Representatives of the Mohawk Workers sat down with Six Nations Elected Council last week to clear the air about who they are and what they are about. Claudine VanEvery-Albert and Bill Squire met with Council to discuss the plans and ideas of the Mohawk Workers.
VanEvery-Albert began by referring to the 1969 White Paper and said, “That’s when the stage was set. We have tried every avenue to get matters resolved.” The ‘69 White Paper was a proposal made by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien who was Minister of Indian Affairs at the time, that would see the abolishment of the Indian Act and the end of Canada’s fiduciary relationship with it’s Indigenous peoples. This meant the termination of all treaties. Even though nothing became of it, the stage was set as to how the federal government continues to try and assimilate Native peoples and continually ignores their treaty obligations. VanEvery-Albert referred to a land claims case, which is currently before the courts and how those involved seem to be ‘dragging their feet.’ This could be a possible stalling tactic of the government to either wait and see if the Natives give up in court or run out of money trying to pay expensive lawyers to get their stolen land back.
As a result, VanEvery-Albert stated, “People have got together to form the Mohawk Workers group. Bill got everyone together. I have been involved since last Fall. The long and short of it is this, the Haldimand Proclamation talks about specifically the Mohawk Nation and such others, to enjoy forever. All documentation leading up to the Haldimand Proclamation, everything was dealt with, with the Mohawk Nation.”
The Mohawk Workers recently received a tract of land around Birketts Lane in Brantford, which is approximately 12.5 acres. The plan is to take this land out of the Ontario Land Registry system and put it in the Mohawk Land Registry. Even though it is Mohawk land, it is for the use and benefit of all Haudenosaunee nations, not just the Mohawk nation, said VanEvery-Albert.
To back up claim to inherent entitlement to land along the Haldimand Tract, VanEvery-Albert cited Articles 26, 27 and 28 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 26 states that, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources, which they have traditionally owned, occupied or other wise used or acquired…States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the Indigenous peoples concerned.”
Article 27 declares, “States shall work in conjunction with indigenous peoples via a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems and that said indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.”
And Article 28 states that, “indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation for the lands…which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”
Canada was visited last year by a delegation from the United Nations. After first refusing the delegation to come to Canada and after much global pressure, the federal government finally granted them access to visit Canada last year to investigate allegations that Canada was mistreating indigenous peoples.
In 2007, Stephen Harper went before the United Nations in New York and voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a historic declaration that Canada helped develop many years ago. Canada was one of only four countries to oppose it while 143 countries around the world were in favor of it. At the time, Leo Cheverie, Vice President for Diversity of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, stated that, “Canada condemns other countries about their human rights violations, but the Federal government continues to violate Aboriginal peoples’ human rights. The hypocrisy is staggering!”
VanEvery-Albert said that the Mohawk Workers are looking forward to a strong working relationship with Six Nations Elected Council.
Bill Squire explained that after years of trying to get land back unsuccessfully, ‘we got nothing to lose.’ Squire explained that the federal government has plans to privatize all reserves in Canada and said, ‘So what does that mean? It means we’re done as Indian people!’ Squire said everyone should be concerned about it and somebody’s got to do something about it.
Traditionally, Six Nations Lands and Resource take their land claims matter through the courts which is a very slow process and works at a snails pace. A single land claim can take years, if not decades to go through the courts, costing millions of dollars and most of the time, Six Nations gets the short end of the stick. Squire stated that when you take that route and go through the court system under the authority of a band council, that means you are trying to get it back under the Indian Act. But when you do this, according to the Indian Act, you don’t have any entitlement in the first place because under the Indian Act, all land is Crown land. It belongs to the federal government.
According to Squire, the Mohawk nation has an inherent right to the land along the Haldimand Tract, under the Haldimand Deed and that land was never given away or sold. It was acquired under illegitimate means which is why Squire formed his group, to come up with a peaceful solution to either get the land back, or get other lands in compensation for the land that was stolen or taken by other means, in a peaceful way.
VanEvery-Albert used the term retrocede, which is the process of ‘giving us back our land.’ She said, “Peace is of utmost importance, just as important as the land.” She also made it clear that getting land back is the ultimate goal of the Mohawk Workers, not money as compensation.
Director of Six Nations Lands and Resource, Lonny Bomberry stated, “Other developers are so desperate to develop that they are willing to give land to the Mohawks,” hinting that this may see a positive outcome.
Phil Monture, Six Nations expert in lands research said, “The ultimate goal is to have underlying title, eventually. This will be an interesting trial balloon. I’m interested to see where it goes.”
A few Council members also seemed to favor the plans and ideas of the Mohawk Workers and voiced their thoughts as well. Melba Thomas told VanEvery-Albert and Squire that upon speaking with a member of the Confederacy Council, she was told that the Mohawks are starting to take responsibility because they are responsible for the land.
Councilor Helen Miller told VanEvery-Albert and Squire that it was an ‘intriguing idea.’
Elected Chief Hill concluded the meeting by reiterating that it is important for everyone in the community to start working together.