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Tensions on the rise again surrounding Six Nations’ land claim in Caledonia

Tensions are on the rise again surrounding the three-year standoff over a first nations land dispute in Caledonia, Ontario.  Non native residents of Caledonia recently announced the formation of the “Caledonia Militia” in response to the lack of progress in the land dispute with the intent to “follow established procedures on the use of reasonable force to remove illegal trespassers”. The formation of the Caledonia Militia has caused a great deal of concern over the potential for violent escalation in the already tense situation.

As the sun sets over the Six Nations land reclamation site, there is a great deal of uncertainty over how the situation will unfold.

As the sun sets over the Six Nations land reclamation site, the Douglas Creek Estates, there is a great deal of uncertainty over how the situation will unfold.

The Douglas Creek Estates is the strip of land at the centre of this dispute. The land in question looks much like any other suburban construction site being developed across Canada, except that members of the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy point out that the land rightfully belongs to them.

One of the unfinished homes that was being built on the Douglas Creek Estates.

One of the unfinished homes that was being built on the Douglas Creek Estates.

This is one of hundreds of indigenous land claims being disputed across Canada.  The Six Nations’ claim to this land dates back to 1784 when the British were fighting the Americans during the War of Independence; The British, who had always dealt with the Six Nations Confederacy on a nation-to-nation basis, asked the Six Nations’ to fight alongside them and offered a large area of land in return.  The 380,000 hectare tract of land promised to them covered an area of six miles on either side of the Grand River. Today, less than five percent of the land promised to them is in their possession, making up what is now the Six Nations Reserve.  The Government of Canada’s official position on the matter is that “the Six Nations validly surrendered all the lands that are not now part of the reserve.”

The women of the Six Nations Confederacy, however, argue that the land in question was never legally surrendered. The Six Nations Confederacy has been called the oldest surviving participatory democracy on earth, and according to their constitution the women are the ‘Title Holders.’ One of the women active at the blockade describes how decisions are made: “There are fifty chiefs who represent the Confederacy Council and they have a clanmother with each chief. It is the people whose voice the chiefs and clanmothers carry. Any decision regarding land comes first from the women, and then to their clans; and through the process of our council, when all are in agreement, or when consensus has been reached, only then does the decision stand,” she says. “In our history of the Haldimand Tract, this has never been done.”

“The idea that British Colonists or their descendents–like Canadians–were the only people who had ‘law’ is a legal fiction,” says Kahentinetha Horn, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake. Canada “has totally disrespected our laws and agreements to conduct a nation-to-nation relationship.”

women are the title holders

According the the constitution of the Six Nations Confederacy, the women are the legal title holders

The remains of one of the unfinished homes that was torn down by members and supporters of the Six Nations land reclamation.  Other unfinished homes are being used as shelter by those who have been occupying the area for the past year.

The remains of one of the unfinished homes that was torn down by members and supporters of the Six Nations land reclamation. Other unfinished homes are being used as shelter by those who have been occupying the area for the past year.

Construction stopped on February 28, 2006, when members of the Six Nations moved in to block construction on the site and reclaim the land.  They have remained there for over three years now with little progress being made in negotiations with federal and provincial governments.  Both federal and provincial governments have been dodging the issue by claiming that the issue lies in the others’ jurisdiction.  With the government completely avoiding the issue, the racial tensions continue to mount between the native and non-natives in the surrounding area.  Both sides are growing increasingly worried about the potential for violent escalation.

Inside one of the unfinished homes on the Six Nations land reclamation site.  members and supporters of the occupation have been using some of these unfinished homes as shelter, though the unfinished buildings offer little protection from the harsh Canadian winter.

Keeping a watchful eye from inside one of the unfinished homes on the Six Nations land reclamation site, members and supporters of the Six Nations' land claim have been using some of these unfinished homes as shelter for the past three years, though the unfinished buildings offer little protection from the harsh Canadian winter.

"Gator" (not his real name) poses in front of the blockade at the entrance to the Six Nations land reclamation site next to a sign clearly stating the Six Nations' position: "Never to be Sold."

"Gator" (not his real name) poses in front of the blockade at the entrance to the Six Nations land reclamation site next to a sign clearly stating the Six Nations' position: "Never to be Sold."

