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Glimmer of hope in resolving Caledonia land protest

John Burman, Meredith Macleod, and Daniel Nolan
Hamilton Spectator
April 13, 2006 - CALEDONIA

[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.]

There could be a breakthrough brewing which could lead to a peaceful resolution in the native occupation of a Caledonia housing project.

All parties involved in the dispute met for the first time yesterday and discussed compensation for Douglas Creek Estates developer Henco Industries and also the possibility of the federal and Ontario governments buying out Henco and returning the land to Six Nations.

But Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer -- one of 60 people in the meeting at the Best Western hotel in Brantford -- said the two senior governments did not commit to the latter suggestion.

She said no figures were mentioned -- Henco says it spent $6 million developing the Argyle Street South site -- but federal and provincial representatives indicated they would have to talk to their respective governments.

"It was mentioned," Trainer said of a buyout of Henco partners Don and John Henning.

"Both the provincial and federal governments were asked. Everybody wants to think about these things. That's quite a commitment. They said, 'We have to think about it.'"

Other items discussed included a moratorium on construction while the land claim issue is sorted out as well as the possibility Henco could drop the court injunctions ordering the natives off the land. The injunctions were obtained shortly after the protest began Feb. 28 .

There was also talk about having the Ontario Provincial Police -- who have a command post in town to monitor the situation -- dismantle the command post and about leaving the site vacant land forever.

Trainer said the two governments did agree with a proposal from Six Nations chief Dave General and the elected band council to do joint research into Six Nations land claims and to also help in an education campaign on the Haldimand Tract (the Six Miles Deep Information campaign).

Henco, Six Nations elected band council members, traditional chiefs, representatives of the protesters, Haldimand town council, the Ontario government and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada met to discuss ways to end the six-week occupation.

Senior OPP officers were also in attendance, including deputy commissioner Maurice Pilon, and two chiefs from the Union of B.C. chiefs. Trainer said the latter were in attendance to give insight into how B.C. land claims are dealt with.

In the morning, the elected band council and chiefs from the hereditary Confederacy met to discuss the standoff.

Trainer said there were 30 officials around the table, plus 30 in seats behind them. This other group also included clan mothers.

The meeting -- said to have been arranged by the band council -- is to continue at 11 a.m. today at the same hotel. Trainer said she was asked to come to it by the OPP.

Trainer couldn't say the discussions will immediately lead to the end of the occupation, but called it a positive development.

Ontario Native Affairs Minister David Ramsay said his government is contemplating whether to compensate builders and housing contractors affected by what the natives are calling a "land reclamation."

"We certainly know that the developer and the contractors that are there to build that subdivision have been financially hurt," Ramsay told reporters at Queen's Park.

"We want to work with them and find out what the financial pain is and see if there's anything we can do to help them through this."

The minister says he still believes the dispute can be settled peacefully.

Jacqueline House, who represented the protesters at the meeting, hailed the discussions as "a breakthrough."

"I feel good," she said at the protest camp late in the day. "Everyone was there, everyone was respectful of each other and listened. It was really good."

House said members of the elected band council told the meeting the Confederacy council should be the ones Ottawa deals with on land issues.

House said the meeting began with Cayuga sub-chief Leroy Hill explaining the history of the site and the treaties the protesters say were never honoured.

"He told these people things they said they did not know," said House. "He gave them a true history lesson and things started to happen after that."

Not everyone at the protest camp was convinced Ramsay's suggestion of compensating the developer and contractors is necessarily a good thing.

The important thing, said Ken Green, of Six Nations, is what will be done after that. "It is our land. What would the province do if they got it," he said.

The Henning brothers told The Spectator Tuesday they face bankruptcy if the native occupation of the Caledonia subdivision doesn't end soon.

The Hennings face mounting legal bills, which are adding up even though they can't build homes or sell lots.

"We are not rich developers," the Hennings, owners of Henco Industries, wrote in a position paper given to The Spectator Tuesday. "All the company's money is in this project. If the blockade doesn't end soon, we expect the banks will call our loans and force us into bankruptcy."

Speaking publicly for the first time to The Spectator editorial board, the brothers said they were upset with the OPP.

"It's a terrible message to everyone when the law is flouted," said John.

The Hennings say they get little information from the OPP and have been mostly frustrated in dealing with local, provincial and federal politicians.

After years spent getting approvals for the subdivision, the Hennings have invested millions in roads, waterlines and sewers. They've sold only 10 lots, mostly to small local homebuilders. Some have not paid yet. The development, planned to ultimately have 600 homes, had only been open a month when protesters arrived.

The Hennings said if the protest continues, they will seek compensation from the provincial government, including fair market purchase of the 100-acre parcel.

They can't say when they'll take that step. It will come only as a last resort.

Henco Industries lawyer Michael Bruder says he believes this to be the first native occupation of privately held land in Ontario.

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