The Town of Deseronto went public with its frustration over the Culbertson Tract land claim Friday, issuing a sharply-worded press release.
The municipality is questioning Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief R. Donald Maracle’s leadership in the wake of two recent protests staged on contested town land.
Napanee OPP were called to a verbal confrontation on Old Highway 2 Thursday morning as a worker was clearing brush. And on March 31, a group of protesters disrupted a meeting for contractors interested in bidding on an expansion project for a Hastings County-owned seniors affordable housing unit.
Deseronto deputy mayor Clarence Zieman said the county’s decision this week to halt plans to expand the building prompted town officials to take action.
The home was to have its common room expanded and its parking lot repaired, but no contractors submitted a bid within the county’s $150,000 budget, a fact officials attribute to the risk of more protests.
“This was a real low blow to us,” said Zieman, who is representing the town while Mayor Norm Clark is vacationing in Scotland.
The town believes the protests were staged by natives upset over perceived development of Culbertson Tract land, he said.
The 923-acre tract covers about half of Deseronto, including Edmon Street, where the seniors home is located. The federal government recently began negotiating the land’s return to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
The press release said Maracle lobbied Hastings County to not make improvements to the seniors home earlier in 2008. It also alleges that native protest leader Shawn Brant was behind the March 31 demonstration. However, Brant’s role in the incident could not be confirmed.
“Thanks to the posturing of Chief Maracle and Shawn Brant people of moderate and limited means will suffer,” the press release said. “Seniors won’t have the benefit of a slightly larger common room so that more than a few residents of the building can get together at one time. Nor will they have a safe, evenly paved parking area that leads to the front.”
Zieman said while Maracle has denied having anything to do with the protests, his stance that the full parcel of land be returned to Mohawks makes him as “unreasonable” as demonstrators, such as Brant. “Who’s running the reserve?” Zieman said. “Is it Shawn Brant or is it Chief Maracle and his council?
Reached at a chiefs meeting in Niagara Falls, Maracle said he was “very offended” by the press release, especially because it linked him with Brant.
He said he never lobbied the county to stop repair work and the band council has not endorsed any protests.
“Neither I nor my council have discussed halting any work at that building,” he said. “The protest occurred without our knowledge. If the Town of Deseronto is going to issue press statements, they have an obligation to get their facts in order.
“I am not in working with Shawn Brant as they allude to and I’m offended by the remarks.”
Meanwhile, residents of the seniors home that sparked the debate said they were baffled over why anyone would oppose repairs to their building.
“Sure we all understand they own (the land),” said Bev Lawlor, a resident sitting in the common room, which was to receive a 250-square-foot expansion. “But, heck, we’re just trying to make a better building. We’re not out to make a disco or anything.”
But on Deseronto Road, where a small group of Mohawks are blocking the entrance to a quarry to stop potential development of tract land, a different viewpoint was offered.
A man, who did not give his name, said he was not at the protest, but understood what it was all about.
“People were just stopping by to remind that any development of tract land shouldn’t take place because it undermines negotiations,” he said.
Brant could not be reached for comment.