has made a lot of promises,” a Kahnawake resident who identified herself as Kaherihshon told the Montreal Gazette in an interview. “He’s talked a really good talk about all the things he was going to do to settle the issues of the First Nations people. What has he done to make anything right? What has he done to settle these land claims? There’s nothing that has been done that has made a difference so far. If he wants real truth and reconciliation, then he has to really sit down with the people and say: ‘What do we have to do to make this better? How are we going to help the people?’ ”

Asked what it would take for reconciliation to begin, Gabriel answered: “Land back. It’s going to be an uncomfortable discussion, but when are we going to have it?”

The Montreal Gazette, July, 11, 2020.


Six Nations Land Claim Dispute Heats Up With New Caledonia Development

 Hamilton Spectator file photo Members of The Haudenosaunee Confederacy want a developer to consult with them on the construction of a massive 3,500 home development on the northern outskirts of Caledonia.

Members of The Haudenosaunee Confederacy want a developer to consult with them on the construction of a massive 3,500 home development on the northern outskirts of Caledonia. Hamilton Spectator file photo.

By Red Power Media, Staff

Another land claims dispute is heating up in Caledonia

Indigenous treaty rights are at the heart of a dispute over plans for a massive subdivision that will bring thousands of new residents to the outskirts of Caledonia.

A notice was sent out by Six Nations ‘Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs saying they are unanimously opposed to a new development.

The developer “Empire Communities” says on its website that its new neighbourhood “Avalon” is coming to Caledonia this March with 3 000 homes on more than 500 acres at McClung road and Haldimand road 66.

There’s already a show home on the site and Six Nations Confederacy Chiefs say they weren’t consulted.

Empire Communities has also barred Six Nations opponents of its Avalon project from the site through a temporary injunction. They wanted no indigenous presence there during the attempted sale of the lots.

Some project opponents plan to fight a permanent injunction when the matter goes to Cayuga court on Jan. 27.

The Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs wants the developer and Six Nations to hash out the issues.

Six Nations says the province should be negotiating; not the developer

Avalon is just a few kilometres away from the former Douglas Creek Estates.


Six Nations protesters stand on top of their barricade moments before taking it down in Caledonia, Ont. May 23, 2006

In 2006 the same disputed land ignited conflict at the Douglas Creek Estates resulting in First Nations groups occupying the lands, tensions between Six Nations, OPP and Caledonia town residents ran high.

The Douglas Creek Estates was never built.

The Haudenosaunee claim they own the land and the Federal government contends that the land was surrendered in an 1844 treaty.

A lawyer representing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy suggests that if the Province doesn’t halt  construction of the Avalon subdivision so that issues can be resolved, things could escalate quickly.


PM Harper Failing To Fulfill Mulroney’s Oka Promise On Modern Treaties

(Mohawks from Kahnawake battle with Canadian soldiers during the 1990 Oka crisis. File/photo)

(Mohawks from Kahnawake battle with Canadian soldiers during the 1990 Oka crisis. File/photo)

By APTN National News

As the smoke was clearing from the 1990 Oka Crisis, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney wrote to the premiers of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon about the long, hot summer saying his government would be responding to the demands of “Aboriginal people” in four parts.

At the top of the list was “resolving land claims.”

Mulroney assured the two premiers the issue would receive Ottawa’s full attention.

“The federal government is determined to create a new relationship among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians based on dignity, trust and respect,” wrote Mulroney to former NWT premier Dennis Patterson and former Yukon Premier Tony Penikett in near-identical letters dated Nov. 15, 1990.

The other issues on the list included, “defining a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and governments,” also “improving the economic and social conditions on reserves” and “addressing the concerns of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples in contemporary Canadian life.”

Throughout the summer-long crisis in Kanesatake and Kahnawake which spread across the country, the issue of comprehensive claims, or modern treaties, continued to crop up as a major irritant from the First Nation side. Pundits and First Nation representatives who appeared on CBC, CTV and other local cable newscasts repeatedly mentioned the need for Ottawa to overhaul its approach to comprehensive claims. APTN did not exist at the time.

