June 26, 2008
No compromise from Mohawks
Will not settle for cash over land
By Stephen Petrick, The Intelligencer
First Nations people should not have to purchase land that is rightfully theirs, a spokesman for the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte said Tuesday.
Brant Bardy, a communications officer for the band, said the federal government's offer of money to settle the Culbertson Tract land claim is unreasonable.
It's essentially asking the band to go through the bureaucratic process of purchasing land that was never surrendered in the first place, he said.
"The band is not in the position to buy its own land back," said Bardy, speaking for Chief R. Donald Maracle who was ill Tuesday.
The comments followed a meeting with the band and Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Chuck Strahl in Ottawa Monday.
There, Mohawk officials were told the government will not buy land from non-natives to ensure the Culbertson Tract -- a 923-acre parcel of land which the government agrees was never surrendered -- is returned to native control. Instead, the government
will offer money to allow the band to purchase tract properties if their owners willingly put them up for sale. The government is prepared to offer additional money as compensation for any land that can't ultimately be returned, Strahl said.
The policy, however, has caused a rift between the government and the band, which is lobbying for the full return of land over several years.
The Culbertson Tract covers about half the town of Deseronto and about 500 acres of Tyendinaga Township.
Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte have been lobbying for its return ever since the government accepted the land claim as valid in 2003.
Negotiations into a settlement started this spring, but broke down on June 12 when the federal government made its policy clear.
Bardy said the band council will sit down in the coming days to discuss how to proceed with talks now. The two sides are next expected to meet in late July.
Bardy said the perception among the band council is that the government is negotiating in bad faith.
"We would prefer that the government honour its treaty obligations to the Mohawk people," he said. "We have a treaty right that says if the land falls into non-Six Nations possession the Crown has an obligation to remove non-Six Nations interests and restore the land to our people. That's a treaty right that our ancestors gave their lives and their blood for."
Bardy said the government's position that the band should buy its own land back is not only unfair, but also unpractical.
The band office does not have the human resources to go about reacquiring land, he said. Under the government's policy, said Bardy, the only way any land in the claim area could be returned is if an individual band member buys property within that area and applies to have the land added to the Mohawk territory.
At this point, Bardy said, no one seems willing to do that.
"We have a lots of willing sellers who call us on a daily basis," he said. "But we don't have a willing buyer."