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Natives given deadline to leave construction site

Judge gives Six Nations protesters an opportunity to avoid jail time

Paul Legall
The Hamilton Spectator
CAYUGA (Mar 18, 2006)

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

Native protesters have until 2 p.m. Wednesday to leave a Caledonia building site before facing a possible 30-day sentence for contempt of court.

But in handing down the deadline yesterday, Ontario Superior Court Justice David Marshall gave the activists every opportunity to settle the dispute peacefully without going to jail.

"You won't be arrested unless you want to," Marshall told 31-year-old Dawn Smith as she stood before him holding a sacred eagle feather.

Smith is among a core group of Six Nations protesters who have been occupying Douglas Creek Estates since Feb. 2.

Calling the action a "land proclamation" [sic: should read reclamation], protesters say the subdivision -- which has 10 houses in various stages of construction -- is on land that was stolen from Six Nations and still belongs to them.

Two weeks ago, developer Don Henning, of Henco Industries, obtained an injunction ordering the protesters off the site, which the natives have ignored.

Yesterday Marshall took steps to enforce the injunction by ruling that anybody occupying the site could be arrested for criminal and civil contempt of court.

But during his exchanges with Smith, Marshall made it clear the last thing he wanted to do was send protesters to jail or saddle them with criminal records for their beliefs.

"I accept you believe in your heart you've been unfairly treated," he told Smith.

Later, when he explained how the contempt arrests would be handled, he told the protesters they'd be given three opportunities to avoid jail.

"First of all, you have five days to consider your position, as to what you might do," he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, when police come in to enforce the order, he added, the protesters will be given the opportunity to leave the site without being charged.

And if they refuse to leave and are charged for contempt, they'll be brought to the police station, photographed, fingerprinted and immediately released on a six-month suspended sentence. During that period, they have to keep the peace and stay off the site.

If they abide by those conditions, they'll avoid jail and criminal records.

If they breach the conditions, however, they'll be brought back before the court and get a month in jail.

"You've been given three opportunities," Marshall repeated. "It's three times and out if you don't respect the order."

A day earlier, Smith had stormed out of the courtroom after Marshall refused to recuse himself from the case. Smith argued he had a conflict of interest and should step down because he owns property on the Grand River within the 950,000-acre Haldimand tract which was donated to the Six Nations in 1784.

The protesters claim they still own all the property within the tract along the Grand River, which includes Douglas Creek Estates, and that it was never transferred to non natives.

Smith made another impassioned plea yesterday to convince the judge that the case had broader issues involving native land rights.

She argued the Six Nations were allies of the British Crown and any land issues would have to be settled on a nation-to-nation basis with the federal government.

If the protesters submitted to the local courts, she suggested, they'd become subjects and lose their special relationship as allies of the Crown.

"We cannot do this," she told the judge. "Should we do this we'd be assimilated into the Canadian process."

She stressed the occupation of the building site wasn't done on the "spur of the moment."

"It involved a lot of thought and planning; a lot of collective intelligence among people I respect very much," she said.

A former doctor, who had numerous natives among his patients, Marshall made an impassioned plea of his own to the Six Nations people for a peaceful resolution to the 2 1/2-week impasse. He also has an honorary native name that was conferred upon him by Mohawk clan mother Sylvia Sandy.

"It takes courage to turn and walk away," he said speaking directly to a large group of natives in the gallery. "This court is asking the clan mothers, the chiefs and the Mohawks to turn and walk away," he said.

But that seemed to be the last thing some of the protesters seemed prepared to do after they heard about the March 22 deadline.

Janie Jamieson, who has been at the site since the beginning, said there's too much at stake to walk away.

"The whole issue of jurisdiction hasn't been resolved yet."

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