Sunday, October 05, 2008
Brantford: Candidates spar over land claims Posted By MICHAEL-ALLAN MARION, EXPOSITOR STAFF Posted 3 days ago Brant Conservative candidate Phil McColeman argued Wednesday that the Stephen Harper government is on the right track towards resolving a long list of outstanding land claims and other native problems. But challengers from four rival parties criticized a government that walked away from the landmark $5.1- billion Kelowna Accord and whose INdian Affairs minister won't answer questions about land claims negotiations with Six Nations or come to Brant to see the problems first-hand. Those differences were starkly painted in an often spirited all-candidates debate hosted by Journalists For Human Rights for close to 70 people in Laurier Brantford's Odeon Building. McColeman, Liberal Lloyd St. Amand, New Democrat Brian Van Tilborg, Green candidate Nora Fueten and John Gots of the Christian Heritage Party all agreed that getting action on the problems surrounding unresolved Six Nations land claims is the No. 1 issue in Brant. "We're here to avoid a Caledonia, an Ipperwash and an Oka," Van Tilborg said as he deplored a pattern of avoiding the requirement to consult Six Nations meaningfully on a series of prominent projects in the city from Oak Park Road to Erie Avenue and Birkett Lane, and the latest proposed development along Hardy Road. Referring frequently to his work in the House of Commons and on the standing committee on aboriginal affairs, St. Amand said he has been confronted by a government that refuses to be accountable. "What signal does it send to us n Brant when the prime minister refuses to answer my questions about the negotiations?" he wondered. "What signal does it send to this community when Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl won't come to the riding to address these issues." Calling the land claims dispute "the elephant in the room that the government refuses to recognize," Fueten charged that it is part-and-parcel of the Harper government's continuation of longstanding policies of native assimilation. "Little wonder that this government has not signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," she said. "The Green Party would." Gots said the government must finally own up to the fact that it has a history of repeated violations of existing treaties. The Kelowna Accord must be reinstated, he said, and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs must be replaced with a new body that natives would help shape. McColeman said the Harper government has settled 54 land claims and has taken steps to have the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy at the negotiating table for the first time. "We have taken the lead. Action speaks for itself," he said. St. Amand countered that the solved claims were already well in process when the Harper government took over, and represent in Strahl's own words, "low-hanging fruit" that don't touch larger, more complex claims. Six Nations activist Ruby Montour won sustained applause when she said, "I believe none of you. You have nothing for us. "All we hear is poor Brantford, poor Brantford," she shouted. "When are you going to care about us?"