Home Feature Looking deeper at land claims

Looking deeper at land claims

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Land claims and land grievances are no stranger to Onkwehón:we, and the convoluted history of Indigenous rights and lands has been prevalent since settlers arrived hundreds of years ago. In this series, we will be breaking down the significance of land claims and land grievances while spotlighting notable voices that help guide us through this multilayered topic.

The traditional approach

Kenneth Deer, the former secretary for the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation at Kahnawake, spoke to The Eastern Door as an individual, not as an official 207 Longhouse spokesperson.

“As a traditionalist, I don’t support the concept of ‘land claims,’” he said. “That process assumes that Canada owns the land, and we have to make a ‘claim’ against the government. So the onus is on us to prove we own the land. That is backwards.

“Canada should be asked to prove it owns the land and how it got the title,” Deer added.

He furthered that stance by saying, “all of Mohawk Territory is our land, from the Island of Laval to past Albany, New York, and from the west side of the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain to about mouth of Lake Ontario,” he said.

On the Canadian side of the border, he added, there are no Kanien’kehá:ka treaties that surrendered sovereignty.

The Seigneury was a promise by the king of France that Mohawks “would be undisturbed on this piece of our land. The land was not his, but even so, it’s still a promise that was broken,” he said.

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Much of the land was sold out from under the people, and Deer believes the process to get it back, regain title, and fight for it will be a long one – as it already has been.

Adding to the issue is the refusal by the Canadian government to deal directly with the Longhouse, meaning key voices are shut out of the process.

“It’s ours no matter what France, Great Britain, or Canada and Quebec say,” said Deer. “And it’s not for sale. We don’t want money in exchange for land. We have no interest in selling our land. We say no to any ‘comprehensive land claim’ process.”

The only solution, he said, is for the government of the day to own up to its obligations and promises and to deal with Onkwehón:we as equals.

“We realize that the settlers are not going back to where they came from,” he said. “So we need to find a solution for two sovereigns to occupy the same space: Canada recognizing our homeland and compensating us for their ongoing occupation of much of our territory, while recognizing our total sovereignty on the land that we occupy. And those lands need to be much bigger.”

A fundamental way to usurp the Indian Act band councils from having too much power in negotiations with Canada is with
more and more people practicing traditional methods, said Deer, “that would force the settler governments to deal with the chiefs and clan mothers.”

With successive governments using the same excuse that the people who built on Seigneury lands cannot merely be moved, Deer explained that there are other ways to look at land disputes.

“There is adjacent land to the south that is not developed,” he said. “It can be absorbed for our purposes. And Mohawk Territory is large. There is a lot of land between here and the border that can be returned to our jurisdiction. We just need to think outside the box of a reserve.”

None of this can happen, of course, without the will of the people. The government won’t just hand land over and wish the people good luck.

Besides, in our research, The Eastern Door found that so much of the “best land” in Quebec (on lakes, with rich soil, easily accessible for commercial ventures) is owned by individuals or developers, leaving somewhat slim pickings if other territory were to be acquired.

“This is a long-term process,” he said. “Our homeland is occupied by millions of settlers. It’s an unbalanced relationship. It will take time to rebalance. We can’t match their numbers, but we have the high moral ground on this matter of land.

“The return of land to us and a nation-to-nation relationship is an obtainable goal with the political will on both sides,” said Deer. “It’ll be gradual in small steps and big leaps. And always a struggle. That’s why I say you have to teach your children to struggle. If we stop struggling, we will disappear over time.”

A History of land issues

Historian and professor Daniel Rück knows Kahnawake well. He will be incorporating his extensive research and knowledge of the community into a book that’s launching next Wednesday, September 15 entitled The Laws and the Land: The Settler Colonial Invasion of Kahnawà:ke in Nineteenth-Century Canada.

When he spoke to The Eastern Door, with his in-depth understanding of historical land occupation and how it relates to the modern-day land claims system, Rück helped to break down and tie historic land possession together with the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s controversial because a lot of people who talk about these things will often bring up the doctrine of discovery right away because it is the kind of theoretical framework and justification that Europeans used to dispossess Indigenous people,” he said.

