Friday, June 29, 2007

Indian land claims transparency?

Every time I turned on the news yesterday, coverage of the looming Indian "day of protest" seemed to consist of little more than soft commentary burbling good will to Indians and showing interviews only with people who sympathized unconditionally with Indian claims. Lots of choking smoke and very little light.

So thanks to Terence Corcoran for his front page article in today’s Post shedding some much needed light on the Deseronto Mohawk claim:

The Mohawks base their claim on their assessment of a 1837 transfer of 827 acres of land --known as the Culbertson Tract -- to a man named John Culbertson. Paid by Ottawa to research their own land entitlement history, the Mohawks said in a 1995 filing under Indian and Northern Affairs' cooked-up Specific Claims process that the 827 acres were given to Culbertson without authorization by the Mohawk community.
John Culbertson wasn't just another white guy ripping off the natives through political intrigue. He was the grandson of [Mohawk Chief] Captain John [Deserontyon] and by 1837 likely his sole heir. Now could it be that the transfer of land to John Culbertson was simply a grant within the Desorontyon family?

There’s much more in Mr. Corcoron’s article; but there’s a lot more we’ll never know. It seems that only the Indians have been allowed access to the government’s files on the case. And, all proceedings and negotiations to date have been conducted IN SECRET:

In 2003, after a secret review of the claim, and a secret legal opinion, Ottawa agreed. The Mohawks had a point, said Indian Affairs, and the claim was sent to negotiation, where it has been ever since.
So not even the current residents of the town of Deseronto, should they lose their land, will ever know why.

No doubt some of the 800 odd outstanding land claims are deserving of resolution and compensation. But if the Deseronto case represents the kind of "transparency" we can expect then we’ll never know whether there has been true justice or if our government merely capitulated.

Peace, order and, trust us, good government?

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