Six Nations Elected Council has deferred moving forward with the transfer of the Burtch lands under the federal Additions to Reserve process until it consults with the community.
Lonny Bomberry, Six Nations Director of Lands and Resources, sought council approval to begin work on the additions to reserve (ATR) process at Monday’s Political Liaison meeting but given the current climate of Six Nations’ land rights, SNGR Elected Council deferred moving forward with the process.
Councillor Wendy Johnson said the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and the community should be consulted on the Burtch property as Six Nations goes into its sixth month of reclaiming a parcel of land in Caledonia known as ‘Land Back Lane’, the site of the halted McKenzie Meadows housing development project. A number of Six Nations people and allies continue to maintain a presence on the property after stopping construction on July 19, 2020.
“We have so much going on with regard to land,” said Coun. Johnson. “We would like to have some discussion with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and all the people with Land Back Lane. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where we go forward and do something and other people have concerns with it.”
The 380-acre Burtch property is the site of a former correctional facility just outside the reserve in the hamlet of Mount Pleasant. The federal government agreed to transfer the land back to Six Nations outside the auspices of SNGR after negotiations with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) in 2006. The Additions to Reserve process (ATR) would see the land become part of the existing Six Nations reserve and become Crown land.
For the past 15 years, the Burtch land transfer has been mired in controversy, as SNGR and the HCCC remain at odds over who has rights to the property.
The land has been sitting in a numbered corporation controlled by SNGR since 2017.
“That’s how the title is being held,” said Bomberry. “We have a bit of a torturous history with respect to the property.”
In 2017, the Elected Council sought an injunction against a Six Nations farmer, Kris Hill, who, Bomberry said, farmed the land, “without our permission” despite the HCCC providing Hill with a lease to plant crops on the property.
“We need to start the process of getting the land added to the reserve,” said Bomberry. He said the ATR process has been simplified, allowing the land to be transferred to a reserve by the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, “without having to go through cabinet and getting approved there.”
Bomberry asked for a resolution to get the process started but elected council was split on the decision.
Coun. Johnson asked if the HCCC or community has been consulted. Bomberry said they haven’t.
Coun. Nathan Wright agreed with Coun. Johnson.
“Land rights issues are top of mind of the majority of our community members right now,” he said. “I think it’s important we bring the community along.”
He added that the community should also be informed how the ATR process works.
Coun. Helen Miller said some people “want nothing to do with the government” or the ATR process.
“They want the land back the way it was taken 200 years ago. They don’t stop to think the added to reserve process gets rid of the taxes. If we don’t add it to the reserve, council has to pay tax.”
She said council currently has an agreement with the government not to pay taxes on the property.
Bomberry said it’s a 20-year indemnity agreement not to pay taxes that expires in 17 years.
“If we were to take Burtch over completely without adding it to the reserve, then we’d have to eventually start paying taxes,” said Coun. Miller. “If they want us to take over land and pay tax on it, fine. That has to be agreed by the community. That’s the communication part that we have to do.”
Coun. Melba Thomas said the HCCC should be consulted. She recommended not moving forward with the ATR just yet. Thomas lauded elected councillors who have been meeting with community members at Land Back Lane and the Six by Six site (at the corner of Hwy. 6 and Sixth Line Road) where community members have also maintained a presence since August 2020. The Six by Six site has been touted as a safety zone for those at the Land Back Lane site, which sits across the street.
“This is a big-ticket item that should be discussed not only with the community but with the Confederacy as a governance body, also,” said Coun. Thomas. “That is my concern with moving forward.”
Elected Chief Mark Hill said council sent a letter recently to the HCCC but haven’t heard back and the Burtch lands should be discussed between the two councils.
SNGR agreed to defer the Burtch ATR process. Opposed were Coun. Miller, Coun. Kerry Bomberry, and Coun. Hazel Johnson.