Indigenous paddlers pushing officials to honour Haldimand Tract development moratorium
KITCHENER -- A group of paddlers from Six Nations have made their way through the Region of Waterloo in a journey to drum up support for a large-scale ban on development along the Haldimand Tract.
In April, the traditional Chiefs of Six Nations called for a moratorium on all development on the Haldimand Tract, a nine-kilometre strip of land along each side of the Grand River.
Paddlers from the Protect the Tract campaign say the moratorium fell on deaf ears, so they're here to make elected officials take notice, paddling from Elora to Six Nations.
Organizers say they are also trying to figure out why the water upstream has deteriorated.
"At one point in time, this was like our supermarket, we were able to get water, we were able to hunt and fish along the Grand River," said co-organizer Donna Silversmith of the Cayuga Snipe Clan. "This is one of the reasons we came up here because we needed to see what was going on down the Grand River because it is affecting us up the Grand River."
The group is taking water samples for scientific study, but the voyage is also political.
"We are hoping the mayors and the elected officials will come out and get those relationships established with us," Silversmith said.
The paddlers are supporting the moratorium on development put in place by the traditional Chiefs of Six Nations earlier this year.
The development ban is in place for the entire Haldimand Tract, a treaty that covers more than 380,000 hectares of land, including a large part of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo.
"At the end of the day, I think they need to be including us in consultation, engagement and negotiations, but at the end of the day, they need our consent for any development along the Grand River," said Serena Mendizabale with the Protect the Tract Campaign.
So far, Mendizabale says there has been little response from elected leaders.
"For the mayors of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, you need to be talking to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chief, because that's where you will be able to find consent if you work with us," she said.
The mayors of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, and the Chair of the Region of Waterloo all declined or did not respond to an interview request.
"The Region of Waterloo values the ongoing relationship with Indigenous communities. We look forward to continued collaboration on items such as environmental assessments, archaeological assessments and development of the Region's official plan," reads a statement from the Region of Waterloo.
The group of paddlers also has the support of 1492 Land Back Lane, which has been in a land dispute near Caledonia for more than a year.
"The group and the amazing crew that they are, making sure that these communities up and down the Grand River understand that this development should not be going on without the consent of our Nations," said Skyler Williams, a spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane.
Williams said without action, words from elected officials fall flat.
"They have a role to play, to say, 'we will respect this moratorium,'" he said.