A makeshift look-out tower can be seen in the distance on the Six Nations land reclamation site.  It was built with contruction material from some of the unfinished buildings that had been torn down.  Hanging from a lamp post in the middleground is the Unity Flag, also known as the Warrior Flag.  The flag was originally created as a symbol of unity among Indigenous peoples.  However, a number of the Clan Mothers at the Six Nations reserve expressed mixed feelings about being associated with the flag.  They support the orignal intended meaning. But they are unhappy with the way the flag has been portrayed in the mainstream Canadian media where it is more commonly associated with violence.

A makeshift look-out tower can be seen in the distance on the Six Nations land reclamation site. It was built with construction material from some of the unfinished buildings that had been torn down. Hanging from a lamp post in the middle ground is the Unity Flag, also known as the Warrior Flag. The flag was originally created as a symbol of unity among Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. However, a number of the Clan Mothers at the Six Nations reserve expressed mixed feelings about being associated with the flag. They support the original intended meaning. But they are unhappy with the way the flag has been portrayed in the mainstream Canadian media where it is more commonly associated with violence and used to vilify them.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) squad cars on surveilance on the other side of the blockade at the entrance to the Six Nations land reclamation site.  There is a great deal of concern within the Six Nations community that the situation may end in violence.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) squad cars on surveilance on the other side of the blockade at the entrance to the Six Nations land reclamation site. There is a great deal of concern within the Six Nations community that the situation may end in violence. With the formation of the Caledonia Militia - intent on employing "the use of reasonable force to remove illegal trespassers" - the risk of violent escalation increases

The formation of the Caledonia Militia has been met with strong criticism from the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE) First Nations Solidarity Working Group, who argue that the formation of the Caledonia Militia “represents a major escalation in regard to the conflict at Six Nations … [increasing] the possibility of violent conflict between natives and non-natives.”  To show their opposition, CUPE’s First Nations Solidarity Group brought busloads of protestors from Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph to gather outside the Lion’s Club in Cayuga, Ontario, where the first meeting of the militia was being held.

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No Militia; Caledonia needs Peace. Protesters bussed in by CUPE's First Nations Solidarity Working Group show their opposition to the formation of the Caledonia Militia.

CUPE’s First Nations Solidarity Group presented five reasons why people should support the Six Nations’ struggle:

1. Because their claim is just and right

Canada has a long and shameful history of mistreating First Nations peoples. Canada has broken treaty after treaty and has refused to fulfill its obligations to First Nations peoples, the Six Nations people included. Despite the fact that the Six Nations people have always been (and remain to this day) a national Confederation with whom the British Crown entered into nation to nation agreements, the Canadian government imposed its own “Indian Act” by force upon them and encouraged the illegal sale and theft of land and revenue belonging to Six Nations. Respect for First Nations land and treaty rights and respect for indegenous sovereignty is a mattter of upholding human rights, international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Colonization and appropriation of other peoples’ resources is morally wrong and must be opposed, even if we or some of our ancestors have benefited from it.

No Militia

No Militia

2. Because the fault lies with the Government, not the people

The government knew that the Douglas Creek Estates lands were contested when it allowed them to be sold. If the government had developed a comprehensive land claims settlement process and had negotiated in good faith with Six Nations from the start, this problem would never have taken the form it has. People from Six Nations occupied the Douglass Creek Estates to stop a housing development from being built on contested land. Now that the situation has been escalated, non natives on and off the Haldimand tract can best resolve this issue by pressuring the Canadian government to establish a fair and comprehensive settlement of all outstanding land claims with Six Nations.

Stop the escalation, end the militia!

Stop the escalation, end the militia!

3. Because this situation will not be resolved by violence

The time when the Canadian government or non-native vigilantes could drive First Nations peoples off their land has passed. Any attempt to use force to resolve the reclamation of Douglas Creek Estates will only make matters far worse and will likely end in bloddshed and serious injury on both sides. As events at Ipperwash and Oka proved, native land rights are political issues that must be solved through dialogue and negotiation. These are political and not “law and order” issues, and the use of force or threat of violence will not resolve them. Might does not make right, and attempts to raise the level of tension through the formation of the so called “Caledonia Militia” will only make the situation worse and increase the likelihood of people being injured or even killed.

Militia=Racist; What's next, KKK?

