Indigenous

Akwesasne moves ahead in $239M Dundee land claim settlement after appeals dismissed

Akwesasne is one step closer to settling a 130-year-old land grievance with Canada after a year of reviewing appeals lodged against the results of a community-wide referendum.

5 appeals of 2018 referendum results dismissed by court following year-long process

Justices Darlene Francis and Shannon Hall dismissed all five appeals of the December 2018 referendum earlier this month.  (Brittany Ohskien Bonaparte/Facebook)

Akwesasne is one step closer to settling a 130-year-old land grievance with Canada after a year of reviewing appeals lodged against the results of a community-wide referendum.

The referendum, held in December 2018, was required by the Mohawk community that straddles the Quebec, Ontario and New York State borders to approve the terms and conditions of the Dundee Settlement Agreement.

The agreement encompasses Canada's $239,808,436 offer for the full and final compensation of approximately 8,000 hectares of land along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in the most western portion of Quebec. Today the land is known as the Township of Dundee but historically it has been referred to as Tsi:karí​stisere, Kanien'kéha (Mohawk language) for "the place where they drag the iron chains."

While a majority (79.61 per cent) of those who voted in Akwesasne opted to accept the agreement, only 28 per cent of eligible voters participated in the referendum.

Five appeals to the results were submitted to the Akwesasne Court by Scott Peters, Ronald Sunday, Karla Ransom, Steven Thompson and joining parties, as well as Virginia M. Johnson and joining parties.

The settlement offer is for approximately 20,000 acres of land now in the Township of Dundee, located in the most western portion of Quebec. (Submitted by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne)

Justices Darlene Francis and Shannon Hall dismissed all five appeals earlier this month. 

"We're pleased that the court has come back reaffirming the referendum results," said Abram Benedict, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA).

"We know we invested a lot of time and energy into our education component and conversations with the community leading up to the referendum itself."

What were the appeals about?

Peters's appeal was the only one granted a full hearing by the court. According to court documents, he was concerned about the material provided by the Mohawk Council's Aboriginal Rights and Research Office prior to the referendum. 

He questioned if what was conveyed to the community was held to the standards of rules and ethics to ensure impartiality, integrity and honesty, and he argued materials distributed demonstrated a bias toward gathering Yes votes.

A total of 207 exhibits were examined by the court including social media posts, videos, newspaper ads, flyers, billboards, PowerPoint presentations that were given at information sessions and meetings.

"In the court's analysis, more than 90 per cent of the education information developed and distributed was determined to be impartial and unbiased," read Francis and Hall's decision.

"At first glance when reviewing only the materials provided by the appellant to support his position, one can see some lack of impartiality on specific materials, however, the Court has taken an in-depth examination of the community education materials in its totality and determined the materials overall to be impartial and unbiased."

Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Grand Chief Abram Benedict. (Submitted by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne)

The other appellants argued there was corrupt or fraudulent practice that might have affected the results of the referendum. One appellant, for example, questioned if the people hired by the Mohawk Council as community educators (CEs) to disseminate information about the settlement were coercive, deceptive, incomplete and biased in attempts to solicit Yes votes.

"In the Court's opinion, some of the referendum personnel conduct, as described in the appeal documents, is considered to have been unprofessional or inappropriate and lacking in soft-skills in different situations with different community members when fulfilling their duties," reads the decision.

"The Court finds no evidence to substantiate coercion and/or deception in CEs providing education."

What's next?

Now that the appeals process is complete, Benedict said the MCA will proceed with executing the final settlement agreement, which could take up to another year to finalize.

"We appreciate the community's patience on this," he said.

"We will roll out that large community consultation campaign over the next year about the long-term usage of the proceeds as we wait for it to come here."  

In addition to the Dundee land claim, Canada presented a $45 million settlement as compensation for the impacts of the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. Benedict said he hopes to bring that offer to a community referendum by the end of this year. 

About the Author

Jessica Deer

Journalist

Jessica Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.