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Bitter battle results in new agreement (Grand River Notification Agreement).

BRANTFORD, Ont.

Two band council chiefs gathered with two federal cabinet ministers, the provincial attorney general and nine mayors and reeves from neighboring municipalities at the site of a former residential school near Brantford, Ont. to formally sign the Grand River Notification Agreement.

There was no sign of the bitterness and anger that frequently disrupted negotiation of this agreement. Signatories posed for photographers before putting pen to the agreement that Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin said introduces "a new era in government to government relations."

The agreement sets into motion notification protocols that require all of the signatory groups to notify each other whenever an economic development or land-use project is being considered that could have an environmental impact on the river.

The 18 months of talks that led to the agreement were acrimonious, at best. Indeed, it was bitterness and anger, misunderstanding and mistrust, that typified those negotiations.

A series of protests, initiated primarily by members of the Six Nations Confederacy, disrupted a number of projects up and down the Grand River in the years leading up to the talks.

Municipal leaders were hurt by construction interference by Native protesters and by land values falling because of the uncertainties over unresolved land claims. They asked their provincial and federal counterparts to help.

In late 1993, provincial Revenue minister Jane Stewart (then a back-bencher representing the riding of Brant) formed the Brantford Area Intergovernmental Liaison Committee, the group which negotiated with Six Nations and the nearby New Credit First Nation to establish the Grand River Notification Agreement.

The group began meeting in January 1994. They met with Irwin on two occasions in the months following, but when Six Nations rejected the Specific Claims Policy process and took their land claims to court in March of 1995, the federal government dropped out of discussions.

Local leaders continued to meet in the hopes of finding a way of dealing with disputes over land. The result of those meetings is this current agreement.

In 1784, Frederick Haldimand, the British governor of the area, deeded six miles of land on either side of the Grand River from its mouth to its source--close to one million acres of land -- to the Six Nations Indians. Since that day, Six Nations has seen that one million acres of land dwindle down to about five per cent of the original deed.

Six Nations band council, in a legal move of national import, is suing Canada and Ontario and demanding that the court require the defendants to explain what happened to the lands and monies that were held in trust for Six Nations. Six Nations officials are loathe to attach numbers to their claim, but Irwin estimated that the total claim, if justified in a court of law, could exceed $50 billion.

In 1924, the traditional chiefs of Six Nations were forcibly removed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a band council system was imposed on the people.

The traditional confederacy council continues to exist and keeps a watchful eye on what it believes is the "collaborators" on band council. Confederacy council protesters, suspecting secret deals are being negotiated that would result in more of their traditional land base being lost, have bedeviled both band council and surrounding cities by disrupting projects along the river.

The confederacy council was not one of the 14 parties which signed the notification agreement, but Six Nations Chief Wellington Staats remembered their influence on events as he signed.

"This is an important agreement for all the parties involved," said Staats. "Including the confederacy, because they, too, have a stake in the environment."

Irwin, fresh from a tumultuous special Assembly of First Nations meeting in Winnipeg where his proposed changes to the Indian Act were attacked by the country's chiefs, welcomed the chance to revel in the agreement.

"This is a great day. We don't have enough days like this," he said. "I've had some rough days in the last couple of weeks, especially with the Indian Act changes.

"You know, we should have been doing something like this 20 years ago," he added. "When I was the Mayor of Sault Sainte. Marie [Ont.], I certainly never thought of something like this. I'm going to send it to all 608 chiefs and all the municipal organizations."
COPYRIGHT 1996 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Paul Barnsley
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:713
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