By Mark Ladan
WAHTA MOHAWK FIRST NATION - Despite a majority vote in favour of a land claim settlement and extension of Highway 400 through this First Nation, the deal is still not allowed to proceed. The problem is that less than half of the 394 eligible voters from the reserve voted on the proposals, Chief Blaine Commandant says.
On the land claim issues, the Department of Indian Affairs requires that at least 50 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.
"It's to ensure that the process is fair," says Commandant.
The First Nation is located about 50 kilometres south of Parry Sound. Members of the Wahta First Nation were required to vote on two separate issues. The first item was whether to allow the Ministry of Transportation to extend Highway 400 through the reserve from the Musquash River to Moon River, an eight-kilometre stretch. The vote was administered by the band council and the minimum number of voters cast ballots, with 85 per cent in favor of the highway construction.
On the issue of the land claim and compensation, Indian Affairs administered the voting. A large majority of those who voted, said yes, but the total number of voters fell about 15 per cent short of the minimum requirement, Commandant says.
The land claim requires that 3,320 hectares be returned to the band, and it will receive $9 million for another 880 hectares not returned.
"On the land claim and compensation, another vote will be taken on June 22, and I'm hopeful that enough of the eligible voters will vote," says Commandant. "We aren't allowed to campaign to persuade people to vote 'yes', but we can encourage them to get out and vote."
Construction of Highway 400 through the Wahta territory cannot start until the land claim is settled. That is disappointing for Commandant who says the highway has always been a priority for the First Nation, primarily for safety reasons.
As for a completion date for that portion of Highway 400, the Ministry of Transportation says that even if everything were in place to start construction, it would take at least two years before it would be open to traffic.