The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council is doubling down on its pledge to stay on 40 acres of Norfolk County farmland the county is trying to sell to collect unpaid property taxes.
In full-page newspaper advertisements and a public statement issued Thursday, the Confederacy warned prospective purchasers of the property on Concession 2 Townsend that the county’s efforts are “unlawful and a breach of treaty obligations.”
The Haudenosaunee Development Institute — the Confederacy’s development arm — bought the parcel of land near the Grand River in 2015 for $310,000.
Since then, the property has been used for farming and hunting, said HDI spokesperson Aaron Detlor.
The HDI has not paid property taxes on the land, arguing since it falls within the Haldimand Tract — an area 10 kilometres on either side of the full length of the Grand River — it is unceded Haudenosaunee territory and thus not beholden to taxation by Norfolk County.
The county is looking to recoup at least $23,500 in back taxes by selling the property, which they contend was previously ceded to the Crown.
Would-be buyers should know, the HDI statement reads, that the Confederacy “will take all steps necessary” to ensure the land stays in Haudenosaunee hands.
What that means, Detlor said, depends on Norfolk’s next move.
“At all times we want to ensure there’s a peaceful resolution,” he said. “However, our commitment to a peaceful resolution doesn’t mean that we’re simply going to walk away from what’s ours.”
The group that occupied a planned subdivision in Caledonia last year has already expressed willingness to mount a land defence in Norfolk akin to 1492 Land Back Lane.
When reached for comment on Friday, Norfolk senior staff referred to a statement made to The Spectator in July.
“Staff have thoroughly reviewed the circumstances related to the property in question and have concluded there is no legal basis for the assertion that this property is not subject to taxation on the basis of alleged treaty rights, or any other basis,” the county’s statement read.
“The county is obligated to charge and collect taxes pursuant to the appropriate legislation.”
Detlor told The Spectator no one from Norfolk County staff or council responded to the HDI’s recent invitation “to engage meaningfully in good faith.”
But the issue remains on council’s radar. At a Sept. 14 meeting, county solicitor Paula Boutis updated councillors behind closed doors on an agenda item titled “HDI/Property Tax Update.”
Mayor Kristal Chopp appeared to make indirect reference to the property dispute when she cautioned councillors that “a couple of significant issues could be coming forward” and the wording of the county’s proposed Indigenous land acknowledgement could have legal ramifications.
“Should this land acknowledgement be used in the future in court proceedings, I think that we need to ensure that our Is are dotted and our Ts are crossed,” Chopp said.
The HDI linked the claim of sovereignty over the Norfolk County farmland to the Confederacy’s springtime declaration of a moratorium on development within the Haldimand Tract unless developers first consult with the Confederacy.
Detlor said the Confederacy has since heard from “five or six” developers working on projects in Paris, Blair, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo who he said have “expressed interest in understanding what the moratorium means for their particular projects.”
“I think it’s a positive development that people realize the way to solve these issues is through good-faith dialogue,” Detlor said.
“We’re not trying to play a win-lose game here. We’re trying to find win-win solutions.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator