Revisiting the negotiation tables concerning Burtch Lands

The Burtch property which has been the topic of much political discussion as of late is located just to the west of the Six Nations Indian Reserve where First Line Road meets the Cockshutt Road. The land was a farm in the early 1930s but was annexed by Canada and turned into an Army Air Force Base in the Second World War. The land was also part of the much larger Haldimand Tract of almost one million acres of land which were granted to the; Mohawks and others of the Six Nation Indians under the terms and conditions of the Haldimand Proclamation of October 24, 1784. According to the wording of the 1784 Proclamation, Captain Joseph Brant, a (Mohawk Officer in the British Continental Army of North America) and the soldiers and civilians under his care and control; were Granted the Ouse (Grand) River and all lands stretching for a distance of six miles on either side of the river from the mouth of the river where the river empties into Lake Erie to the headwaters or source of the river at the modern-day village of Dundalk, Ontario. These lands were to be used and held by the Mohawks and others forever. However; Brant and his companions soon found out that the word forever meant something totally different to the British people and their Monarchy, which is why so many people today are laying claim to the land in question.

Looking backward from an historical approach, almost as soon as the Mohawks and their other Indian companions arrived at their new home along the Grand River in 1784, greedy non-Indian squatters and unscrupulous Indian Agents began stealing small and large parcels of land with the blessings of the British Government which did little to stop the thefts. According to a Land Update issued by the Six Nations Elected Council in August, 2006; the British Authorities issued a series of notices beginning in 1805 and continuing on in 1812, 1839 and 1840 informing squatters to leave the area but doing nothing to force the squatters to vacate the land they were on. According to the SN Land Report; there was a certain amount of illegal land acquisition activity in the Burtch Tract and even Samuel Jarvis (the Indian Affairs Superintendent) said that he did not expect anyone above his rank to do anything about the thefts. And so; one could argue that the Burtch Land Question is as old as the Haldimand Tract itself and no one should be surprised that even today in the summer of 2017, the Burtch Land is once again being fought over; however, this time it is the “Indians” themselves who are fighting each other for a few hundred acres.

This latest round for the Burtch Lands began in 2006 when a group of “feisty Iroquois women” decided to stop a large Home Construction Project in the Haldimand County Town of Caledonia on the Eastern Border of the Six Nations of the Grand River Reservation. The women’s attempts to stop the project was a huge success for everyone living in the local Iroquois Community even though the women and their supports had to physically fight the governments of Canada, Ontario and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to halt the construction and land destruction at what we know now as DCE. At the height of hostilities in early 2006 after the Six Nations people had blockaded the road leading into Caledonia, a former Premier of Ontario, David Petersen said Ontario would give the land at the former Burtch Correction Centre and Airport back to Six Nations if the Barricades were removed. The Six Nations people agreed to the offer and the barricades were removed.

However; in a “a true, Dishonest Government and Political Fashion”, it took more than 11 years for Canada and Ontario to live up to their end of the bargain.

With the barricades down, all parties related to the work stoppage at DCE (Six Nations; Canada; Ontario) got together and began a series of talks to settle exactly who owned the land where the Douglas Creek Estates Housing Development would have been constructed. The talks began with a main table and slowly over time morphed into four additional side table discussions. All side tables were manned by members from Ontario; Canada; and supporters of the Six Nations Elected Council and the De Facto Iroquois Confederacy Chiefs Council. The author of this essay sat as a member of the Archaeology and Appearance Side Table and as an Alternate member of the Burtch Sub-Committee which grew out of the Lands Table.

The DCE Talks continued for several years with a lot of talking but no action and eventually just ground to a halt as none of the parties could not and simply, would not; agree on anything. One of the reasons for the talks coming to an end was due to the fact that the Six Nations Elected Council took their old Lands Claims Initiative out of (Abeyance) and reintroduced them to the governing bodies in Ottawa and Toronto. Once this occurred, the fight for Burtch began in earnest as The Ontario Realty Corporation began to Clean Up the Burtch property in preparation for the “Hand Back” to the Six Nations Community. It is interesting to note that as the DCE talks were under way a couple of “new players” arrived on the scene; these were the HDI which claimed to be affiliated with the Iroquois Confederacy Chiefs Council; and the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs complete with a newly Minted (Minister).

Once the Burtch sub-committee had been assembled and meeting times and protocols agreed to by the members and the Main Table, the squabbling began as the Confederacy Chiefs Reps and those of the Elected Council fought for the lead position even though all Six Nations members in Canada and the United States become Confederacy members at birth. This means that even the Elected Chief and Council are members of the Iroquois Confederacy in spite of those individuals who believe that only Iroquois people who support the Chiefs Council belong to the Confederacy.

However; the Burtch Committee eventually overcame its birthing pains and worked out a plan which was agreeable to the Feds and the Province known as the: Burtch Demolition and Environmental Remediation Paper. The 14-page final document was prepared for the MAA Negotiating Team by the PIR/ ORC (Provincial Infrastructure and Renewal/Ontario Realty Corporation in December 2007. The Ontario Realty Corporation owned the Burtch property along with all other Crown Assets in the province. At the time of the signing of the document, the Burtch site consisted of 38 buildings and other structures such as corn cribs, sports playing fields and a water treatment plant located on 378 acres of land. In addition to these there were s series of paved roads, walkways and the old Airplane landing strip and runways. The committee and the two levels of government agreed that all of the assets listed above were to be razed, torn up and all debris cleaned and removed and all land returned to its original condition before the land would be returned to the people listed in the terms of the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784.

As the Burtch Clean-up continued, the HDI supposedly on behalf of the Confederacy Chiefs Council got involved by sending at least one monitor to the project, while the newly Minted, Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs eventually took the reins out of the hands of the Ontario Realty Corporation. Once more; just like way back in the early 1800s, the government once again stuck its nose into Six Nations Affairs. This time however; with the DCE Talks out of the way, the Six Nations Elected Council threw a team of Negotiators from the Lands and Resources Department into the fray. The Team was known as the Consultation and Accommodation Program (CAP) Team. This Team became responsible for “eventually” bringing the Burtch Lands back to the Six Nations Community via a Corporation headed by the Director of the Lands and Resources Department and the Department’s leading Land Rights Consultant who incidentally sit as members of the CAP Team. One could argue that this may constitute a “conflict of interest”; however, one thing is certain: The Six Nations of the Grand River finally won a small battle in the Big War for our Land Reclamation Processes.

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