by Bill Jackson - The Regional
September 2, 2009
Construction to build 100 semi-detached dwellings and townhomes on the former Northview School property in Hagersville was interrupted last week by several protesters from Six Nations.
"They stood in front of machinery," said John Voortman, the developer who purchased the site from its former owner, Dan Valentini.
Approximately 50 protesters from Six Nations halted development at the same property back in May of 2007, forcing Valentini to remove equipment from the site which until now, had remained vacant.
As of this past Monday, protesters had not returned to the site.
"They want to try and have a meeting with Mayor Trainer and maybe with the province and find out why they were not consulted prior to us starting," Voortman told The Regional News. "They're not going to be bothering us today."
Earlier this year, Voortman was granted a court injunction against protesters associated with the Six Nations Men's Fire group who delayed the Stone Cove Estates development consisting of 46 townhomes on the other side of Main Street.
Since the court order, building development has moved forward "as smooth as silk," Voortman said.
"We've even had some natives working in there."
Asked whether he would seek another injunction if protesters returned to the Northview site, Voortman wouldn't say.
"The police will do what they have to, I think."
Although he wasn't provided with any assurance, he said that police promised to do whatever they could.
"As far as our involvement in Hagersville at the development site, our role hasn't changed," stated OPP Cst. Paula Wright. "The OPP's position is to maintain peace, safety and order."
"For now it's all calm and there's no one over there and we're working," Voortman said.
Gene Johns, who was at the development site on Monday along with several other protesters said he was there on behalf of the people of Six Nations and called himself a "mediator."
"Consultation and reconciliation hasn't been met," he argued.
After reviewing some correspondence between Voortman and Six Nations elected Band Council, Johns admitted that there was some miscommunication. He said that according to band council, the province is responsible for consultation and accommodation on the former Northview property.
"In saying that, to me that hasn't happened. The province hasn't done that and in my opinion it still does not give him (Voortman) the right to move on with his construction."
Johns said that the land lies within the Plank Road claim that spans half-a-mile on either side of Highway 6.
The federal government contends that the Plank Road lands were surrendered by Six Nations, according to Lonny Bomberry, the director of the Six Nations land and resources department. Therefore the responsibility of consultation lies with the province, he said, because it's responsible for land titles.
"We're trying to seek consultation with the province on all of our areas in the Haldimand Tract. The feds say they are responsible for settling claims, but not anything to do with land titles due to a constitutional split. One clown hides activities from the other. It's a perfect setup."
Johns said that he doesn't expect protesters to return to the site unless talks with the province fail to produce any results. That could result in a larger contingent returning to the site to shut down development again.
"The feds and the province are the ones that are so tight in cahoots with one another. One hand washes the other," he said. "At one point in time we're going to get them into a corner where they're going to have to come out and say 'You have to deal with this.'"
Protesters haven't returned to the Stone Cove development, partly because a judge gave construction workers the right to physically remove natives from the property as part of the injunction order, Johns argues.
"I don't know what the judge was thinking. He was looking for a fight. He gave them permission to physically harm us and did not take into account the town of Hagersville, or the safety of the citizens and police."
But for now, he said protesters are willing to let discussions with the province move ahead before taking any further action at the site.
Mayor Marie Trainer was happy to see development continuing in Hagersville on Monday morning and said she's willing to meet with anyone on Six Nations to help resolve outstanding issues.
"Anything that's going to move anything forward," she said.
Coun. Tony Dalimonte said the developments are badly needed because they represent an alternative to single family dwellings.
The history of the Northview property goes back a long way and Dalimonte is certain that the development meets all lawful criteria.
The Six Nations Chief talks about the need for jobs in construction and the skilled trades, he noted.
"This is really the type of development that does that."
Haldimand Council passed a unanimous closed session recommendation last week, taking the position that the Six Nations Consultation and Accommodations Policy passed last June does not apply to Haldimand County since municipalities currently do not have a duty to consult with Six Nations and provide accommodation measures.
The policy paper says that accommodation may include, but is not limited to partnerships, joint ventures and revenue sharing.
"We had a little problem with the wording," Trainer said.
Coun. Craig Grice pointed out that there were no timelines, arbitration guidelines and guarantees under the Six Nations policy. The municipality has responsibilities that are mandated under legislation that it must abide by, he noted.
"Otherwise it could result in liability if we don't," he added.
The recommendation passed by Haldimand Council contends that the Six Nations policy goes beyond what has been contemplated by Supreme Court legal decisions, contains "far reaching, vague and inappropriate provisions," and "is not acceptable and will not apply to Haldimand County in its business practices."
The county will advise Six Nations Band Council as well as the provincial and federal government of its position and will continue to exchange information relating to development matters with Six Nations under the Grand River Notification Agreement.
That agreement informs Six Nations of development within Haldimand, but does not give band council any veto power, Grice said.
"Therein lies the greatest difference."
Bomberry said the Six Nations policy mainly speaks to individual components and developers, but said it would be helpful if there was an overall umbrella, including municipalities such as Haldimand, that would determine exactly what those (jurisdictions) cover under the consultation policy.'
Meanwhile, Trainer said she hopes that Six Nations Band Council will take the lead on the cleanup of the Douglas Creek Estates occupation site in Caledonia by contacting hereditary chiefs on the Confederacy Council, because Haldimand council has no mandate to work with them.
"When we had our council to (band) council they certainly were in agreement that it was an eyesore and that didn't look good on their people, so we're hoping they will pursue it further."