Saturday, June 17, 2006

Government Buys Disputed Land

The province of Ontario government is buying out a developer whose unfinished subdivision sits on disputed land in Caledonia, Canada. However, Canadian First Nations aboriginal protesters say they'll continue to occupy the site until the property is in their hands.

Six Nations protesters say the deal being finalized between the Ontario and Henco Industries Ltd. shifts ownership of the land they say belongs to their ancestors, but doesn't solve the ongoing crisis.

Ontario intends to hold the land in trust while talks aimed at ending the occupation continue between representatives of the Six Nations, the province and Ottawa (federal government of Canada).

"That title and jurisdiction isn't placed back with Six Nations, is it? And that's what the issue is," said Canadian aboriginal Six Nations spokeswoman Janie Jamieson.

She said the next step was to "keep on hoping" that government officials would take steps to resolve the land issue.

"They haven't begun to resolve anything with us, but as a far as corporate Canada - they've done everything to appease them," Jamieson said.

"Of course they would pay several million dollars to appease the developers and the business people. They would spend that amount of money before they would even begin to resolve the land issue, which is the meat of the story anyway."

The Ontario minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, David Ramsay, wouldn't disclose the value of the deal, citing Henco's concerns about proprietary information. Jamieson suspects it's worth several million dollars.

Ramsay said the deal should alleviate some of the tension in Caledonia, where some incidents of violence have occurred, including recent assaults on two television cameramen and the alleged attempted murder of a police officer.

He said the deal effectively eliminates one player in the complex dispute that was raging even before aboriginal protesters took over the land in February.

"What we're trying to do with arrangements like this is to cool the temperature so that we can get some long-term decision-making at that negotiating table done," Ramsay said.

"This continues to be a flashpoint. So we're trying to cool the temperature in the community and around the table so that we can get constructive dialogue going."

Ramsay added that it has not been determined who will eventually take possession of the land.

"It will be up to the long-term negotiating table to basically work out what the final disposition would be of that land."

The Six Nations occupiers say the land is part of a parcel that was wrongly taken from them by the Crown (Canadian government) in the 1840s.

The province also said Friday it would provide an additional $1 million to help Caledonia and surrounding businesses recover. Frustrated business owners say blockades set up on Highway 6, the community's main road, discouraged customers. Two businesses have hired a lawyer to file a class-action lawsuit to recoup what is being called "tens of millions" of dollars in losses.

Economic Development Minster Joe Cordiano said Friday's announcement brings the total amount of provincial aid to more than $1.7 million. He said the new money will help the community to get back to normal as soon as possible.

"Our plan is to continue to work to get businesses, which are the engines of the local economy, back on their feet as quickly as we can," Cordiano said.

See Free Spirit Gallery for excellent Canadian aboriginal art.

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