The Whitehorse Star


McGuinty rejects claim that pre-1867 land claims are not a federal responsibility

Claims by Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice that pre-Confederation land claim disputes, including the long-running aboriginal occupation in Caledonia, Ont., are a provincial responsibility is simply posturing by the federal Conservatives, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested Thursday.

Prentice surprised Ontario officials Wednesday when he drew a distinction between aboriginal land claims that arose before the British North America Act came into existence and those that came after 1867, and said it wasn't clear that the Six Nations claim to a disputed housing development in Caledonia was a federal responsibility.

McGuinty called Prentice's new approach ''novel,'' and said he had not heard the federal government ever suggest to any other province or territory that aboriginal land claims were anything but a federal responsibility, and insisted Ottawa must take a lead role to end the eight-month Caledonia occupation.

''It's the first time I've heard that particular argument,'' McGuinty said after opening a new MRI scanner at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre.

''But I think what's pretty clear here is that if you strip away everything else, fundamentally what we have at Caledonia is a dispute between the Six Nations community and the federal government.''

McGuinty has been trying to tone down the rhetoric while still pressing Ottawa to become more active on the Caledonia file after Prentice cancelled a meeting this week with Ontario's minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, David Ramsay, blaming grandstanding by the province's Liberal government.

But McGuinty rejected suggestions Thursday that Prentice was trying to take the dispute to another level by claiming that Ontario was responsible for pre-Confederation land claims, saying he doesn't believe that is the federal position.

''I'm convinced that they're convinced that they have an ongoing role to play in this regard, and we look forward to setting up time for another meeting at the earliest possible opportunity,'' McGuinty said.

A First Nations leader joined the fray Thursday, suggesting Prentice and Ramsay could reschedule their meeting in a traditional Anishinaabe sweat lodge.

''Their relationship has gone completely sour,'' said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage.