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Kanesatake’s 301-year-old land dispute highlights flaws in Canada’s Specific Claims Policy

301 years.

That is how lengthy a First Nation in Quebec has been making an attempt to reclaim its land.

The Mohawks of Kanesatake as soon as occupied 689 sq. kilometres of land northwest of Montreal. Right now they’ve 12 sq. kilometres.

Fixing the land dispute has been of the best significance to the Mohawk neighborhood, however it hasn’t been a simple course of between federal forms, confidentiality clauses and ongoing improvement within the space.

“The federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to all First Nations people, and here what you see is the lack of fiduciary responsibility,” mentioned Serge Simon, grand chief on the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

Canada’s “fiduciary responsibility” to Indigenous individuals was acknowledged in a 1984 Supreme Courtroom of Canada determination which positioned a authorized obligation on the federal government to safeguard the pursuits of Indigenous Peoples in managing their lands and rights.

Kanesatake's 301-year-old land dispute highlights flaws in Canada's Specific Claims Policy 1
Serge Simon was elected as grand chief on the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake in 2011. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Simon mentioned the neglect of this obligation was the foundation of the 1990 Oka Disaster — the 78- day armed standoff between the individuals of Kanesatake, the Sû​ré​te du Québec and later the Canadian navy — in addition to newer points between his neighborhood and their neighbours at Oka after a non-public land developer supplied to return among the disputed land. 

“These lands were unjustly taken from us, resources cut off, and now you look at the poverty in our community that existed for a long time and what came out of that,” mentioned Simon.

“When a man has nothing left to lose, he becomes a very dangerous man. And I think that’s what happened in 1990 — we had nothing left to lose.”

Negotiating beneath the Particular Claims course of

The Mohawk neighborhood’s declare to the land often called the Seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains was first filed to the federal authorities in 1975. After being rejected and refiled numerous instances, part of the declare known as the “small commons” was formally accepted beneath Canada’s Particular Claims Coverage for formal negotiations in 2008. 

Particular claims cope with previous wrongs in opposition to First Nations, usually relating to the administration of land. As of final 12 months, Canada has been negotiating 250 particular claims, and one other 160 are beneath overview or evaluation.

The claims are sometimes settled with financial compensation for lack of land. Some settlements, just like the one supplied to the Mohawk neighborhood of Akwesasne for its Dundee grievance, additionally include the flexibility to buy land from keen sellers. 

Kanesatake's 301-year-old land dispute highlights flaws in Canada's Specific Claims Policy 2
The smallest space of the Seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains land declare is being negotiated beneath Canada’s Particular Claims Coverage. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Some individuals in Kanesatake really feel they have been left at midnight all through the method so far.

In line with minutes from a neighborhood assembly that passed off Aug. 6, the lack of awareness obtainable about ongoing particular declare negotiations was one among many points on which the individuals of Kanesatake felt a insecurity of their band council. 

Gordie Oke, a former council chief, mentioned that is due to a confidentiality clause the band council needed to signal when coming into the negotiation course of for the declare.

“It bothered me because we always have to consult our people about any type of issues coming forward by the feds,” mentioned Oke.

Kanesatake's 301-year-old land dispute highlights flaws in Canada's Specific Claims Policy 3
Indicators had been erected alongside Freeway 640 in Kanesatake final month to boost consciousness of the unsettled land declare. (Mike O’Shaughnessy/CBC)

He mentioned land has at all times been the primary difficulty in Kanesatake, however the council solely met with the federal negotiator “a couple of times” throughout his two years on council. 

“People are looking for a resolution to all of this, and it takes time. That’s how government works; you never know what’s going to happen with the next election.”

‘Irritants’ to the method

Peter Di Gangi, a board member on the First Nations-led analysis centre Yellowhead Institute, mentioned the confidentiality agreements, slow-moving bureaucratic nature of the method and modifications in authorities are among the “irritants” First Nations throughout the nation have with particular claims.

Nonetheless, he mentioned the most important downside is the federal authorities’s battle of curiosity.

“The claims are against the federal government. At the same time, it controls the negotiation process, controls the funding. It controls just about every aspect of the process,” mentioned Di Gangi. 

“That has an impact on the ability of First Nations to feel that they have an opportunity to have their claims addressed in a fair and open manner.”

In locations like Quebec, underlying Aboriginal title to the land additionally complicates conditions when the federal authorities seeks a “release” to the declare when a settlement is reached. 

“For some communities, it’s viewed as a form of extinguishment,” mentioned Di Gangi.

“If you have underlying Aboriginal title and are sitting at the table with the government to resolve a specific claim, why would you want to release your underlying title just to settle a reserve claim?”

That is the priority Kanesatake activist Ellen Gabriel has.

She was on the frontline of negotiations throughout the Oka Disaster and doesn’t imagine the Particular Claims Coverage is the reply to resolving her neighborhood’s land dispute.

Kanesatake's 301-year-old land dispute highlights flaws in Canada's Specific Claims Policy 4
Ellen Gabriel desires the federal authorities to take a seat down with the Individuals of the Longhouse to resolve their 301-year-old land grievance. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

“It’s a monetary compensation for their derogation to something they should have been doing all along. It doesn’t give us back our land; it doesn’t respect or recognize our rights and unceded lands,” mentioned Gabriel. 

“You can’t put a price tag on the land and how much it is worth.”

Name for inclusion of conventional authorities

She desires the federal government to work towards resolving the land dispute by sitting down with the Individuals of the Longhouse, the standard governance construction for the Iroquois Confederacy of Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora, Seneca and Cayuga nations.

Nonetheless, the coverage permits solely band councils to file a declare. Canada can even not take away land from third events to settle claims. That is why each Simon and Gabriel have been calling on the federal authorities to difficulty a moratorium on improvement throughout the complete disputed land till the declare is resolved. 

“While we’re doing this and development is going on, it’s like trying to do a tune up a car that’s going 100 miles per hour down a highway,” he mentioned. 

“Stop the car and do the tune up and then be on your way.”

The workplace of the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada didn’t reply to a request for remark, however beforehand mentioned it has been working collaboratively with the Mohawk Council.

“Reconciliation is not only an Indigenous issue — it is a Canadian imperative and one that will involve all of us,” an announcement to CBC Information learn final week.

“Our work also includes our deep commitment to the settlement of the historical land claim of the Kanesatakehró:non, the people of Kanesatake, and to resolving past wrongs.”

For Gabriel, the assertion rang hole. 

“Reconciliation includes reparations and restitution,” she mentioned.


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