BRANTFORD — Two Row Times met with new Brantford mayor, Kevin Davis, last week to get a read on what, if any, changes Six Nations can expect from the City under his leadership. Mayor Davis is a lawyer by trade working with one of Brantford’s biggest law firms. He has a pleasant demeanour, and hopes for better relations between Brant, Brantford and Six Nations. But how is that going to look under his regime? Only time will tell, but there are many questions about how to do it and how will his council be any different from the previous regime under Chris Friel.
To begin with, he said that he has no initial intent to deal with anyone at Six Nations except the Elected Band Council and the Elected Chief. He sees no reason to involve the Traditional Chiefs Council for much, if anything.
“It’s a delicate situation there and it’s easy to step on toes,” he says. “I admit I don’t fully understand all the toes and how they might get stepped on.”
As can be expected, there will be a learning curve for the new mayor. But learning something in its historical sense is not the same as understanding the culture and history of the relationship between the two from a Six Nations perspective.
“I have a desire to have that dialog and in doing that not offend anyone,” says Mayor Davis.
Part of his understanding of Six Nations and introducing himself to the community will be by attending community hosted functions and doing a little good, old fashioned glad-handing with members of the community, which he fully intends to do.
“You can just listen to hear what people have to say,” he says.
When asked about all the historic broken promises and fraudulent land deals, Davis promises to follow through with whatever he says. “If you check me out, you will find that when I say I am going to do something, I will do it,” Davis says. “You develop that as a lawyer. Integrity is important to me.”
He says of himself that although he is not easily intimidated, he loves challenges, and that may be a good thing because there will be challenges, especially now that he has designs on development on Six Nations land under unresolved claim.
“Maybe I will fall flat on my face,” he says, “but I’m really looking forward to doing this. If you want to affect positive change, you can’t let fear of failure freeze you.”
“I would like to take the relationship we have between the City of Brantford and the people of Six Nations and take it in a more positive direction and path. That is my commitment to both the people of the City of Brantford and those of Six Nations.”
“There are many different elements to our relationship, Davis says. “Some are symbolic, some procedural, and some of substance and I’d like to move forward in a positive way with respect to all three.”
He says that symbolism is an important part of that because now we are talking about showing respect to each other and showing an interest.
Davis has had occasion to meet and speak with Chief Hill in the past in non-political circumstances and is optimistic about developing that relationship further in the political arena as well.
“In terms of the ‘substance issues’, land claims in particular, I have to answer this carefully because I have a legal background, but when I think about all the different steps over the last two decades, what I find that has the greatest potential to restart our relationship is the removal of that 1995 law suit,” he says. “It’s important that we resolve that grievance, and I call out to the senior levels of government to respond appropriately to that law suit in resolving these long outstanding historical differences, which I believe are properly framed in that lawsuit.”
To recap, in 1995, the Six Nations Elected Council filed a law suit against the province and Canada seeking answers and recompense for lands in and around Brantford and Brant County and an accounting for missing Six Nations Trust Fund moneys as well as other related parts of those that claims. Out of the 29 originally filed claims which have been accepted by the courts as legitimate, only one has been settled. More than half of those claims involve Brantford directly. The City of Brantford was added to that suit in the reactivation of that suit when the claims went back to court after a brief unsuccessful attempt at direct negotiations.
The new mayor still believes the Grand River Notification Act is all that is necessary in advance of development, even on lands that are under claim. This was an agreement that Brantford and several other communities along the Grand designed in an attempt to soften the blow of development along the Grand River’s six miles on either side of the river, but it also included a set of hand cuffs effectively preventing Six Nations from having any say or power to reject the proposed plan outright.
It was an agreement stating that communities had to “notify” Six Nations of any development that could negatively impact the unresolved land claims. Six Nations had no legal recourse in the matter anyhow. All a community really had to do was to send notification of what they intended to do anyhow.
“I don’t have a solution nor does the municipal government to land claims,” Davis says. “We are not the Crown. The question is, who does have the power to remedy this situations?”
He has observed that the federal government remains reluctant, for whatever reason, to resolve these claims and, as Friel before him, promises to lobby the province and the feds towards resolutions.
“The basis of that 1995 law suit was the way land was surrendered and compensation,” he says. “There have been numerous cases where courts have ruled the land claims to be “very week”.
At one point in the “reasons for judgement” delivered by Justice Arrel which ruled against Six Nations, was a statement questioning why Six Nations waited so long before complaining about the use of the land in Brantford. Although provided with two Abacus Facum statements from two different historians, both showing Six Nations complaints about these issues go back to the 1790’s, only a few years after Joseph Brant led the Mohawks and others to the Grand River Valley in 1784. The Factum shows dozens of other requests and demands for this information can be traced since then, yet Judge Arrel appears not to have read either Factum after a statement like that.
“The injunctions were necessary because the City of Brantford had to protect itself,” said Davis. “Would we go there again? Yes. Is that where I want to go? No, but I’d like to move our relationship in a different direction.”
Looking ahead, Davis is very excited about the Mohawk Lake clean up and development as a possible partnership project bringing the two communities closer. However, the reality is that it will go ahead with or without Six Nations input. This is also part of the land claims spelled out in the Six Nations law suit.
His overview of the Canal and Mohawk Lake cleanup is that it has been and would be a great benefit to both Six Nations and Brantford. But, how Six Nations benefitted then and would now from the development of contested Six Nations is not directly mentioned.
“It could be a catalyst in changing the relationship, where we are working on something that could benefit both of us,” he said. “Half of the land around there still belongs to Six Nations, so as a result they would benefit in the remediation of the lake area as well.”
But how Six Nations would possibly benefit was not explained, other than the city would have to pay for the hookups and road work, should they decide to build on the Glebe land, for example. But Six Nations Elected Council has already approved of the rehabilitation.
Davis admitted that there is no way to remediate Mohawk Lake without Six Nations involvement.
When asked if Six Nations would be more than window dressing in the development, Mayor Davis quickly changed the subject.
“ I don’t want to focus on who can say what, or who’s got the right to say yes or no,” he said.
He explained that after practicing family law for most of his 37 – years, he found that “when the focus becomes the history of the relationship, and the historical grievances, it’s very hard for the parents and spouses to move on.”
“Yes there are historical issues that cannot be ignored,” he explains. “You don’t know what your current reality is unless you know the history that got us there. I try and get the focus on the future and where you want to be in five or six years from now.”
In the case of Mohawk Lake as an example, Davis still sees the project as a collaborative effort between SN and Brantford. He suggests that should Six Nations decide to develop the Six Nations lands near the lake, Six Nations would benefit by having the area remediated and serviced. Which is true, if in fact, the city recognizes Six Nations right to build on Reserve #40B, Eagles Nest Tract, or their right not to.
Wrapping up, more was said than is recorded here, but this writer’s opinion is that Six Nations people and Brantford relations will not improve much over the next four years, and could get worse with a lawyer sitting in the mayor’s chair with a mandate to protect the Crown, and a focus on whatever is seen as good for Brantford. As said earlier, time will tell.