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Police end occupation, but natives remain

Jennifer Graham
Canadian Press
Thursday, April 20, 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.]

CALEDONIA, Ont. -- The thick black smoke of flaming tires marked a flashpoint of aboriginal angst Thursday after defiant native protesters pushed back a police effort to end the 52-day occupation of a southern Ontario housing development.

Supporters from across Canada were said to be descending on the construction site to show solidarity to the Six Nations members who took it over seven weeks ago, claiming the land was stolen from them more than two centuries before.

''There's people on their way from all over Canada and the United States,'' said protester and native supporter Dave Heatley, who used the Internet to contact native groups and reserves elsewhere in Canada in an effort to attract support.

''There's a few hundred people here now; I think as things progress, you'll see it swell to a lot more than what's here now. The longer they're here, the more people they're going to draw.''

Angry protesters used a large dump truck and a massive pile of blazing tires to block a road leading to the half-finished housing project, brazenly mocking police after a pre-dawn raid that was supposed to end the occupation.

One protester stood atop of the truck and yelled, ''What big men they are'' as he waved a red Mohawk flag. Many protesters wore bandannas over their faces.

The show of defiance took place after dozens of protesters were removed from the Douglas Creek Estates housing project in Caledonia, a quiet suburban community of about 10,000 about 25 kilometres south of Hamilton.

A judge granted an injunction in March to remove the occupiers, and police had been negotiating to have the natives leave the land peacefully throughout the dispute. Tensions mounted earlier this week when talks broke down.

There was a report that at least nine people were arrested Thursday as police moved in with ''overwhelming force'' at about 5 a.m.

The occupiers called in reinforcements and police were quickly forced to retreat.

A spokeswoman for the protesters, Janie Jamieson, said the confrontation was far from over and occupiers were bracing for another visit by police.

''We're prepared ... for however long it takes,'' said Jamieson.

''It's time Canada better stand up and take notice,'' said another protester. ''Everybody that is available is here.''

Ontario police Sgt. Dave Rektor refused to confirm any arrests.

Police action against aboriginals is an especially sensitive issue in Ontario where a standoff in 1995 in Ipperwash Provincial Park resulted in the death of protester Dudley George.

''They swarmed every which way, I couldn't even hazard a guess how many cops,'' said Clyde Powless, a protester who was on the scene when police moved in. Occupiers have been unarmed since the situation began, he added.

''We didn't have no weapons,'' he said. ''We're still hoping the politicians can do something, I'm not sure if they can, we hope they can.''

Neither the office of Premier Dalton McGuinty nor a spokesman for Native Affairs Minister David Ramsay would comment Thursday, calling the situation a police matter. On Wednesday, McGuinty said the province was committed to a peaceful resolution.

Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter called the situation an operational issue that's now in the hands of Ontario provincial police.

''We've obviously been concerned, and there have been negotiations ongoing for many, many days and weeks,'' Kwinter said.

''You're going to have to address your concerns to the OPP, they have made an operational decision that this was a time when they had to do something.''

Protesters said police were armed with Tasers, tear gas and pepper spray when they made their move on the occupation.

Protester Mike Desroches told Hamilton's CHCH television the confrontation by police happened ''incredibly quickly with overwhelming force.''

''The police just completely swarmed the territory,'' he said, adding that the officers entered the site with guns drawn.

''The police come in - without any warning, they come and raid our village - that's their tactic, they always come in when nobody's aware,'' Norma General, whose son Chad was among the arrested protesters, tearfully told CHCH.

The protest was reminiscent of the aboriginal occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park, which resulted in the death of protester Dudley George from a police sniper's bullet.

The park was seized by First Nations protesters on Sept. 4, 1995, under the belief it was native territory that had never been properly surrendered.

Provincial police marched on the park two days later, and George was slain in the ensuing showdown.

George's death prompted accusations of police and government racism and an inquiry that is still ongoing.

Video from the scene Thursday showed a large crowd of police officers moving on foot toward some of the newly arrived protesters. But about 65 protesters blocked the path of police and began walking toward the officers. Police then slowly retreated onto a dirt road.

Hundreds of residents lined the street leading to the occupation site to watch the drama unfold. Some took photos on their digital cameras. None would give their names, saying they owned businesses in the nearby town of Caledonia and feared for their livelihoods.

At least one Catholic school in the Caledonia area closed for the day at the request of police.

The protesters say the site was part of a large land grant back in 1784, but the provincial and federal governments say the land was surrendered in 1841 to help build a major highway.

The protest has irked local residents, 500 of whom turned out earlier this month for a rally to demand that authorities end the occupation.

A spokeswoman for federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice has said the occupation is a provincial matter. The Ontario government said earlier this month that it wanted a negotiated end to the standoff.

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