Developers looking to build along the Grand River need to go through the Haudenosaunee first.
That was the message delivered outside the Onondaga longhouse on Six Nations Tuesday morning by Deyohowe:to, a Cayuga hereditary chief from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council.
The Confederacy announced a moratorium on all development within the Haldimand Tract, an area of more than 950,000 acres that runs 10 kilometres along both sides of the Grand from its source north of Fergus to Lake Erie.
“No development can proceed along the Haldimand Tract without the consent of the Haudenosaunee,” Deyohowe:to said.
“So anybody developing or in the process of it, you need to stop what you’re doing.”
The tract includes more than three dozen municipalities, among them Brantford, Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge.
The Grand flows through Haldimand County, where for over nine months Six Nations land defenders have occupied the site of a planned subdivision in Caledonia, claiming the land — which they call 1492 Land Back Lane — as unceded Haudenosaunee territory.
Deyohowe:to said prospective developers need to enter into talks with the Confederacy through its development arm, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute. But he did not offer many details about how those negotiations would ideally proceed, or how the moratorium would or could be enforced.
“We have a body that’s going to be looking after that,” the chief said.
The Confederacy did not shut the door on future development, but made it clear a change in approach is needed.
“We are not interested in selling land. There’s portions of land that we have leased out that can still be negotiated,” Deyohowe:to said. “The developers need to stop digging in our lands and to come forward now and do the process.”
Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane, suggested land defenders are prepared to occupy other sites should development proceed without consultation.
“There’s 27,000 people at Six Nations, and there’s many more that are anxious and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that our land rights are upheld,” he said. “I think what we’ve shown is how committed we are as a people to take every action necessary to protect our lands and waters.”
The moratorium comes 15 years to the day after land defenders repelled a large-scale police effort to evict them from the former Douglas Creek Estates subdivision in Caledonia. The province eventually bought that land from the developers, and it remains under Six Nations control.
The Confederacy is the traditional leadership on Six Nations, guided by hereditary chiefs and clan mothers. Historically, the Confederacy has been at odds with the elected band council, which was created by the federal government in 1924 to supplant the Confederacy as the reserve’s governing body.
Deyohowe:to said the elected council was aware of Tuesday’s announcement, but its members are “limited” in their authority to assert land sovereignty.
“To me, it’s more on the federal government to step up and take charge,” he said.
Hamilton Centre NDP MP Matthew Green, a vocal supporter of Indigenous land rights and financial backer of the 1492 Land Back Lane legal fund, highlighted what he considers Ottawa’s “complete and abject failure” to establish a nation-to-nation relationship with the Haudenosaunee.
“There has not been free, prior and informed consent” for development from the Haudenosaunee, Green said, adding that building along the Haldimand Tract is “inappropriate” while land claims remain unresolved.
A spokesperson for federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister Carolyn Bennett previously told The Spectator the government is ready to negotiate but is waiting for the Confederacy and the elected council to work through their political differences.
The British granted the Haldimand Tract to the Haudenosaunee in 1784 in gratitude for their allyship during the American Revolutionary War. Over the centuries, the territory was whittled down until only the Six Nations reserve — less than five per cent of the original land grant — remains under Haudenosaunee control.
Federal and provincial governments say Six Nations chiefs legally sold or surrendered the Tract lands, but the Confederacy rejects that notion, saying much of the land was taken fraudulently by colonial authorities.
“We never agreed to any of these land deeds that they’re passing around,” Deyohowe:to said, adding that the Confederacy does not have faith in the Canadian court system to address land claims.
“The courts are set up to take our land — to steal our land. That’s where the big problem lies.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator