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Ratification vote to go forward. (News).

CHATHAM, Ont.

When the newly-elected council of Caldwell First Nation convened its first meeting on Feb. 3, at the top of the agenda was the preparation of a resolution for a ratification vote of its land claim settlement.

An agreement-in-principle was signed in 1998 that would put to rest a claim that under the Treaty of 1790, the Caldwells did not receive a land base. The agreement will provide Caldweil $23.4 million over 25 years to purchase land to establish a reserve.

It's been a long, hard road to this place in time. Not only have members of the Caldwell council been doing battle with the municipality of Chatham-Kent and the members of the Chatham-Kent Community Network, groups that brought legal challenges to prevent the First Nation from establishing a land base in the area, they have also gone a round or two with a number of their own people, who preferred a different kind of financial compensation offer from the federal government.

The result of the internal strife was months of difficulty and a second election in less than two years.

Incumbent Chief Larry Johnson was returned in the .Feb. 1 election after defeating challenger Louise Hillier by just 11 votes, a landslide by comparison to the one vote Hillier lost to Johnson in the June 2001 election.

The 2001 election resulted in an unhealthy split on council, the difference of opinion over the land claim agreement dogging its every decision, with some councillors "refusing to sign basic funding agreements making it difficult to pay bills,"

Chief Johnson said. The council had become "dysfunctional, incapable of conducting band business."

The community wanted an end to the bickering, according to Caldwell lawyer Carol Godby, who in a letter to the Chatham Daily News described the process that resulted in a new election.

"The Feb. 1 election was preceded by a both a petition and an election vote question. The petition was signed by a clear majority of members of Caldwell who wanted a new election. As a result of this petition, an election vote question was sent to every single eligible voter of the Caldwell Nation. The question asked whether an election should be held. The overwhelming majority of the voters who voted wanted an election."

A court agreed.

"There is sufficient evidence on the record to demonstrate that the internal governance of the Caldwell First Nation band is in disarray," determined federal court Justice Henegahn, on Jan. 16 when he dismissed a request for an injunction to stop the election.

Now that all is said and done, council is preparing to have a ratification vote issued by the government by May 3.

"Our people are ready to go. We have a location at which to have the vote and we just want to move ahead and get this first land claim done," said Johnson.

"Now that we have a council that is in total agreement with settling the land claim, with getting the AIP resolved, and with setting up a new community, we hope we're steam-rolling to finally getting a settlement for our people. We want a flourishing, adequate community that can be self-supporting and have room for expansion to accommodate the future generations yet to come."
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Title Annotation:Caldwell First Nation's land claim settlement
Author:Smoke-Asayenes, Dan
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Words:539
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