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Blackbear 12-14-2006 03:03 PM

Native group's island dispute a pressure cooker
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Native group's island dispute a pressure cooker

* _E-mail John Barber_ (mailto:[email protected])
* | _Read Bio_
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The Canarsee Indians made a notoriously bad deal when they sold Manhattan to
the Dutch for 60 guilders, but the Mississauga Indians say they never gave up
Toronto Island during the equally one-sided negotiations that first
legalized white ownership of these shores. Now they want it back.
The Mississaugas of the New Credit, the relocated heirs of the original
signatories to the Toronto purchases of 1787 and 1805, are dead serious about
their claim to ownership of the island -- and they want you to know it.
Frustrated by the slow pace of their negotiations with Ottawa, the band is
shifting its focus to the foot of Bathurst Street, where a ferry currently
shuttles travellers to an airport on land they claim as their own. Anti-airport
demonstrations are a distinct possibility, according to one source close to
the band.
"They're wondering if that's what it takes to get attention," he said.

Until now, the Mississaugas have been restrained about pressing their
demands in public, content to have an officially acknowledged land claim under
active negotiation. Chief Bryan LaForme, brother of Mr. Justice Harry LaForme of
the Ontario Court of Appeal, has gone no further than to protest against the
federal government's failure to consult the band in the negotiations that led
to the resumption of commercial air service at the island.

But the continuing land dispute at Caledonia, a few kilometres away from the
Mississaugas' current home on part of the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford,
has led to discussions among band members about bringing similar pressure to
bear in Toronto, according to the source. At the same time, the New Credit
group is recruiting allies among other Mississauga bands throughout Southern
Ontario in order to help press the cause.
Neither Mr. LaForme nor any other member of the band council was available
for comment on the changing tactics yesterday. But the band did make one
significant gesture this week when it released conceptual drawings of the
development it would like to see taking the place of the island airport.
The sketches show a sprawling complex, complete with a hotel, museum and
entertainment facilities, on land that is now the western half of the existing
airport. Conceived as a centre of aboriginal culture in Toronto, the complex
also includes an arena and parkland.
To take the proposal seriously is to see it as a stalking horse for a casino
-- a word that could prove just as inflammatory in Toronto as "Caledonia" is
elsewhere. The Mississaugas won't say the c-word yet -- not on the record --
but they want you to know that they are serious about their land claim.
Last week, leaders of the 350-person Tsawwassen First Nation in British
Columbia's Lower Mainland signed the country's first native treaty that includes
land inside a major metropolitan area -- 434 hectares of new land in addition
to a $40-million cash award.
"By virtue of its location, this agreement presents a profound opportunity to
demonstrate that reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal
communities is truly achievable and beneficial," Indian Affairs Minister Jim
Prentice said at the time.
The Mississaugas' claim has always included a demand for land as well as
money, according to Mr. LaForme -- and the island is its focus. The band claims
that the island was never included in the first alleged Toronto Purchase of
1787, or its slightly more legitimate 1805 follow-up. Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of
lieutenant-governor John Simcoe, the founder of Upper Canada, "noted in her
diary that the islands were sacred to the Mississauga Nation and that they
were used for healing and for ceremonies," according to the band.
So now we know they're serious. But the Mississaugas should also know that
many Torontonians are just as keen to see those lands returned to better and
greener use -- and perhaps to join the native cause. With local support, the
reconciliation of which Mr. Prentice speaks could come to Toronto sooner than
anyone thought.

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