In response, after the guns, tanks and helicopters faded from television screens, Mulroney began an overhaul of the land claim system. First, he eliminated the six-claim cap on the number of negotiations Ottawa would deal with at any one time. In 1992, the British Columbia-specific treaty table was created and in 1993 former Progressive Conservative Indian affairs minister Tom Siddon unveiled an overhaul of Ottawa’s comprehensive claim and specific claims policies.

The Letters

Click on letter to open

Click To Open Letters

Since then, only four B.C. modern treaties have been settled while First Nations involved in the process have amassed about $500 million worth in loans from the federal government to pay for negotiations. As of January 2013, Canada has issued $1 billion in loans and non-repayable contributions to First Nation groups involved in claims talks which can take up to three decades to reach a final agreement.

It’s also emerged that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet has stalled three modern treaty negotiations for two years.

As it nears the end of its first majority mandate and its ninth year in power, the Harper government is only now beginning to address the issue of comprehensive land claims and folding it into a process named to imply a redefinition of Ottawa’s relationship with its Indigenous nations.

It’s called the “reconciliation framework” and it was first mentioned by Ottawa in a statement issued by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office last Thursday in response to the release of a report by former federal negotiator Douglas Eyford.

Eyford was appointed last July by Valcourt to meet with dozens of First Nations across the country on improving Ottawa’s comprehensive land claims policy. As his report points out, Eyford travelled well tilled soil. The federal comprehensive claims policy has been updated three times since its 1973 creation. There have also been eight studies or reports on the issue since 1983, including a 2006 report from the federal Auditor General and two Senate reports, in 2008 and 2012.

“Many of the issues I have considered are neither new nor unforeseen. The observations, findings, and recommendations of these reports remain relevant and compelling despite the passage of time, legal developments, and changes in policy having placed some of the issues in a different context,” said Eyford, in the report.

Comprehensive claims encompass territorial claims, self-government and Aboriginal rights. They are negotiated in areas not covered by so-called “surrender” treaties or numbered treaties. The majority of these claims stem from British Columbia, the North, parts of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Specific claims generally stem from historical grievances over loss of land or the misuse of monies held in trust by Ottawa.

Eyford’s report also mentions a “reconciliation framework” and issues recommendations on its possible creation.

“Canada’s commitment to reconciliation should be reflected in a new framework that: continues to support modern treaty negotiations, but addresses institutional barriers…provides a rights-informed approach to treaty-making,” said the report. “(It should also offer) other reconciliation arrangements for Aboriginal groups that are not interested in negotiating a comprehensive land claims agreement…and improves the implementation of modern treaties and other agreements with Aboriginal groups.”

Valcourt’s office is saying little about its own vision for this new framework aside from sending links to the department’s interim comprehensive claims policy which was widely panned by First Nation groups.

In an emailed statement, Valcourt’s office said the reconciliation framework is simply the renamed “framework for addressing Section 35 Aboriginal Rights.” The minister also has no plans to roll anything out soon.

“This framework will be developed incrementally and through dialogue with partners,” said the statement. “Over the coming months, we will engage with Aboriginal groups as well as other stakeholders, including those who provided input during the engagement meetings (with Eyford), in order to seek their feedback on those recommendations.”

Valcourt’s framework plans, however, are getting a lukewarm response from the Assembly of First Nations.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Valcourt needed to open direct discussions with First Nations on the issue.

“Any work on a ‘reconciliation framework’ needs to be discussed directly with First Nations,” said Bellegarde. “We are concerned that this government is relying too much on ministerial special representatives and other agents when the federal government has a duty to engage directly with First Nations.”

It all seems a far cry from what was promised following the Oka crisis by the Mulroney government of which Valcourt was once a part.

“I have great respect for the peaceful and patient manner in which most chiefs, elders and Aboriginal people have expressed their grievances and my government will continue to work with these individuals to find appropriate measures to respond to the needs and concerns of Aboriginal people,” said the letters, which Mulroney signed. “These grievances raise issues that deeply affect all Canadians and therefore must be resolved by all Canadians working together.”

According to a memo sent to Mulroney with draft responses to the two premiers, the letters “were developed in consultation with the Department of Indian Affairs.”