The doctrine of discovery gave Christians the right to unilaterally claim land that was “unoccupied” in their view, which was used as a broad term to suit their purposes and justify land theft.

The doctrine came from the Papal Bull issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, and essentially left Onkwehón:we as mere occupiers of land until Europeans came along and took it as they saw fit, with the backing of royalty and Catholic Church.

If the only people who are occupying land are not Christian or “uncivilized barbarians,” he said, then that was used to justify taking possession, subjugating, and assimilating with just cause.

“Then we can plant our flag in the ground and take it,” he said. “So that’s the racist basis for dispossession, which manifests itself in all kinds of ways historically – different places, times and ways. And still sort of does.”

The ownership of the land comes from the differences in how Europeans viewed it; individual ownership, paying taxes to
a king or overlord; versus collective ownership, which was more communal, traditional usage of it. The land was for the people, not for the individual to prosper and leave the village behind.

It pitted the ideals of taking care community versus individual pursuit of riches.

This enabled the Eurocentric values and system to become the only one worth using for settlers, because it benefitted the Europeans much more than the Indigenous Peoples.

Using Indigenous farming techniques as an example, such as the old Kanien’kehá:ka way of life, where after 20 years,

semi-nomadic peoples would move to another location in order not to exhaust the soil; which would make it impossible for Europeans to build their cities and plant their flags if they did the same.

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On the flip side, if Champlain arrived on the shores of this continent in the 1600s in what later became known as Quebec, failing to see the same people he did many years previous simply meant they moved on, not that they were no longer using that piece of land.

They still used it, but in periods of time, more widely spaced out than Europeans were used to.

This also relates to the St. Lawrence Iroquois theory Quebecers sometimes use to separate modern-day Kanien’kehá:ka
from a people they say simply disappeared. If you’re not related to them, you have no claim to Montreal, they will argue.

It also did not mean the land was open for the taking to whoever happened to “discover” it.

“Even the word ownership is a European, colonial imposition,” said Rück. “Indigenous Peoples will say things like ‘the land owned us,’ or ‘we had responsibilities to it.’ That’s how they break down Indigenous land ownership. They (Europeans) will say, ‘well they didn’t own it, they used it and protected it,’ and they will use the Indigenous position that ‘ownership is foreign to us, don’t impose it,’ as an argument against Indigenous possession,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean that Indigenous people didn’t claim territory, didn’t maintain borders, or assert their rights to be in certain areas.

“That’s where the confusion can come. This controversy on ownership can lead people to say, ‘well, Indigenous people didn’t have the land anyway because they didn’t really own it,’ but that’s just an excuse,” he said.

It also comes down to traditions in the homelands of all nations.

– How do you act when you’re in another nation’s territory?
– What are you offering?
– Are you entering their lands for a business relationship or an act of war?

These are questions that were rarely, if ever, considered by Euopeans because they did not view Indigenous people as, well, people – Christians like them.

It was much more complicated than just the sedentary occupation of specific parcels of land. It was about control, respect and understanding among nations that were, at times, foes and at other times key allies in wars against other nations – Indigenous and European alike.

Rück discussed the “layers of distraction” that are a constant, even in today’s society, of why Native people should own less land, give up their land for natural resources and foreign profit, and have almost no chance to expand.

Using the term terra nullius for a place like Montreal, for example, (unoccupied territory that is open to claim, according
to Europeans), is a popular means to explain away Indigenous occupation and possession, control or ownership of that land.

As a professor at the University of Ottawa teaching history, he often discusses the Bering Strait theory, which further dispossesses Native people in favour of Europeans. It claims that Indigenous Peoples have “only” been here for 10,000 or so years – meaning they were here first, but they are not “native” to the territory, in the overall scheme of things, according
to some settlers.

The racist theory has been put into serious doubt, even among white scholars. As bones dating further back than previously known, and artifacts dating as far back as 30,000 years were found in the Americas, it would have made it near impossible for a mere land bridge to explain the presence of so many different Indigenous Peoples in this land over such a vast swath; with distinct languages, traditions and cultures.

