Many feel deep frustration in the lack of forward movement on the issue of Six Nation’s land claims. As a candidate for the Brant NDP in the 2011 federal election, I heard this frustration daily on and off reserve.
What makes it more discouraging is this lack of movement occurs despite a decade of local MPs and candidates touting this as their No. 1 issue.
I fear that the lack of forward movement has given way to the one thing our local communities and economies can’t afford – backwards movement.
Last week, Brant Federal MP Phil McColeman said that Six Nations must come to the negotiating table with a “single voice.” There will be some who agree with this stance.
Frankly, the frustration people feel is easy to understand. But this tact simply won’t work. It ignores the realities on the ground.
There is a well-worn saying in negotiations that you “start where they’re at.” The idea being you work with the people and issues at hand as they are, not as you wish they were.
Would it be nice if Six Nations came to the table with a single, unified voice? Absolutely. Is this realistic or fair? No.
The non-native side of this dispute comes with a myriad of interests and the same is true for Six Nations. Negotiators, federal and provincial representatives, Six Nations elected council, Confederacy council, municipal officials and industry all have a place in making this work.
During his address, McColeman invited “anyone in this room, or outside of this room, to tell us what (the government) should be doing differently.”
In the spirit of proposition, not just opposition, I have some suggestions:
• Drop the “single voice” ultimatum.
• Meet with all relevant actors regularly.
• Build a positive relationship between governments on this and other issues. For example, since 2010 no less than eight NDP MP’s have gone to Six Nations to do this.
• Build up wins. Educational equity, environmental stewardship, housing, economic development and health care are things we can work on together to show we are partners and want mutual success.
• Create a land rights accountability act that would hold Ottawa accountable to its end of bargaining in good faith providing continuity when governments change.
• Create a specific fund to pay for claims and the costs associated with this issue. Perhaps a small fee tied to land sales. Resolved or unresolved, there is a cost to claims that should not come out of general tax revenues. Between the hard costs and the lost economic opportunities, we know not dealing with this now will only cost us more in coming decades.
• Look at the potential for the involvement of international courts or negotiators without bias to step in and help create binding agreements.
All of these options make more sense than posturing and finger pointing, which we know won’t work. When the old ways haven’t worked, we need to try new ideas. We can and must move beyond blame and pessimism for the benefit of our community and our economy.