Land rights; pandemic response top priorities for Chief and Council this year

Land rights and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic will be the top priorities for Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council in 2021.

Two weeks into the new year, with Covid cases continuing to break records in Ontario and surrounding communities, Elected Chief Mark Hill told the Two Row Times he doesn’t expect schools to re-open in February as originally planned.

Based on the current status of cases and province-wide shutdown in Ontario, Chief Hill doesn’t see Six Nations schools opening Feb. 1. The  re-opening date was set as a target by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada before Covid cases started breaking records in December, with a province-wide shutdown in effect since Dec. 26.

Six Nations schools have been closed since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic in March 2020. Students have been completing studies via remote learning.

Off-reserve students had briefly returned to school from September to December. They currently remain closed.

Finding a resolution to Six Nations’ long-standing land rights will top council’s agenda in 2021, said the elected Chief.

Six Nations’ land rights once again reached the forefront in July 2020, when a small group of Six Nations people stopped construction of a 200-home subdivision in Caledonia on McKenzie Road, saying it sits on unceded land, and dubbed the site “Land Back Lane.”

Talks have begun between Land Back Lane supporters (also known as land defenders), elected council, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) to iron out a strategy before approaching the government on land rights issues.

“We have to be strategic in doing our best to unify the community, to really have that open mind with the Confederacy Council as well as the land defenders (at Land Back Lane),” said Hill. “Everyone needs to be involved and heard.”

Chief Hill said there is a possibility meetings will be conducted live and community members will be allowed to join to be part of the discussions.

“We have to do our due diligence in getting to these voices that need to be heard.”

Last fall, he said, elected council received confirmation that its 24 land claims it filed against the Crown in 1995 will finally be heard before a court in September 2022.

The group is expected to hold its fourth online meeting via Zoom tomorrow (Thursday).

“We need to be strategic in our approach and we need to be as unified as possible,” said Chief Hill.

So far, talks have revealed both the elected council and HCCC agree that Six Nations needs to see the return of land as part of a resolution from the government, said Hill.

A number of Six Nations people and allies continue to maintain a presence at Land Back Lane, while a portion of Argyle Street running through Caledonia remains closed. Six Nations people shut down the road two months ago in response to the arrests of supporters who are facing criminal charges for being at Land Back Lane. An injunction granted to the developer threatens arrest and trespassing charges for anyone caught on the property.

Chief Hill said the group is also discussing the re-opening of Argyle Street.

“The priority is to get these roads safely opened,” he said.

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