Regardless of the theoretical flow in and out of Turtle Island, Rück said the Eurocentric views of land ownership mean a large part of the possession question is never posed outside of the Americas.

“One thing I point out in the classes quite often is the human history of Europe is only 40,000 years, and how often do we talk about Europe as having a land bridge to Africa or a land bridge to Asia? At one point, 40,000 years ago, Europeans came in,” he said.

“But that’s not the way we start our textbooks with Europe. I see it as a colonial tactic to say Indigenous people are also immigrants, in a way that Europeans will never say about themselves.”

There is also a question of “acting in the right ways historically,” said Rück, another tactic to put European values, industry
and technology ahead of Indigenous knowledge.

But what is the “right way” to one culture is the “wrong way” to another.

“They will say Indigenous people didn’t farm in the right way, using plows, or use the land intensively enough. They didn’t live in permanent enough towns, that they moved seasonally,” he said.

“All of that was used by Europeans rhetorically to dispossess Indigenous people. It’s a distraction. Who decided that moving your village doesn’t give you a legitimate claim to the land? That’s arbitrary Europeans’ way of thinking, that their way of life was the only legitimate one,” said Rück.

“It was basically a dehumanizing way of looking at the world where only our way of living on the land is the good way, and anyone who does it differently isn’t fully human.”

One of Rück’s roles as a non-Native scholar, he said, is to “face the injustices and not feel guilty about it, but I have a certain responsibility that comes with being the person that I am.”

The politicians

“They call it ‘land claim,’ we call it ‘land grievance,’” said MCK chief Mike Delisle. The chief explained that after submission to the federal government, finally and formally in 2003, under the signature of the minister of Indian Affairs at the time, Robert Nault, an offer to negotiate without prejudice began.

It involved seven breaches of lawful obligation identified by the federal government to Kahnawake, to negotiate the Seigneury of Sault St. Louis.

This brought the debate to the table. The first 18 months of negotiation explored the parameters of the negotiation protocol. Once that was completed, former minister of justice Marc Lalonde was appointed the federal negotiator.

Delisle worked on the file dating back to 1998, and in 2004, his role changed significantly.

“After I became grand chief, the table appointed me as the negotiator on behalf of the community, and we continued for 10 years,” said Delisle.

In 2006, after the Conservative Party won the election, Lalonde left and Jean Lemieux was appointed chief federal negotiator. Negotiations continued until the beginning of 2016.

Canada changed the rules of engagement then, Delisle said, and as such, they no longer wanted to appoint a chief federal negotiatior, and, according to Delisle, wanted revised protocol.

Delisle was voted out of office as grand chief in 2015, but was re-elected in 2018 as a chief. “When I came back, there
was a new portfolio assignment. Seigneury was under rights and responsibilities, which covers some of the land grievances,” he said, adding that he still leads the Seigneury file with several other members of Council.

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Today, Delisle continues to believe this process needs to be reevaluated. “They have continuously changed policy and rules throughout our negotiation, but we feel that the new process isn’t helpful in terms of us moving this as quickly as we need to,” he expressed.

Although there have been many consultations over the years, Delisle explained that many barriers are restricting tangible solutions.

“We’ve been at the negotiation table for 10 years,” he said. “It’s not an easy process, it’s obviously lengthy, and there are lots of trials and tribulations and issues moving forward. The community wants land and wants to deal with this as quickly as possible.”

In terms of the current MCK government, Delisle explained that as there are five new members, he predicts many questions regarding this land grievance. “I would understand if they would follow the lead of people who have the experience to assure that were moving in the right direction,” said Delisle.

Although he remains determined, this does not alleviate Delisle’s frustration with this ongoing process. “It’s been a long
period of time that we have been dealing with this issue. It takes a lot of resources, energy, and research that has gone well beyond 2003 when it was formally accepted by Canada,” he said.

“It’s about time that Canada steps up and brings back the negotiation table, so we can finally and formally come to a resolution that’s over 300 years old.”

Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer was elected MCK grand chief this year after four terms and 12 years on Council as chief.