The Memo

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Click To Open Memo

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Canada Responds to Tsilhqot’in Decision: Extinguishment or Nothing!

Image source: warriorpublications.wordpress.com

Image source: warriorpublications.wordpress.com

By Russell Diabo and Shiri Pasternak | New Socialist 08 Feb 2015

This is the third in a three-part series on the landmark Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in v. British Columbia decision last June, first published in First Nations Strategic Bulletin. Part 1, “The Tsilhqot’in Decision and Canada’s First Nations Termination Policies” can be found here. Part 2, “The Tsilhqot’in Decision and Indigenous Self-Determination” is here.

“Our government believes that the best way to resolve outstanding Aboriginal rights and title claims is through negotiated settlements,” stated Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) Bernard Valcourt on the day the final Tsilhqot’in decision came down in June.

After 25 years of litigation, millions of dollars in legal fees, and 399 days in court for the Supreme Court hearing alone, the Tsilhqot’in people might have preferred a negotiated settlement, too. But not the kind the Government of Canada was offering. The Minister was referring to the Comprehensive Land Claims policy, the Government’s preferred method for dealing with unceded Indigenous territory in Canada.

For critics of Canada’s Comprehensive Land Claims policy, the federal government’s response to the Supreme Court decision conveyed an automatic and outright denial of the Court’s watershed finding that the Tsilhqot’in Nation held underlying Aboriginal title to their territorial lands. The land claims policy, referred to by critics as the “termination tables,” requires Aboriginal groups to cede their Aboriginal title and circumscribe their Aboriginal rights upon settlement through the use of two legal techniques: “Modification” of Aboriginal Title and/or “Non-Assertion” of rights.

To push the land claims policy at a moment when the Supreme Court of Canada successfully challenged one of its worst aspects – extinguishment – was a stark message for the federal government to send.

At a press conference in the weeks following Canada’s initial reaction, Minister Valcourt expanded on his Department’s approach to unceded Indigenous lands, now evading any mention of the Tsilhqot’in decision.

He introduced new measures to promote “reconciliation” in advance of and outside of the Comprehensive Land Claims policy and to accelerate the signing of “modern treaty” agreements. He also promised the introduction of new consultation guidelines for government and industry with regards to First Nations over natural resources.

Would these changes reflect the recognition of Aboriginal title won under Tsilhqot’in?

Consultation as extinguishment

At the press conference, Minister Valcourt announced the appointment of Douglas Eyford as the Ministerial Special Representative to assist Canada to reform the Comprehensive Land Claims policy. This appointment signals an end to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) – Canada Comprehensive Claims Senior Oversight Committee (SOC). Prime Minister Harper established SOC during a meeting with the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa on January 11, 2013 in order to address grievances with the policy.

But the appointment of Eyford marks the real direction the government is taking to address First Nations’ grievances. In 2013, Eyford acted as the Government’s Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure. The “Eyford Report” focused on consultation and engagement with First Nations over energy infrastructure. The report mentions Aboriginal title only once, in passing. Thus, Eyford has been instrumental in creating the template for denying Aboriginal title through consultative mechanisms.

The focus of consultation in his 2013 report is on “reconciliation.” However, it is clear from the report that it is Indigenous peoples who must do all of the reconciling of their pre-existing sovereignty with Canadian claims to underlying title.

The mandate of the Eyford Report is linked to the Government of Canada’s agenda of expanding export markets for oil and gas. Spelled out early in the report, Canada’s priority is the need to “capitalize” on global energy demands, therefore “to construct pipelines and terminals to deliver oil and natural gas to tidewater.”

The Projects listed as crucial here are the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, and several proposed natural gas pipelines and related upstream developments. Projects also include the development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, tied most directly to potential Asian markets.

The “impediment” to Canada’s diversified energy market – crucial because Canada’s principal customer is the United States, which is expanding its energy sources – is that Aboriginal peoples hold constitutionally protected title and rights with which industry and government must legally comply. In other words, the objective of Aboriginal Affairs’ recent announcement on the land claims policy was not to reconcile the policy with the Supreme Court’s findings on Aboriginal title, but to accelerate the policy framework of Aboriginal title extinguishment, particularly in the areas of major resource development projects like the proposed pipelines in British Columbia.

