Posted 28 May 2011, by Michael-Allan Marion , Brantford Expositor, brantfordexpositor.ca
About 50 native activists marched Saturday from the former Kanata Iroquois village to the Greenwich-Mohawk brownfield site to deliver two messages.
First, they want the 52-acre former industrial property cleaned up. Second, they want city council to recognize that the Mohawk Nation owns the land and must be involved in decisions about the cleanup.
The marchers hoisted signs reading: “Stop the Greed -Stop the Pollution,” “Mothers For Earth” and “Take Your Building Back Brantford.”
The marchers stopped first in front of the deteriorating Cockshutt office and timekeeper’s building. And they ended for speeches in front of the vacant Sternson part of the site at the divide between Greenwich and Mohawk.
“Because this land remains a part of the Haldimand Tract, it has been decided that we will remediate this land naturally as dictated by the natural cycles of plants and trees,” Jan Longboat, speaker for the Onkwehon: we Women’s Council and their supporters the Haudenosaunee Hodiskeagehda Odekah of the Grand River(Men’s Fire), the Mohawk Workers and SOBER Youth.
“Given the sad state of this land today, we know that when given the opportunity, our Mother, the Earth, always heals herself,” she read in a statement.
“In the best interest of your children and ours, we ask the good people of Brantford to join us in supporting the natural healing of this land. In the spirit of community awareness, we will continue to keep our neighbours informed regarding our plans for this land.”
Brantford Mayor Chris Friel and councillors stayed away from the march.
Later, Friel said he is disappointed by the action taken by the activists.
“These are the exact same people who blocked us from coming down to Ohsweken and explaining our plans about the Greenwich-Mohawk site weeks ago,” he said.
“They are absolutely fictionalizing what is happening here. We come down to consult and they stop us. Weeks later, they come to the site and say we are not talking. If anyone is bargaining or discussing in bad faith it’s them.”
City council is poised to give final approval Tuesday to a resolution that members endorsed 8-1 two weeks ago in committee to terminate 22 months of negotiations with developer Terrasan Corp. over a proposed Greenwich- Mohawk redevelopment project.
The resolution also directs staff to bring back a report on options for the city to remediate the land on its own.
The city has a $5-million grant from the provincial government, a $12-million commitment from the federal government, and more than $1 million of its own reserves dedicated toward the work.
Even before Saturday’s march began, Mohawk spokesman Bill Squire made the two-part message clear repeatedly in interviews inside a meeting hall at Kanata.
“We’d be foolish to oppose the city cleaning up,” he said, but quickly added: “We are concerned that we have been ignored.”
Squire criticized the city for dealing only with Six Nations Chief Coun. Bill Montour and the elected band council on plans to remediate and redevelop the former site of three foundry properties sandwiched between Greenwich and Mohawk streets.
He said the city’s unwillingness to recognize the Mohawk Nation’s rights and interests at Greenwich- Mohawk is part of an established pattern in which it has been shut out of the grand discussion at every level, from unresolved land claims negotiations to future development.
Squire drew a distinction between the elected band council, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Mohawk Nation, which he claimed is the only real owner of the land under the Haldimand Treaty of 1784 that gave six miles on either side of Grand River from source to mouth to the Mohawks led by Chief Joseph Brant.
Squire repeatedly said the Mohawk Nation would be willing to co-operate in the cleanup, but kept returning to the need to be taken seriously by the city.
Standing later at the Greenwich- Mohawk site alongside Longboat and activist Ruby Montour, Squire sounded less cooperative when reporters kept asking all three questions about what the Mohawks would do if the city proceeds unilaterally and calls in the bulldozers to remove the Massey complex of buildings on the Greenwich part of the site.
“It’s not up to them (the city) to make the decisions,” said Ruby Montour.
But would they try to stop the bulldozers? asked one reporter.
“We would have to see,” Ruby Montour responded.
“There is a fundamental difference here. We see this as our mother and we don’t want to see anything happen to her. They see it as dollars. They don’t care about the land.”
If the city insists on going ahead on its own, “they’d better not send us a bill,” she said.
“They made the mess.”
Friel insisted that city council is actively working toward a solution.
“The city is taking responsibility and accountability for cleaning up the land,” he said.
“The concept that this site will be cleaned up through the cycles of Mother Earth is both naive and irresponsible.
“There is contaminated soil on this property that must be dealt with in a professional and scientific way. These chemicals will not go away. They will migrate or they will stay there.”
Neighbours on the other side of Mohawk Street stood for a while on their porches to watch the march, then headed back into their homes or went about their business.
Many motorists honked their horns as they read the signs. Others were less charitable.
Jean Mason, who was walking along the street, urged the city to clean up the site.
“The city has been taking too long talking about this problem, that now others I’ve never seen before are coming in.”