Brantford-Brant make deal on land transfer despite questions from Six Nations

BRANT/BRANTFORD/SIX NATIONS – The City of Brantford and the County of Brant are celebrating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) forged between the two municipalities after years and months of sometimes very difficult negotiations over the transfer of 2,454 hectares (6,064 acres) of mostly farmland.

But where is Six Nations in the equation? Most of the land being discussed is part of the Johnson Settlement, a registered land claim filed by the Six Nations Elected Band Council (SNEBC) a decade ago and accepted by the federal government but is still yet to be resolved or even opened.

“We were not invited to those talks [the negotiations],” says Elected Band Council Chief Ava Hill. “I spoke with Mayor Friel about our concerns and we have to now meet with both Brant and Brantford to talk about how we are to be accommodated.”

In addition to the land that’s part of the Johnson Settlement, the controversial Tutela Heights land was also tossed into the mix at some point. But that land too is protected under the Haldimand Proclamation and has never been legally ceded.

According to Mayors Friel and Eddy, Six Nations will be a part of any further discussions, but only the SNEBC, not the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) or the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI). It is not clear to what degree the elected council will be included in future talks.

The MOU reads, “The City and the County agree that nothing in this MOU or the Future Agreement shall be construed to take away from aboriginal, treaty, constitutional or other rights of the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation or their members.”

Although invited to attend Wednesday’s media conference regarding the MOU, Chief Hill declined due to previous commitments and no one else from council was sent to represent Six Nations.

It remains the stance of the HCCC that treaties including the Haldimand Tract, which was given through Royal Proclamation, were made with the traditional government of Six Nations (the HCCC) and not the Indian Act-enforced Band Council, which was put in place illegally in 1924 against the wishes of the majority of Six Nations residents. Perceived as an arm of the federal government, the authority of the SNEBC to deal with land and land use has been challenged consistently since then.

The larger portion of the land transfer involves farmland on what is known to Six Nations as the Johnson Settlement lands. It will also involve the Martin Tract and the old Cayuga Village at Cainsville. These are a few of 28 remaining land claims, which have been on the books since the 1990s when litigation against the federal government was filed. This as well as other court challenges made through the Elected Council since then have all been allowed to stall and have become dust-covered without ever being heard and without Six Nations pushing the issue further.

As for Tutela Heights, it isn’t just Six Nations people that were taken aback by this part of the proposed land transaction. Local Tutela Heights residents have also been opposing development in the area, saying a large sub-development project will destroy the uniqueness and aesthetic appeal of this upscale neighbourhood.

Viviane Wise, of the Tutela Heights Phelps Road Residents Association says that their neighbourhood is being thrown into the deal like some kind of leverage chip and is not keen on suddenly becoming a part of Brantford without their say so.

“If this goes ahead, a lot of development will come and the character of this neighbourhood will be destroyed,” she says.

Attempts have been made by both the citizen group and the Mohawk Workers to stop Walton International, a private development group interested in Tutela Heights, from developing this historic part of the county, but lobbying, injunctions, law suits and pro-development legislations have paved the way for the company. Now, the County of Brant and Brantford have announced a MOU in advance of the deal becoming written in stone.

But the Tutela Heights Phelps Road Residents Association have not given up and have vowed to fight this issue as far as is possible to fight it.

Continued opposition against the County and the City’s deal seem fruitless at this point.

“They have already sold us down the river,” says Gail Bury, a member of the residents association. In her estimation, “it’s grossly unfair” that Tutela Heights be added without the people having advanced notice.

There are still pending community meetings approaching with the first meeting set for January 14th at Lions Park Arena between 10 a.m. till noon, and from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. The second meeting will be at Grand Valley Christian Centre on Powerline Road on January 21st, both with public meetings to follow at 6 p.m., which the Tutela Heights Phelps Road Residents Association will attend, but their focus is now on engaging the province to have their objections considered.

The SNEBC has already forged a deal with Walton and have conducted poorly-attended information sessions for the people of Six Nations to ask questions about the proposed agreement, which is being interpreted by the developers and the two municipalities as consultation.

On Saturday at an HCCC meeting, the HDI reported a chronology of their involvement in the Brant/Brantford transfer.

“In August 2011, this council began corresponding with Mayor Friel of the City of Brantford after his attendance at council in May of 2011,” according to the HDI report. “The HCCC agreed to an engagement process as directed (by the) HDI to establish the process. Mayor Friel met with HDI Director Hazel Hill on a couple of occasions and in our report to council in December 2011, the position of the City of Brantford was that they were willing to engage with the HCCC on the condition that the SNEBC, Haldimand and Brant County were to participate and they wanted to meet with the Chiefs, not the bureaucrats (HDI). The council chose not to participate in a process with those stipulations.”

In March of 2013, the HDI wrote to the Office of the Provincial Development Facilitator who was overseeing the Brant/Brantford land transfer negotiations. That letter resulted in a meeting between the HDI and the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure where their concerns over the boundary negotiations were discussed, which included their stance on why they objected to negotiations with the Band Council. The HDI report states they have been continuing to correspond with the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure without any resolution.

Aaron Detlor, legal advisor to the HDI and the HCCC, reported that in 2013 and 2014 he brought the Brant-Brantford transfer up during a meeting with Tom Molloy, Ontario’s representative, and Randy Reid, ministry representative of the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, who promised to take the matter back to the Minister, but again, there was no resolution.

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