Mohawk leaders on a reserve near Belleville have suspended land claim negotiations with the federal government after federal officials announced they won't consider buying properties owned by non-aboriginals in the disputed area to make them part of a reserve.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada spokeswoman Margo Geduld said Tuesday that buying property in a community such as Deseronto, where hundreds of residents live on land that falls within the claim made by the Mohawks of the nearby Tyendinaga reserve, is never an option in this type of land claim.
Don Maracle, chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte who live on the reserve, said that is a huge blow, and the band council is considering its legal and political options after breaking off the talks last week.
"We also need to have land to ensure the future best interests of our people," he said.
Geduld would not disclose what is or isn't on the table in this particular land claim.
However, Maracle said the government is considering a cash settlement in exchange for Mohawks surrendering the land.
Deseronto mayor pleased
Norm Clark, mayor of Deseronto, said the news about the federal government's position means a lot to his community.
"We were really pleased because that is what we've been asking for several months now," he said with a smile.
But Dan Doreen, a Mohawk business owner who has led a number of recent protests related to the claim, said the Mohawks will never give up the land they claim in exchange for money.
"Our land is not open for business," he said. "And the mayor of Deseronto needs to figure out how they're going to move Deseronto because we're going to get it back."
The land in dispute is the Culbertson Tract, about 400 hectares on Lake Ontario's Bay of Quinte, east of Belleville and west of Kingston, that the Mohawks say they never properly surrendered.
Members of the Mohawk community have protested the dispute in the past two years by erecting a number of road and rail blockades, as well as occupying a quarry on the disputed land.