Ontario: 6 Native Nations, and None Have a Word for Suburbia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Aug 17 17:01:28 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, August 17, 2006
Caledonia Journal

6 Native Nations, and None Have a Word for Suburbia

CALEDONIA, Ontario, Aug. 10 Blame it on the American Revolution.  At the
time, six Indian tribes that had lived for centuries in what is now
upstate New York sided with the British Crown, lost and were forced from
their lands. For their troubles, however, Britain granted them a paradise
rich in moose and deer, across the new border, in southern Ontario. Today
the game are largely gone. The wilderness has been transformed into
suburban sprawl. The once pristine lands of the so-called Six Nations
Reserve have been whittled away. This year, one more housing development
on the edge of town was one too many, and the Native Canadians decided to
make a stand.

Since February, hundreds have blockaded roads, set bonfires, confronted
the police with bags of rocks and lacrosse sticks, cut the maple leaf out
of a Canadian flag and refused to obey court orders to vacate. During the
height of tensions, a van was driven into a power station and set on fire,
leaving residents in the dark for days. The protests have become the
knottiest of Canadas many native land disputes and paralyzed the local

Some businesses are down 30, 40 percent, said Neil Dring, who publishes a
weekly newspaper here. This has really hurt. For the Native Canadians,
however, the dispute is a matter of mending a broken promise by the
government to manage the land on their behalf.  Through the years, our
people said, You can come here, you can settle here, but that didnt mean
they could take over, said Hazel Hill, who lives on the reserve. Police
officers brought in from all over the province now watch the occupied site
around the clock, while town residents whose backyards border the land
must show identification to be allowed down their street.

Confrontations have been laced with racial slurs and crude signs. Native
Canadian protesters have surrounded the site with traditional flags, and
many don fatigues when tensions are at their highest. In early August,
Native Canadians used a fire hose to repel crowds who marched to the site
from the town to protest their refusal to obey a court order to leave the
disputed land. People who live near the site are stressed beyond belief,
said Jason Clark, who lives in town. They see flags flying and people
wearing camouflage its intimidating.

A mile down the road from the site, downtown Caledonia is slow moving and
rich in history. Canadian flags line the main street and businesses are a
mix of restored heritage buildings and newer developments that have come
with the towns growing status as a bedroom community for cities like
Hamilton and Brantford. We had a tremendous amount of housing growth in
recent years, Mr. Clark said. But thats come to a complete stop. That
occupation is creating a lot of economic hardships in Caledonia. The
police conducted a raid on the protesters in April, but they retreated
when waves of Native Canadians arrived to reinforce the occupation. They
really did us a favor, Mrs. Hill said of the raid. Thats when internal
politics were put aside and everyone came together.

The occupied land covers 100 acres among tens of thousands taken over by
the government from the Native Canadians in the 19th century after a
disagreement that lasted decades over whether the Native Canadians had the
right to sell their land to British settlers. The Native Canadians filed a
lawsuit over the land in 1995, on behalf of the Six Nations: the Mohawk,
Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora. But, tired of waiting
while housing developments encroached on the land, they took matters into
their own hands.

A younger generation of Native Canadians has led a resurgence of
indigenous culture across the country. Unlike many of their parents and
grandparents, these Native Canadians did not attend residential schools,
where Native Canadian students were often hit with a strap for speaking
their own languages. Entire generations of culture were submerged. The
revival has not only restored pride; it has also opened old wounds over
how the British and, later, Canadian governments negotiated land deals
with chiefs. In one such deal, chiefs had signed a document that the
British interpreted as surrendering the land where Toronto now sits, but
it was later disclosed that the chiefs had signed a blank piece of paper.

Native bands elsewhere are watching Caledonia, wondering if the protesters
here have found a new way of forcing governments to settle land claims, or
at least expedite them. The brash and confrontational nature of the
dispute contrasts with the glacial system the Canadian government uses to
settle land claims with its Native Canadian population. Of the 29 claims
filed by the Six Nations since the 1970s, only one has been settled. There
are some 770 outstanding claims across Canada, with more than twice as
many claims coming in each year as are being settled.

They've created a system to deal with these land disputes, but they take
years in the courts, Mrs. Hill said at the barricaded entrance to the
occupation. Theyre the ones with the money who can afford that process. We
decided it was time to deal with things differently. Whether their
approach will work depends on politicians, the behavior of protesters on
both sides, and the response by the police. Nearly six months into the
occupation, the Native Canadians have persuaded the provincial government
to buy the disputed land from developers while forcing both sides to begin
negotiating a settlement.

The question is whether, in the meantime, the Native Canadians and the
townspeople can keep the peace. Im concerned that at some point were going
to see more violence, said Mr.  Clark, the Caledonia resident. Thats not a
threat, thats just reality.  People can only withstand so much.



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