|Photo: Patrice Halley
This land is my land
Three stories of land-claim disputes and settlements
Story by Lindsay Foss
In the summer of 1990, the small town of Oka, Que., was the scene of one of the most memorable
land disputes in Canadian history.
Oka was the backdrop for a 78-day armed standoff between the Mohawks of a nearby reserve
and the non-aboriginal peoples. The town had made the decision to expand a golf course onto
Mohawk-claimed territory, which would destroy an ancient burial site. The mayor of Oka insisted
that the land in question belonged to the municipality of Oka and that the Mohawks had no
right to it. Negotiations began between the federal government and the Mohawks, but broke
off soon after when neither side would back down.
The Mohawks constructed a blockade across the main road leading to the golf course, in
order to prevent bulldozers from entering and breaking ground. The mayor of Oka called in
the Quebec police to remove the protesters, but violence broke out and police officer Marcel
Lemay was killed. Soon the Canadian army was brought in. More acts of violence ensued — including
gunfire from both sides and racist taunts — and the siege lasted 78 days before the
Mohawks finally surrendered.
|WHAT KIND OF CLAIM?|
For decades, there have been disputes about land ownership
across Canada. There are three types of land claims
that the federal government negotiates: Comprehensive claims
deal with land that is known to have traditionally
belonged to the First Nations. Specific claims
occur when the federal or provincial government has
violated a legal responsibility documented in a treaty
or law. Special claims are any other
valid land claim that does not fall into the previous
The Oka crisis was a turning point in resolving long-standing land disputes, and the Mohawks
believed their actions had made a difference, but it came with a price. Even though the golf
course was never expanded, the memory of the intense standoff remains.
In 1942, the Canadian government relocated the residents of the Stoney Point Reserve on
Lake Huron to the Kettle Point Reserve. Under the War Measures Act, the Canadian Department
of National Defense occupied approximately 2,240 acres of the reserve for use as a military
cadet-training centre. It was agreed by both parties that the land would be returned after
the war. But when the war came to an end, the federal government refused to recognize the
existence of the Stoney Point Reserve as a community and did not return the land. Former
residents of the reserve were caught up in negotiations and a land-claims battle that were
to continue for some 50 years.
On September 4, 1995, a group of about 30 Stoney Point protesters assembled barricades
in Ipperwash Provincial Park. The Ontario Provincial Police were sent into the park to put
a halt to the protest, which resulted in the death of aboriginal leader Dudley George.
The claim was settled in 1998 and the land was finally returned to reserve members after
more than five decades. A $26-million settlement was made and each member of the Stoney and
Kettle Point First Nations reserves received a share that ranged between $150,000 and $400,000.
The inquiry into the death of Dudley George, started in 2004, is expected to continue into
The largest aboriginal land claim settlement in the history of Canada was signed on May
4, 1993. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement provides the Nunavut Inuit people with the title
claim to over 350,000 square kilometres of land in the eastern Arctic.
The claim was proposed in 1976 and negotiations lasted for over 20 years. Finally, in 1993,
the Inuit people of the central and eastern Arctic, the Canadian government and the government
of the Northwest Territories signed the claim. On April 1, 1999, the territory of Nunavut
One result of the Oka and Ipperwash crises has been a new urgency to resolve land claims
more quickly and peacefully. The Canadian government says it is spending more money on aboriginal
concerns today than ever before. There are still many outstanding land claims that have yet
to be settled, but the government is looking more closely at bringing them to a close. The
two incidents may go down in history as the most influential land-claim disputes Canada has