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Caldwell Nation appeals vote

BLENHEIM, Ontario - Chief Larry Johnson of the Caldwell First Nation in central southwestern Ontario said his Band's Council will appeal results of the Aug. 9 vote to ratify a Settlement Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) with the federal government.

Band lawyer John Peters launched the appeal Aug. 12 with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) claiming voting guidelines were breached when a mail-in process was changed without prior consultation with INAC and the Band Council. "No amendment was made to the voting procedures so the claim that some mail-in ballots were received by the Ratification Officer on the voting day would be contrary to these guidelines," Peters said.

Objections were filed to the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) for the Department of Claims and Indian Government at INAC who must investigate and forward his recommendation to the Minister of INAC by Oct. 2 if the maximum allowable deadlines are utilized.

The Aug. 9 vote is not valid until INAC makes a final ruling.

The AIP provided for voting on two separate agreements. If accepted by Band members, the Land Settlement Agreement would have given the Caldwells $23.4 million to purchase and establish a reserve community near Blenheim.

Under the Trust Agreement, the money would be placed in a trust fund, with the Caldwell First Nation having the right to appoint trustees: "Two from Council, three to be elected at large from the Band, and the sixth to be appointed by the five, like an accountant who will offer advice as needed," according to Peters. "Under the terms of the AIP, $14.8 million is for land purchases, with the rest allocated to the creation of infrastructure, development, new programming and legal fees."

Johnson claims there was corruption in the vote with mail-in ballots having been delivered by hand on Aug. 9 instead of being received by mail before the vote deadline. This prompted an improper voting procedure complaint to the Chatham-Kent Police Department.

He also said that alleged "anonymous hate mail opposing the vote" circulated prior to voting day is now in the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He said there were claims made that if the Ratification Vote upheld the Crown's offer, the chief and council would benefit monetarily. He said there is no truth to any of the allegations.

Caldwell First Nation, with band status but no land base, has been moving toward this vote for a number of years, overcoming many obstacles along the way from groups of dissenting Caldwells, the municipality of Chatham-Kent and the Chatham-Kent Community Network (CKCN), a citizen group opposed to the creation of a reserve who are applauding the outcome.

The results were being hailed as a "triumph" by MP Jerry Pickard (Liberal-Chatham-Kent-Essex).

Jack Rigby, spokesman for the CKCN insists, "Right has triumphed. I feel happy for the farmers, I'm sure they're all rejoicing over this."

Chatham-Kent Councillor Frank Vercouteren of Blenheim said "as far as the municipality goes, our legal action for a judicial review of the AIP still stays."

The AIP was signed originally in December 1998 to settle the Caldwell 213-year-old land and treaty rights issue. "Not for sale" signs appeared on farmland surrounding the 700 acres purchased in the early 1990s for construction of Band Council offices and some Band members' homes. The Caldwells have been working to turn this acquisition into Reserve status by adhering to INAC's Additions to Reserve Policy (ATR), a process which takes years to complete.

Peters pointed out the ATR policy normally applies to bands with an existing land base, but the Caldwells are unique in that they have no land base except the acreage purchased a few years ago. "The Settlement Agreement would have recommended that these lands be designated reserve lands," he said.

If the majority of the Band's 181 voting members had voted in favor of the settlement, each member would have received $2,000 as compensation for the 1790 treaty, Johnson explained, reflecting "the modern realities of treaty-making replacing gifts of fishhooks, musical instruments, yarn, sewing needles, tools, and even livestock handed to Indian people in 1790 when the Treaty was signed."

Meanwhile, "It's business as usual while the appeal takes place," Johnson said. The Caldwells have two lawsuits pending, one against lawyer Stanley Mayes who represented a dissident faction of Caldwell members (and has since been removed), and another against the Chatham Daily News who published libelous stories. No comment was available from either party.

Johnson laments the failure so far to secure reserve status and a land base for his people. "We have here our own little community, farmland and a place to go fishing, and hunting. We have seven houses and a council that supports the members who are learning their traditions. But this fight isn't over. The word "surrender" is not in my vocabulary."