“What I expressed to Carolyn Bennett (the Crown-Indigenous Relations minister) is that we feel disrespected. You are not taking Kahnawake seriously. What is it going to take?” she said, expressing her frustration over the current status of the Seigneury of Sault St Louis land claim.

The new grand chief said that since 2003 when the federal government acknowledged that the crown had not fulfilled its fiduciary responsibility in protecting the communal interests and rights of Kahnawake, Council’s objective has been to get land back for the community.

“Obviously, the community has lost enough land over our history. We are talking about Kahnawake proper. We are talking about a nation claim. There is a principle in the community ‘Not one more inch,’” she said.

“It irks me to say that a king granted us land because it was already ours.”

Sky-Deer said that the community has watched all of the surrounding municipalities develop on Seigneury land over the years while the federal government keeps stalling because they don’t want to displace third-party interests.

“What about our interest?” asked the grand chief.

However, she remains cautiously optimistic that the tide might finally be changing in Canada, at the very least in terms of
individual Canadians.

“There are a lot of people now that want to be allies with Indigenous Peoples. They see what has happened – Truth and
Reconciliation, all of the mass graves of the children, and they are wondering what they can do to be allies or to help or be a part of the solution,” she explained.

She also believes that it will take true political will from both the federal and provincial governments to finally get negotiations moving again.

However, if the status quo is maintained regarding the land claims process in the country, Sky- Deer thinks that grassroots movements will continue to escalate.

“We are going to start seeing more things like Caledonia and the 2020 rail blockade. We already proved that we can impact the Canadian economy by taking certain actions,” she said.

“That is why we put out that press release saying that we supported the land occupation at the end of the Old Chateauguay Rd – although it is regarding a housing development, we can see that becoming a practice in term of trying to get attention.”

She stressed, however, that she understands that Canadians don’t want that. Still, ultimately, it is up to the government to finally take action and fulfill their fiduciary obligations to Indigenous communities.

“This is probably one of the biggest land claims in the country right now, and they are really not taking it seriously. I want to see some movement. I want to see some progress that I can report back to the community that we were able to get something done,” she said.

Digging deeper

CBC launched a documentary earlier this year called Whose Condo is it, Anyway? It examined a first-time buyer’s purchase and traced it back as far as possible, to create a timeline of ownership.

The purpose was to show that built-up wealth over hundreds of years within non-Native society has made generations of families well-off. A large number of those who benefitted from land, used that early base of wealth to continue, into the future, to be able to go to private school, live in fancy homes, and invest in so many things that the average Onkwehón:
we is shut out of.

“The jumping-off point for the doc was how I bought a condo with my partner in Mile End last year,” said Craig Desson, who came up with the idea for the doc. “Until I bought that apartment, I had always rented. So, it’s been one year of not having landlords in the picture. Being an owner means having more rights, and more rights mean you have many more options. And not being an owner means the opposite; it means having fewer rights.”

From centuries ago till now, the narrative is the same for Native people; unless you’re lucky enough to be born into money, or you get into the tobacco trade, or somehow work against the odds and make enough money to be successful in that way.

“I think it shows clearly how land ownership creates vast amounts of wealth and whoever has that wealth plays an enormous role in creating the institutions that shape society,” Desson told The Eastern Door.

“This is illustrated with the Sulpicians, who had the seigniorial land grant for Montreal. They were there to help settle the island for the French. They not only made a lot of money, but they also set up one of the first schools of higher learning in what is now Quebec and hired the teachers.

“So a generation of future leaders was schooled in an educational system created by the landowners who were on a mission to settle Quebec,” he said.

In a smaller example individually, if Tom Smith was granted land by the king or government to settle in, say, 1721 or 1821, they were also given tax breaks to live and farm the land.

Even paying taxes, they often didn’t have to pay for the land, or if they did, it gained value with each passing year, meaning when they sold it, they made a lot of money. Or they passed it down from generation to generation, and they could borrow heavily against that land for a better life.

This is a reality that was not available to Native people, who were instead confined to reserves, which is Crown land and not individually owned, even if you pay for it.

So over the years, with much smaller gains on your land value and only a handful of people registered to the specific reserve eligible and wealthy enough to purchase it, the disparity grew.

“The system subtracted Indigenous people from the economic prosperity of Montreal,” said Desson. “Montreal was in
many ways the starting point for the industrial revolution in Canada, and people made a lot of money from that system through railroads, land development, industry, educational systems, and religious institutions.

“Now, when I looked at three centuries of property records, with the help of local historian Alan Stewart, all the significant
landowners were either British or French. It shows that Indigenous people were cut out of the economic system that brought prosperity to Montreal and the nation,” he said.

And that’s only using Montreal as an example. The same helping hand was extended to the farmers in Saskatchewan and the prospectors in the Yukon, meaning the opposite happened to the Indigenous Peoples, who were displaced, undervalued and cast aside as “in the way.”

The non-Native settlers had an advantage from the get-go because they were Christian, “settling” the land for the British
or French and later Canada, and were supported every step of the way because the government of the day desperately needed to collect more and more taxes to pay for the growing needs of the steadily increasing number of new arrivals.

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“The biggest surprise for me was how important the land claim ceremonies were by the settling Europeans,” said Desson. “In high school history class, I had the impression that Jacques Cartier stepped off the boat and planted a cross, and that was it. But in reading Ceremonies of Possession in Europe’s Conquest of the New World by Patricia Seed, it turns out these were part-religious and part nation-building ceremonies, and had legal credence in that era’s version of international law.

“I was surprised there was this whole legal system in place for what seems like an almost mystical ceremony, and that that system continues to show up even today – like in the small ceremony I experienced at the beginning of the doc when signing the deed in the notary’s office,” he said.

Desson’s search is rare indeed. Few typically pay mind to the steps leading up to purchasing a condo – aside from knowing who sold it to the buyers – but what Desson was able to do was to start a dialogue and get people to think of what 400 years of running ahead of the pack looked like, when many Native people were still putting on their shoes at the starting line.

Former Kanesatake grand chief Serge Otsi Simon worked on the current land claim in Kanesatake since he stepped into his role as grand chief almost 10 years ago.

“If we are talking historical evidence, we can go back 2,000 years in Kanesatake,” said Simon. “And we can confidently say that because of the pottery shards, the arrowheads and spearheads that were found just around Oka Park.”

The former grand chief explained that there had been arguments over the years disputing Mohawk occupation of the
Seigneury of the Lake of Two Mountains.

“It is about asserting who was here first and not letting the colonizer tell us what they think or trying to assert what belongs to us. We know what belongs to us,” he said.

In 2007, the Harper government made changes to the federal land claim process. The government allocated $250 million a year for 10 years to help manage the backlog of claims and created a tribunal that made the final decisions on disputes.

Grand chief Paul Nicholas and his Council signed off on the Kanesatake land claim in 2011.

“I criticized that move for quite some time, but I did understand why. The Harper government was imposing a rule that if
you were not in a specific claim by a certain time, you would have no choice but to take Canada to court,” said Simon. He added that taking the government to court is extremely costly and time-consuming – money Kanesatake doesn’t have.

The land claim in Kanesatake is a monetary one, so the community would not actually get its land back under this process, something that the former grand chief does not agree with.

“I have told the government many times that they are not acting under the rule of law. They are acting under policy,” he said.

He said that the federal government has blatantly ignored Supreme Court decisions regarding Indigenous title and the United Nations, that have stated that Indigenous Peoples have rights in these colonized states.

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“The land claim to me has been an experience of hit and miss. Even in the UN Declaration that Canada adopted (on the

rights of Indigenous Peoples), it does state that ‘you are to be compensated either financially or given lands of equal value or a chance to return,’” said Simon.

Simon wants the federal government to purchase disputed land at the edge of the village of Oka from developer Gregoire
Golin, and put it under a trust and add it to the compensation. He wants his community to be able to benefit economically from that land.

“Oka is going to lose a lot of taxation, but nothing prevents us from going into economic partnerships with these municipalities, where they would become investors that would collect dividends from any developments that we would do,” he said.

