Farmer or­dered off dis­puted land near Six Na­tions says her liveli­hood is threat­ened

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JULIEN GIGNAC Toronto Star

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.”

JULIEN GIGNAC, TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

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.

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