Farmer ordered off disputed land near Six Nations says her livelihood is threatened
A Mohawk farmer embroiled in a bitter land dispute is prohibited from entering a parcel of land near Six Nations of the Grand River after an interim injunction was granted against her.
To Kristine Hill, 52, it’s a direct threat to her livelihood, as well as the 25 farmhands employed by her. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake, she said.
Hill was growing beans, tobacco and flint corn on the Burtch lands, about 154 hectares situated slightly west of the reserve’s boundary. Some crops circulate through her community and are used for traditional ceremonies.
“The crops can’t be tended to and they’re definitely put at risk now,” she said. “I have put a significant investment into the fields over the last three years.”
Hill is caught in the crossfire between Six Nations Elected Band Council and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a historic union of five First Nations that issued a five-year lease to her. The Confederacy wants the land, south of Hamilton, to be independent from the Canadian government, citing expropriation concerns. The band council wants it to become part of the reserve and use it as it sees fit.
The case before the Superior Court of Justice was adjourned last week and a two-day trial is slated for Aug. 17 and 18.
Ava Hill, Six Nations’ elected chief, refused to comment on the matter, saying that she has been advised to not speak with the media because the issue is before the courts.
“One thing I will say is that we are currently doing outreach to the community, who this land is being held for, to get their input on what they would like to see the Burtch lands used for,” she said via email.
Toronto lawyer Ben Jetton is representing the band council, along with the federal corporation it established in March to hold the land in trust until it officially becomes reserve land.
The interim injunction prevents “(Kristine) Hill from continuing to be on the property, or anyone else for that matter,” he said. “She’s required to vacate the property and has to cease farming activities. It restrains her agents, servants or representatives from trespassing, from interfering with our client’s use of the property.
“Ultimately, it’s to allow the elected council to deal with its own property and decide going forward who shall use it at Six Nations.”
Ontario Provincial Police were spotted outside the area, she said.
“What’s concerning me now is the OPP are intending on, or have already, set up an outpost at the location,” Hill said. “They definitely have a presence. We see them. They’ve communicated there’s escalating tensions.”
This isn’t the first time pressure has built in the community. The dispute is linked to the 2006 Caledonia standoff that saw First Nations people construct blockades and occupy a housing development called the Douglas Creek Estates. A subdivision was to be built on territory granted to the Haudenosaunee people for their ties to the British military during the American Revolution, which took place between 1775 and 1783.
Ontario ameliorated tensions by transferring land back to Six Nations. A 2006 letter signed by former Ontario premier David Peterson and sent to the Confederacy states that “The title of the Burtch lands will be included in the lands rights process of the Haudenosaunee/Six Nations/ Canada/Ontario. It is the intention that the land title be returned to its original state, its status under the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784.”
An abandoned jail that stood on the parcel was demolished and a multi-year environmental remediation project was undertaken to decontaminate soil laced with asbestos.
Peterson’s letter wasn’t addressed to the band council, said David Schiller, Hill’s defence lawyer, but to the Confederacy.
“The elected council didn’t exist until 1924, so I’m not sure how returning title to a numbered company that has some relationship with the elected council could be returning it to its original state,” he said.
Hill said it’s heart-wrenching every time she drives by the property since being ordered off the property.
“I never wanted our people to get into this situation where they’re fighting with each other,” she said. “There is outcry from the community in terms of what the elected council is doing. They’re supposed to represent the community.”
Kristine Hill is caught in the crossfire between Six Nations Elected Band Council and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a union of five First Nations that issued her a lease.