The surrounding municipalities are another layer of complication in the land claim. Even if the community gets compensation from the federal government, it will be up to Kanesatake to try and negotiate directly with the municipalities and the province.

“If the crown had respected its treaty obligations to us, these municipalities would not exist. So today, my biggest problem is that these municipalities are asserting territory,” said Simon.

“When they talk about their municipality, they are talking about territory, and they are trying to absorb us. They are trying to annex us within that framework. I have been fighting that as well.”

He talked about Pascal Quevillon and his Oka Town Council passing a resolution to assert Oka’s heritage on the Pines.
Kanesatake has taken him to court to dismantle his resolution.

Throughout his time in Council, Simon has been repeatedly criticized by his own community for lack of transparency regarding the land claim and his dealings with Oka and the surrounding municipalities.

He responded that he is bound by a confidentiality agreement, which he said was signed under former grand chief Nicholas.

He said that he could not discuss the ongoing negotiations with Canada for fear that they would throw out the entire claim.

However, the government sent Simon a letter saying that the confidentiality agreement does not prevent him from sharing
information with the community.

Nonetheless, he remained, right until he was voted out of office, apprehensive of talking about the negotiation process.

The Supreme Court validated the 1760 Treaty of Oswegatchie in 1993. According to the former grand chief, the treaty promised that the Mohawks would not be displaced and could continue to peacefully occupy as well as hunt.

“When I go into the specific claim, the way I see it, the crown is trying to buy its way out of a very difficult situation,” he said.

“It has breached treaties that were recognized by the courts. And now they want to offer us money, so we have to deal with buying back the land. We are going to be responsible for the taxes.”

Moreover, Simon said that the government has only offered half of what the Council’s studies have evaluated in terms of compensation.

“So, they low-balled us like hell, and then there is the condition that we have to go buy the land back,” said Simon.

The new grand chief and the Longhouse

The matter of land rights driven by the movement known as Land Back is steering national attention like never before.

This ongoing battle for inherent rights recognition is well known by the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kanehsatake, which
has been experiencing land disposition for well over 300 years.

These centuries of resistance have namely been marked by the Siege of Kanehsatake that took place 31 years ago – also known as the Oka Crisis.

While the standoff between land protectors and military forces ended on September 26, 1990 Onkwehón:we rights activist and representative of the People of the Longhouse Ellen Gabriel is one of many still fighting for justice.

“This is not an acceptable situation we find ourselves in – it’s not acceptable in regards to our inherent rights and it’s not acceptable in regards to human rights,” said Gabriel. “It’s not a normal situation that we are living in and yet we’re supposed to just accept it.”

At the dawn of the morning of July 11, 1990, Gabriel was among the 13 unarmed women who strongly held their ground
as they were faced with armed Surete du Quebec officers.

This specific instant and the 77 days that followed were detrimental in establishing Kanehsata’kehró:non as people of indescribable resilience.

In the wake of 31 years since the standoff, a new grand chief at the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) was elected with the promise of igniting change through transparency and tangible community involvement.

“Now that there’s a new council and that I’m in the grand chief position, I will respect the goal of my mandate and platform,
which was for honesty, accountability and transparency – all things I intend to do,” said grand chief Victor Akwirente Bonspille, who was elected July 31.

The appointment of Bonspille was a momentous shift for the community, which saw the previous grand chief Serge Otsi
Simon hold the position for a decade.

When all the new representatives came into office, portfolios for matters such as education, housing, and finance were assigned based on each elected chief’s prior experience and interest.

With land claims being one of the most critical portfolios on the table, the council opted to have each member on the file in order to ensure all hands were on deck.

Land claims are especially contentious in Kanesatake as a specific claim for the Commons of the Seigneury of Lake of Two Mountains was accepted by the federal government on April 14, 2008.

Although negotiations have been ongoing ever since, there have been persistent waves of denunciation from Kanehsata’kehró:non, criticizing both Canada’s approach and the information shared by the MCK.

“Serge (Otsi) kept spewing lies saying that we were under a gag order – he’s been carrying this information with him without notifying the community,” Bonspille told The Eastern Door in a previous interview. “He’s been putting the fear in members saying Canada would walk away and close the books on us if he talked.”

