Hamilton·Boundary Dilemma

As Hamilton considers expansion, First Nations experts watch how consultation unfolds

Indigenous experts have questions about whether Hamilton is consulting First Nations in good faith about potenially expanding the urban boundary into Elfrida.

Hamilton says meetings with Six Nations of the Grand River, Mississaugas of the Credit are planned

Rick Monture, Shylo Elmayan and Paul Williams, experts on Indigenous issues, weigh in on Hamilton considering developing over 1,300 hectares of 'Whitebelt lands,' and whether there's been the right consultation. (McMaster University and Paul Williams)

This article is part of a week-long CBC Hamilton series called, How should cities grow? Hamilton's boundary dilemma, examining urban sprawl and boundary expansion.

Indigenous experts have questions about how Hamilton is consulting with First Nations communities about potentially expanding its urban boundary.

With pressure from the Ontario government and expectations the city will gain 110,300 new households by 2051, Hamilton is considering developing more than 1,300 hectares of "Whitebelt lands," or land outside the city's current urban boundary that isn't protected as part of the Greenbelt.

But one important question hasn't received much attention: How much Indigenous consultation has there been amid potential plans to expand the boundary? 

The discussion around meaningful Indigenous consultation when it comes to land and development has become more prominent across Canada in recent years. The recent case of 1492 Land Back Lane, where members of Six Nations occupied the site of a major housing project in Caledonia, Ont., forcing its cancellation, put a spotlight on developments near Hamilton in particular. 

When it comes to future developments even closer to the city, of interest is the area called Elfrida, on the southeastern edges of town, where expansion has been considered. 

Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation both have equal claim to the land in Elfrida, according to Rick Monture.

Elfrida, southeast of Hamilton, is one of several areas the city has considered expanding. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Monture is a McMaster University associate professor in the departments of English, cultural and Indigenous studies.

"I think Hamilton does have a duty to consult with both Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas peoples on these issues," he said.

That would include Six Nations elected council, the Haudenosaunee hereditary chiefs and Mississaugas of the Credit's elected council.

Has the city consulted with First Nations?

City spokesperson Michelle Shantz said staff have been notifying and requesting consultation with local Indigenous communities and organizations about its development plans — called the Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy, now version GRIDS2 — since spring of 2018.

She said that in January, the city also requested comments or followup meetings to discuss the draft Land Needs Assessment and potential urban boundary expansion.

The city said it didn't receive formal comments, but did meet with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre in early 2021.

More recently, on Oct. 28, Shantz said city staff emailed local Indigenous communities for comments about the evaluation framework for the plan set to be presented Tuesday.

"To date, as a result of the most recent outreach, staff received two requests for additional consultation. Staff will be meeting with Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation in the coming weeks to discuss the evaluation framework for assessing the Ambitious Density and the No Urban Boundary Expansion growth options being considered," read the email. 

Ambitious Density and the No Urban Boundary Expansion are the names of the two options the city has also surveyed residents about in recent months — the former supports a 1,340-hectare expansion, the latter does not. 

Shantz also said city staff met with the Haudenosaunee confederacy in 2018, and have reached out and requested consultation on two occasions since then.

Six Nations and the Haudenosaunee confederacy did not respond to questions for this story before deadline. A representative of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation said "all I can tell you is that the City of Hamilton is engaging us."

Details about consultation vague, say experts

Shylo Elmayan, McMaster's ​director of Indigenous student services and a former senior project manager with Hamilton's Urban Indigenous Strategy, said she wonders how much consultation Hamilton did with Indigenous people who live in the city compared to those who live on the reserve.

She said consultation is part of the city's Urban Indigenous Strategy, but she's unsure if the city is doing enough in this case — particularly when seeing First Nations only have a week-and-a-half to offer comments on the evaluation framework.

Elmayan says she's not sure if the city is doing as much as it can when it comes to consultation. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"You wonder if the communities will feel like it was too late to be engaged or not," said Elmayan, who is Anishinaabe and a member of Long Lake 58 First Nation.

"The city might have certain regulatory requirements regarding consultation and the question would be is that requirement really enough? Or do you want to do more to build and maintain good relationships?"

Shantz said the week-and-a-half window wasn't exclusive to First Nations, saying the framework was released to all stakeholders for review and comment on Oct. 28.

"Staff advised each of the Indigenous communities of the report and shared that if they wished to have their comments included in the package of materials provided to council in the deliberations of the report, then they should submit their comments on or before November 9 - the GIC meeting date," she wrote.

However, Elmayan said cities should be asking what their goal is for consultation.

"It is one thing for a government or proponent to satisfy its regulatory consultation requirements; it's another thing to understand what Indigenous communities see as meaningful consultation." 

Past cases offer mix of optimism, skepticism

Elmayan and Monture both point to consultation during the Red Hill Valley Parkway development in the early 2000s as precedent setting.

Six Nations lawyer Paul Williams was one of the original negotiators with the city on that project. He said by the time consultations started between Six Nations and Hamilton, people were already occupying the valley in protest of the project. 

Still, Williams said, "from my perspective, and I think from Hamilton's, it both established a relationship and improved the highway.

"It was unfortunate Hamilton put a major highway through one of its last greenish valleys but the conversations were useful on both sides."

Monture pointed out the Mississaugas weren't consulted in that process, however.

The Red Hill Valley Parkway set a precedent for Indigenous consultation, which experts say is still challenging for governments and Indigenous communities. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Monture also has some skepticism about meaningful consultation over the urban boundary after the city's handling of calls to takedown the John A. Macdonald statue from Gore Park in downtown Hamilton.

City council voted to let the statue remain in early July. It was toppled by protesters in August. 

"It kind of shows me and other Indigenous people where Hamilton sits in regards to Indigenous history, which is unfortunate, I'm disappointed in Hamilton," he said.

Monture said in situations like this one, where multiple First Nations have claims to land, it can be confusing for various levels of government to determine which First Nation to consult with regarding land rights — and while it may be a lot of work to get right for some, others may try to use that as a deterrent. 

Williams, a lawyer from Six Nations, says Hamilton's consultation with Haudenosaunee people about the Red Hill Valley Parkway strengthened the relationship between the two groups. (Jeff Green/CBC)

"That's something the governments have always fallen back on. They don't really want to know this history or understand or even care that much," he said.

"Just like, 'Just give me the Indians to talk to and we'll sort it out.' Like they take that kind of blunt edge approach to it without knowing the nuance."

Williams said that, in general, governments are mediocre at consultation, but so are some Indigenous communities.

"It's been 15 years since the Supreme Court decision [that governments must consult Indigenous communities about the use of Crown land] and in many ways people are still developing the skills, structures and thinking that goes into this."

This series, How should cities grow? Hamilton's boundary dilemma, runs Nov. 5-13.

(Patrick Morrell/CBC)



Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.