The Black Box

The federal government is fighting tooth and nail against ceding an inch of legal authority over land despite the pronouncement from the highest court in the land. According to figures recently released by Parliament (as reported in the Law Times), oil and gas disputes have been the top expense for AANDC for the past three years.

The federal government has been either fighting First Nations in court – the last resort for Indigenous peoples trying to defend and protect their lands – or pushing groups into the Comprehensive Land Claims policy, many of them through the British Columbia Treaty Commission process, since 50 percent of the current Comprehensive Land Claims negotiation tables are in British Columbia.

So, what should the Government of Canada’s response have been to the Tsilhqot’in decision?

When the SCC Delgamuukw (1997) decision came down, recognizing that Aboriginal title underlies provincial fee simple interest in the land, by a resolution of the Chiefs-inAssembly, the AFN established a group to leverage the Supreme Court decision to change the Comprehensive Land Claims policy. The AFN Delgamuukw Strategic Implementation Committee (DISC) commissioned a legal analysis, prepared by Mark Stevenson, to find any discrepancies between the policy and the decision.

Two initiatives sprung from AFN-DISC: an Aboriginal Title Alliance and an aborted judicial review undertaken by the Assembly of First Nations to examine the Minister of Indian Affairs’ decision not to review the policy, given the ground-breaking ruling. Both of these efforts failed due to internal division between First Nations leaders who had agreed to negotiate under Canada’s Comprehensive Land Claims policy and those First Nations leaders who are not negotiating under the Comprehensive Claims policy.

Perhaps a new Aboriginal Title Alliance will form today. Are there too many Aboriginal groups at the Comprehensive Land Claims negotiating tables that have borrowed money from the federal government for land claims negotiations to exert any pressure on the government to change the policy, as has been the case in the past? Or can a political movement of Aboriginal Title holding groups build the unity and strength to hold Canada to account for administering illegal unjust policies that violate Aboriginal title, rights and international protocols protecting Indigenous peoples from land dispossession?

There are fundamental changes that Canada could make to reform the Comprehensive Land Claims policy for the better. In her decision, Justice McLachlin specifically rejected what UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Philip called the “postage stamp” theory of Aboriginal title. Instead, the court opted for a more expansive understanding of Indigenous land rights over a broad territorial range. Yet the land selection process under the Comprehensive Land Claims policy is precisely the kind of site-specific approach to addressing underlying Aboriginal title that the SCC rejected. The entire territorial range including private lands should be on the table at least for compensation, and Aboriginal title should not be extinguished upon settlement or transformed into private property.

Currently, there is no way to get a Declaration of Aboriginal Title in Canada without enduring a costly and timely research process and court case, which most groups cannot afford. The Comprehensive Land Claims policy is the sole federal policy by which unceded lands may be settled, yet it requires that bands extinguish their pre-existing Aboriginal title through a negotiated title conversion process into fee simple title.

What alternatives exist? Valcourt clearly signaled that Canada is not willing to change the structure of settler colonialism in Canada. Only a political movement of Indigenous Peoples and supporters from Canadian civil society who support justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples will convince him otherwise.

Russell Diabo is a member of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake. He is Editor and Publisher of the First Nations Strategic Bulletin, a web-based newsletter available from the Canada Library and Archives website in Electronic Collections. For more information, contact rdiabo [at ] rogers.com.

Shiri Pasternak is a researcher and activist who has worked closely with the Algonquins of Barriere Lake as an ally in their resistance to the federal land claims process in Canada. She is a founding member of Barriere Lake Solidarity, a member of the Indigenous Sovereignty and Solidarity Network in Toronto, and an ally in the Defenders of the Land network.

An earlier version of this article was published in First Nations Strategic Bulletin 12, 8-10 (August-October 2014). Part 1 in this series, “The Tsilhqot’in Decision and Canada’s First Nations Termination Policies” can be found here. Part 2, “The Tsilhqot’in Decision and Indigenous Self-Determination” is here.