As an act of reconciliation, Ford is open to removing obsolete dams at Six Nations’ request

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is open to removing two defunct hydro dams installed along the Grand River, at the request of environmental activists at Six Nations, sources familiar with his thinking tell The Chronicle.

The dams, located in Caledonia and Dunnville, were constructed in the mid-1800s and no longer produce electricity — but they do greatly inhibit the flow of the river, which reduces its environmental quality and prevents indigenous navigation of the waterway — which is a long enshrined Treaty right.

Because many municipalities located upstream dispose of sewage in the river, and because the watershed encompasses a broad swath of Southern Ontario, environmental activists have long complained the poor water quality has prevented the river’s full use and contributes to poor quality of drinking water on the Reserve — which is often subject to boil water advisories.  Removing the damns will improve the River’s flow and reduce concentrations of runoff pollution.

Ford sees the dam removals as “an act of reconciliation” and wants both the traditional hereditary sovereigns of the Six Nations and the elected council of federal Indian agents who administer federal programming on the Reserve, to formally request the dam removals, rather than his office continuing to negotiate with environmental activists.

The hereditary chiefs and clan mothers of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy hold sovereign title to the Grand River and its riverbed, from its source to Lake Erie and six miles deep on each bank of the river.   In addition to holding sovereign title to the river, as per the Haldimand Treaties of 1776 and 1784 (the terms of which were negotiated prior to the American Revolution in 1776 and were partially affirmed by proclamation in 1784), the right to navigate inland lakes and rivers on both sides of the border was codified in the Jay Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1794.

Grand River at Caledonia.
Grand River at Dunnville.

When the dams are removed, the Six Nations will be able to restore historic trade routes utilizing the river to engage in commerce with other Haudenosaunee communities at the Buffalo Creek and Cattaraugus territories.  In particular, it’s expected that such transport will reduce the cost of food, produce, and personal items at Six Nations by 30%.

The route was so central to Haudenosaunee trade that Six Nations formally invested in the Grand River Navigation Company — an investment boondoggle that saw non-indigenous investment managers and government bureaucrats squander huge sums of Six Nations’ resources to dig a canal system that would soon be obsolete with the construction of the region’s railways.

Traditional leaders at Six Nations hope that the river’s water quality can be improved enough to open a fish hatchery along its banks, with the dream of respawning a vibrant freshwater fish ecosystem that might one day yield a sustainable harvest.

Many young Haudenosaunee entrepreneurs hope that a navigatable river will allow the Reserve community greater access to all sorts of Lake-based economic activities, from aquaculture fish farming operations on Lake Erie, to casino gaming boats that dock anywhere from Chicago to Montreal.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy retains sovereign title to the 900,000-acre parcel of land known as the Haldimand Tract, though the Haudenosaunee Grand Council’s original understanding of the terms of the Treaty in 1776, negotiated prior to the Haudenosaunee agreeing to enter an alliance with the British, were congruent with the indigenous understanding of a river’s definition — thought to include the full watershed, with its streams and tributaries. However, Governor-General Fredrick Haldimand did fully live up to those terms, affirming sovereign title only a portion of the watershed.  Modern-day Canada would not exist if not for that alliance.


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