By Adam Prudhomme
Members of Parliament, including Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio, met with Tyendinaga Mohawk council on Friday during a cross-country trip as they begin negotiations on land claims in several Indigenous communities.
Friday’s stop in Tyendinaga was the conclusion of a week-long trip that began in British Columbia. Members of the federal government’s Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs met with several Indigenous leaders from across Ontario in Belleville before meeting at the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte council chambers.
“We just finished a fabulous tour of the whole reserve and pointed out a lot of interesting aspects of the reserve compared to others,” said Bossio.
He said the tour, which was led by Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief Donald Maracle, was a comprehensive two hours.
“We went up to the Culbertson Tract, had a look at that through the town of Deseronto, Christ Church and all the different subdivisions and the whole treatment plant,” said Bossio. “So really it was a good two hours on the reserve. That was great to give everyone an understanding of the issues.”
Bossio says they hope to make real progress on the Culbertson Tract land claim and ultimately reach an agreement on the issue that dates back to 1995. He says delays in all land claims across the country only serve to undo any progress they do make as government turnover forces them to start over from the beginning.
“We’re finally in discussions with a partial settlement, we’re working out details on that,” said Maracle in a follow-up interview, noting he couldn’t go into the specifics of the meeting. “The record of settling claims in Canada is quite dismal. There’s a tremendous lack of progress. There have been long-standing issues that date back nearly two centuries in many communities.”
Maracle says the Mohawk council has no interest in taking cash in exchange for the Culbertson Tract, which he says was never legally surrendered.
“The Government of Canada does not follow its policy,” said Maracle. “It states that if the claimant band demonstrates that its land was never lawfully surrendered then the claim should then be compensated in the form of a cash settlement or the return of the lands.”
Citing the territory’s growing population, Maracle says it’s in the band’s best interest to keep the land rather than accept any cash settlement.
“We have to prepare for our future so having additional land is very, very important,” said the chief.
Bossio remains optimistic both sides can reach a settlement, though he was hesitant to nail down a time as to when he expects it all to be finalized.
“It really comes down to a lot of the same issues, negotiating in good faith,” said Bossio. “It’s recognizing the claims and then it’s getting to it. We really need to streamline the process so we can get down to a more reasonable timeline.”