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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information:
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.