Developer eager to build near Mohawk Institute

Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council wants a Brantford developer to ease off on moving forward with a housing development just a stone’s throw away from where forensic experts are combing lands for potential hidden graves.

Council heard at its political liaison meeting on Monday that the developer wants to expand a subdivision near Birkett Lane and River Road – a site that is slated to be part of the continual search for children’s remains near the former Mohawk Institute Residential School.

A search for bodies using ground-penetrating radar began in the immediate field surrounding the school last fall. The search came after thousands of remains of Indigenous children were found at residential schools across the country in 2021 during ground searches, with additional discoveries this year, as well.

Liv Communities and Kingwood Developments want to expand the Riverwalk subdivision, council heard.

“The developers are being aggressive in trying to get to a place where they can start work,” said Robin Vanstone, consultation supervisor at Six Nations Lands and Resources. “I just wanted council to be aware of that. The proponents are very anxious to get this work done, however, it is within close proximity to the Mohawk Institute.”

At least one councillor said the developers should halt their plans until several discussions take place, namely, with the Six Nations Survivors’ Secretariat, a community coalition created to oversee the search for remains at the former Mohawk Institute.

“It sounds like we need to take some action,” said Coun. Helen Miller.

Vanstone said City of Brantford feels stuck between a rock and hard place when it comes to permitting the development to move forward.

“They can’t stop the development,” she said.

But they could take the issue to the Ontario Lands Tribunal to delay the development.

“More often that not, the Ontario Lands Tribunal does side with the developer,” said Vanstone. “There is a good likelihood if it went that route, the development would be approved. The developers are very smart people and they know that this is a sensitive area so they’re trying to work with the Survivors’ Secretariat to see what can be done. It’s an area that I think is very sensitive.”

The land in question sits in an area with a questionable history.

Lands and Resources Director Lonny Bomberry said the Six Nations Men’s Fire traded that land in Brantford for another piece of land on Oneida Road at Sixth Line in exchange for not shutting down the construction of the Riverwalk project sometime around 2013.

“In their view (the developer), they have already accommodated Six Nations,” said Vanstone. “We clarified for them that they did not accommodate Six Nations.”

Coun. Miller said, “They accommodated the Men’s Fire, they didn’t accommodate Six Nations. We need to identify what kind of action needs to take place.”

Bomberry said his team is meeting with the survivors’ secretariat and will report back to council soon, because it is “time sensitive. They want to be able to proceed with their development. We’re going to continue talking to see if we can come to any resolution.”

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