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Searching for answers in lost land dispute

The McComber family is working to correct what they say is a historical wrong that deprived the family of their land. (Lachlan Madill, The Eastern Door)

Leon McComber is looking for answers about land that other people are living on, which was left to him by his grandfather 60 years ago.

“I was in the service and when I got out my grandfather wanted to see me, so I came back here. I lived in Michigan. That was back in ’57, he was sick, so I had to go see him. While I was there, I was there about six months, he told me I’m Indian, that this is going to be all yours when I pass away,” said McComber.

McComber’s grandfather passed away a year later in 1958. The problem was there was no will, just a verbal confirmation. McComber was living in Michigan and stayed there until he moved back to Kahnawake in 1992 after he retired.

He says his grandfather had left 96 acres to him and now McComber says there are only 39 left. “Nobody has been able to tell me what happened to the rest of it,” he said.

His grandfather also left nine acres to Leon’s father, who then sold the land that was left to him. That land isn’t in dispute, according to McComber. He said that every time he tried to talk to the Lands Unit or Mohawk Council about the 96 acres his grandfather left him, they bring up the land that was left to his father.

When he returned to Kahnawake, McComber said that there were people living on the land that he said was his.

“My two cousins were living there and I told them right away ‘you do not belong here, that house don’t belong here.’ After a while they got sick and I guess they died, and then somebody I guess pushed the house down into the ravine to get rid of it.

“People have asked me ‘can we build, pave the road’ and I said no. It’s private property and nobody’s got a right here. But now I find out they got people in the back part of it, they got about eight houses back there already built,” said McComber.

No one, he said, is telling him who gave people permission to build on the land.

“Now all of a sudden council wants to put a road from one end to get to the 207,” said McComber.

“It’s still private property, it’s never been divided and nobody knows who owns what anymore.”

Although McComber said the land is rightfully his, that hasn’t been recognized by the MCK. The family has maps and documents going back to the 1950s and they say the information is being ignored and their claim to the land is dismissed because there is no written will.

Leon’s grandson Nihawenna’a McComber is trying to help understand what happened with the family’s claim and how Mohawk Council is dealing with the land.

“They’re doing a road back there. They’re selling land that doesn’t belong to them, and they’re giving people access to land that doesn’t belong to them. There’s a lot of people out there that we’re not even sure how they’re getting out there,” said Nihawenna’a.

“We’re not trying to stop them, we just want to know how they’re getting in, when this man can’t get anything, our family can’t even get anything. We’re direct descendants. If there was no will it should have went back to the family,” he said.

This past August Nihawenna’a met with Lands Unit director Melanie Gilbert and council chief Clinton Phillips, who holds the lands portfolio, to try and get some answers on the land.

“So I said well show me the CP (certificate of possession) where my family relinquished the title to this land,” said Nihawenna’a. “It was never given away and nobody can prove that it was given to somebody else.”

The McCombers are looking for answers and aren’t getting them from council.

Mohawk Council and the Lands Unit were both contacted about McComber’s claim and responded with an email.

“MCK Chiefs and Lands Unit staff have met with the McComber family on numerous occasions regarding claims on the estate but once the research was done, the facts do not support the claims. Ultimately, the MCK cannot change history or reverse decisions that were made in the past. As far as the MCK is concerned, the matter is closed, said the email signed by Clinton Phillips.

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