Militia=Racist; What's next, KKK?

4. Because our lives and futures are tied together

The conflict over the Douglas Creek Estates and the future conflicts brewing over the Haldimand tract stem from the greed of real estate developers who are turning farmlands, animal habitats and countryside into suburban sprawl in order to enrich themselves. This way of life is not sustainable in the long-term and although it makes profits for the bankers, realtors and lawyers it does not benefit rural life or the average people in small towns like Caledonia. As suburban sprawl spreads small businesses are pushed out by the major chains and big box stores, farmers are pushed off the land and our natural environment is degraded. First Nations peoples have a long history of protecting the environment and of respecting nature. A recognition of their rights will ensure that the lands on and around the Haldimand tract are not ecologically devastated by further suburban sprawl or clogged up by excessive road traffic and smog.

Warning: Militias may be harmful to peace and well-being

Warning: Militias may be harmful to peace and well-being

5. Because it is the only way that Caledonia can heal itself

The people of Six Nations and of Caledonia live closely connected lives, sharing schools, workplaces, friendships and families. The tensions caused by this conflict need to be resolved. The people of Six Nations have made clear over and over again that they are not calling for the removal of non-natives from their lands. No non-natives living in Caledonia are at risk of eviction. What Six Nations wants is the compensation they are owed and recognition of their land and treaty rights. It is possible for natives and non-natives to live together in peace and harmony, but in order to have peace there must be justice.

The world doesn't need more armies

The world doesn't need more armies

A gas station in Caledonia, down the street from the Douglass Creek Estates, with separate pumps for native and non-native customers.  Natives do not have to pay taxes, so their prices are lower.  Unfortunately, such visible forms of differentiation only adds fuel to the already volatile racial tensions by setting the groups up as 'the Other.'

A gas station in Caledonia, down the street from the Douglass Creek Estates, with separate pumps for native and non-native customers. Natives do not have to pay taxes, so their prices are lower. Unfortunately, such visible forms of differentiation only adds fuel to the already volatile racial tensions by setting the groups up as 'the Other.'

A sign on the side of a building along the perimeter of the Six Nations land reclamation site for all to see.  The sign draws attention to the injustice in the way the First Nations have been treated.  Over the years, indigenous people have fought bravely, putting their lives on the line, in every war Canada has been involved in.  They have recieved little in return, other than racism and perscution.

A sign on the side of a building along the perimeter of the Six Nations land reclamation site for all to see. The sign draws attention to the injustice in the way the First Nations have been treated. Over the years, indigenous people have fought bravely, putting their lives on the line, in every war Canada has been involved in. They have recieved little in return, other than racism and perscution.

Members and supporters of the Six Nations land reclamation gather around a sacred fire.  As the sun sets over the Six Nations land reclamation site, there is a great deal of uncertainty over how the situation will unfold.  There is a great deal of concern within the Six Nations community that the situation may end in violence.  Many believe that the only reason they haven’t already been forcibly removed is because of the negative impact such a confrontation would have on the upcoming provincial elections.  But after the elections take place, they are concerned that there would be nothing preventing the government from moving in.

Members and supporters of the Six Nations land reclamation gather around a sacred fire. As the sun sets over the Six Nations land reclamation site, there is a great deal of uncertainty over how the situation will unfold. Many fear that the situation may end in violence.

For more information:

Six Nations Reclamation

Home on Native Land

CUPE’s First Nations Solidarity Working Group

wikipedia

More information about the formation of the Caledonia Militia:

http://www.canace.ca/ click on “Race-Based Policing” for background on why some residents of Caledonia feel the need for the Militia

http://www.marchforfreedom.com/smf/index.php?topic=466.0 This is a discussion board where the event was first announced.

http://www.westernstandard.blogs.com/shotgun/2009/06/caledonia-militia-looking-for-a-few-good-men.html This magazine ran a story on the issue. The comments section is quite informative.

http://voiceofcanada.wordpress.com This is the website of Mark Vandermas

http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/652121 This is a Toronto Star article on the issue. If you look at the comments, you’ll see that almost 90 of the 100 are strongly in support of the forming of the militia.

http://caledoniawakeupcall.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/caledonia-militia-draws-criticism-from-cowards/ This is a blogger in Caledonia.