Since Bonspille took the new position, he has been firm about the new administration’s intentions. “We can’t and won’t move forward without input and direction from our community members,” said the grand chief. “That’s the whole purpose of a band council – to get directions from our people and to do the will of the people.”

As council reiterates its intention to operate openly, there are still negotiation terms agreed upon by the previous administration, which may interfere with their ability to act as transparently as the community would hope.

“In the negotiation of specific claims, the parties (First Nations council and Canada) at the beginning of the negotiation process sign a negotiation protocol. The purpose of the negotiation protocol is to ensure a common understanding between the parties of the claim being negotiated and to establish an open, without prejudice, forum for discussion,”
stated Carine Midy, spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, in an email to The Eastern Door.

In line with these protocols, the terms of negotiations signed by parties would have then been determined by the administration in council over 10 years ago.

The spokesperson also clarified that it is the Council’s responsibility to determine the composition of its negotiation team, which will work with the federal government towards the settlement of the claim.

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According to Midy, conditions regarding the sharing of information would have also been set out by previous chiefs.

“During the negotiation of a specific claim, a First Nation Council can, at its discretion, share information with its community members on the negotiation of the claim,” added the spokesperson.

The stringent provisions established by the federal government and its negotiators leave little leeway for change once a new council takes over the hefty legal undertaking.

For the council elected last month, this may also pose an issue as they have expressed their conviction to include the Longhouse people in a concrete way.

“Rather than just being invited to the talks – which they were before, but their voice wasn’t heard – we told them that
this was going to change and that our traditional body will have a voice that will be heard,” said Bonspille.

“I believe that this is going to change the whole process – it’s going to change any agreement that was drawn up and it’s going to change any type of talks that happened,” he continued. “I think we are going to be beginning this as a new chapter in our land claims.”

The resolution to have community representatives from all governing bodies at the table to defend the rights of Kanehsata’kehró:non would be a first.

As the pandemic continues to delay processes at all levels of government, the decision to add seats at the negotiation table is a process expected to not only be heavily debated by Canada, but also considerably deferred.

“They can’t speak on our behalf so I’m glad that they’re open to sitting with the Longhouse when it comes to land
discussions, because we’ve been excluded so far,” said Gabriel.

However, she also noted that these discussions have thus far been informal.

In any case, the Onkwehón:we rights defender asserted that the negotiation mechanism remains a tool designed to work against those sitting across Canada.

“We should not have to go into Canada’s expensive court system to protect our rights,” said Gabriel.

“The Longhouse people have survived colonization and still exist – just like our languages and cultures. They claim that they recognize our inherent rights, but we don’t need their recognition, we need them to respect our inherent rights, which they have not done.”

As the community awaits the next steps, Gabriel emphasizes an urgency to change the federal model of proceeding that continues to discount the rights of the original people of Turtle Island.

“If you want a solution, you have to get rid of colonialism, the Indian Act and implement those traditional forms of government that respect gender balance, everybody’s rights and the rights of the environment,” she said. “Because
for us and Indigenous law, our human rights are dependent on the rights and health of the environment.

“They have the fighting power – the muscle – to impose and implement their agenda; to deny us our rights, criminalize us and try to discredit us,” she continued.

“This is how the human rights for Indigenous people work in Canada.”



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Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec.
Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news.
He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other publications.
Among Steve's many awards is the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015, and a back-to-back win in 2010/11 in the Canadian Association of Journalists' community category - one of which also garnered TED a short-list selection of the prestigious Michener award.
He was also Quebec Community Newspapers Association president from 2012 to 2019, and continues to strive to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities for a better understanding of each other.

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Laurence Brisson Dubreuil is a multimedia journalist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, Canada. She holds a BA in journalism, with a minor in law and society from Montreal's Concordia University.

Laurence began reporting with The Eastern Door in the fall of 2020, after completing a fellowship with the Institute for Investigative Journalism, a national investigative organization.

Among many things, Laurence is passionate about investigative reporting, human rights, and environmental issues.

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