CANADA STALLING on mediation: Six Nations
Natives accuse Ottawa of foot dragging
Won't agree to land-claims mediation: Six Nations
October 09, 2009
CALEDONIA - The Six Nations Confederacy is accusing Canada of stopping progress in talks to settle land claims because it won’t agree to mediation.
The Confederacy, appointed by the elected-band council in 2006 to conduct negotiations with Ottawa and Ontario, also says commitments by Canada to help fund Six Nations in order to create an “equal bargaining field” has not been forthcoming and it has had to lay off staff and rely on “the goodwill of our people to attempt to maintain a presence at the negotiation table.”
The statements were made by Confederacy representatives today at the conclusion of the latest round of land claim talks, which first began in May 2006 to try to resolve a dispute over the occupation by natives of a Caledonia housing project. It blossomed into other land claims, and saw Ottawa make two offers - $125 million and $26 million - to resolve different claims, but no agreements have been reached.
In the meantime, natives have halted development projects in Brantford and Hagersville because they say they’re being built on unsurrendered Six Nations land.
Ontario supports the idea of bringing in a mediator, but Confederacy spokesman Aaron Detlor said Canada has consistently blocked it. Names of judges have been proposed with no response, he said, and lately the name of Dr. Peggy Blair has been suggested. She is a leading lawyer in aboriginal affairs and completed negotiation skills training at Harvard Law in 1993.
“We need the assistance of a mediator-facilitator,” he said. “We have a fundamental disagreement about one party showing up at negotiations and saying ‘Here is the agreement. Take it or leave it.’ That’s not negotiating. They show up and say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to negotiate a settlement. You’re going to take what we’re going to offer and not ask any questions about it.”
Federal officials left before reporters could speak to them and could not be reached for comment later. A spokesperson for federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl could not be reached for comment.
On the issue of financing, Detlor said the Six Nations team has been without any funding for the last six months. He said it has had to let go three people, such as a researcher, and plans to cut two more. They have suggested $1.2 million is adequate to help them with the ongoing negotiations.
“It diminishes (our ability to negotiate) significantly,” Detlor said about the cash shortage. “Ontario has seven or eight people and the feds have seven or eight people. We don’t have the same back office support they have of hundreds of people. We have five people.”
“It’s simply not fair to ask people to put their lives on hold in good-faith negotiations without any ability to feed their families.”
Detlor said talks have not broken off and the three sides are set to meet again next month.
“We’re committed to continuing talks and we’re hoping the federal Crown will see the light of day,” he added.
He wouldn’t say frustration by land claims supporters will lead to more demonstrations, but noted: “Significant business interest in this part of Ontario is on hold until we get a mediator-facilitator. People are not going to come here and invest in this area if we cannot get a simple agreement on a mediator-facilitator.”
'We keep getting blocked'
The Haudenosaunee Development Institute went public with its complaints against the province and the federal government on Thursday, accusing them of delaying negotiations over land claims.
In a hastily arranged news conference after the latest table talk among the institute, Canada and Ontario, three HDI spokesmen announced the governments are balking at all their suggestions for a mediator-facilitator who could help move the process along and are refusing to assist with funding for natives who are engaged in the process.
"We have been working at getting a mediator-facilitator for four months," said spokesman Aaron Detlor, who is also a lawyer. "We keep getting blocked time and time again."
Detlor said the HDI has suggested various names, including Canadian judges, and has been open to input from the governments about who could be brought in to offer impartial advice on moving forward.
The terms of reference for a mediator-facilitator have already been agreed upon, so it's just a matter of selecting a person.
"We've tried to make a process where everyone can be satisfied and we get forced back by a federal crown with a message that's basically 'Our way or the highway'"
Additionally, no one working on the negotiation process has been paid for the last six months and Detlor said the HDI has had to lay off three of its five-member administrative staff , including a researcher, assistant and co-ordinator.
"It diminishes us."
Detlor said each of the governments shows up at the talks with seven or eight highly paid negotiators.
The lawyer also said the HDI is not halting the talks, but is hopeful people will demand their politicians push for more movement.
HDI's Mike Bomberry read a prepared statement saying the natives have lost good faith in the negotiation because of the approach Canada and Ontario have chosen to take, creating an "unfair bargaining field."
With no administrative funding support from Canada, the natives have relied on volunteer assistance at the negotiation table and have had to lay off staff .
"(We) may now be forced to shut down offices at the Oneida Business Park since it cannot aff ord the rent," said Bomberry.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Brad Duguid, reached at the legislature in Toronto, said his instructions to negotiators have been to be as flexible as possible.
"We're enthusiastic supporters of bringing in a facilitator to try and trigger more progress in the talks," Duguid said.
"We continue to support the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations people and urge the federal government to show as much flexibility as possible to reach a consensus on who that should be."
The minister said he hasn't seen the names suggested as a facilitator, but he sees no reason why a suitable candidate can't be swiftly found.
Representatives from the federal and provincial government did not remain at the Oneida Business Park after talks today to offer comment.
In related negotiations, Brantford was back in court last week regarding its injunction against native protesters and was rewarded with a clarification from Justice Harrison Arrell that says the native protesters are prohibited from stopping work at the 10 development sites named in the original injunction.
The clarification seems aimed at the protests of Floyd and Ruby Montour who recently stopped work on Erie Avenue, along with a handful of supporters.
Meanwhile, Brantford police are investigating comments made on an Internet discussion board about the protesters.
One poster suggested the native protest could be stopped through a violent act and the Montours were asked to discuss their safety with police.
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