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'We were upholding our law'

Kate Harries, with files from Timothy Appleby
The Globe and Mail
Friday, April 21, 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. -- As a carnival atmosphere prevailed under a pall of smoke at a construction site reclaimed by Six Nations activists yesterday, police faced questions about a predawn raid that appears to have backfired dramatically.

Basking in one of the first days of warm sunny weather, occupiers celebrated having held their ground against the raid by heavily armed police.

"It was awesome, it was beautiful. We were upholding our law," said Hazel Hill as she described how people from the nearby reserve marched against Ontario Provincial Police officers, who withdrew within hours of a surprise 4:30 a.m. raid.

Deputy OPP Commissioner Maurice Pilon conceded yesterday that what began as a peaceful occupation didn't look so peaceful after the police action. As to why the OPP moved on the occupied site, police indicated that they believed the risk to public safety had heightened.

"Over the last few days, we did see some escalation of activity that gave us cause for concern," Deputy Commissioner Pilon said. He refused to elaborate.

OPP Sergeant Dave Rektor confirmed later that New York licence plates were seen around the site.

Mohawk warriors from other reserves have been there since Feb. 28 when the protest started. The occupiers have said they are there to protect women and children.

A pall of smoke from several tire fires lit by the protesters in the aftermath of the raid hung over this quiet community 20 kilometres south of Hamilton, and Highway 6 remained barricaded to traffic all day. The protesters tipped a van over a bridge and toppled some hydro poles onto a bypass around the town.

Police were executing two injunctions obtained by Henco Industries, which owns the property that the protesters say was stolen from Six Nations in 1841. They arrested 16 people on the site, most of whom were released on their own recognizance after being held in police wagons in Cayuga for several hours.

Some others were arrested off the site later, Sgt. Rektor said, refusing to elaborate.

Lawyer Steve Reynolds said approximately seven people remain in custody at the Simcoe Detention Centre and are to appear in Cayuga court today. They face charges ranging from mischief to assaulting a police officer.

Three officers suffered minor injuries, with one needing stitches to the head after being hit with what Deputy Commissioner Pilon described as a bag of rocks.

Protesters say police used excessive force when they moved in around 4:30 a.m., citing injuries from pepper spray, kicks and punches.

Deputy Commissioner Pilon said the officers used "tremendous restraint."

Sgt. Rektor said that, initially, a minimum amount of force was needed, but when the occupiers regrouped and became more confrontational, the least necessary force was used and "we still treated them with restraint and respect."

Several people interviewed, all from Six Nations, described occupiers being thrown to the ground, kicked and punched. "I see women getting hurt, I see children getting hurt," said Eric Van Every.

Ken, who would not give his last name, had covered his face with a bandana and displayed a bandaged hand because of what he said were chemical burns from pepper spray deployed by an aboriginal officer after he resisted arrest.

Henry Hill said he was "tasered" four times in the back when he went to the rescue of his stepmother, Ms. Hill, who was being held down by officers.

Shortly after, hundreds of people emerged from the neighbouring Six Nations lands and pushed police back.

Police would not disclose how many officers were at the scene. Protesters estimated their own numbers at from 200 to 400.

Police were armed with M16 rifles, tear gas, pepper spray and Taser guns, Mr. Van Every said. Some protesters had clubs and axes, police said, though according to Mr. Van Every most were unarmed.

"What we had was pretty much people's bodies. We were just singing."

"It was people power," said another protester. "Pretty much just numbers," Mr. Van Every said. "We were pretty much one-for-one with those cops."

Ms. Hill said the protesters offered the police a chance to move their vehicles out. She said she was set upon when she went to deliver a message to a group of officers that they should also leave.

A 19-year-old white supporter who would identify himself only as Will was one of those arrested. He said he was asleep in his tent at the blockade site when police arrived suddenly, with overwhelming force. "The whole street was loaded with cop cars. We didn't get any warning from the people who were standing guard."

He said police told them to get off the property. "I was walking off," he said, when he was grabbed by an officer. "I told him to get his hands off me, that was enough to get me arrested."

Will said he and around a dozen others were held for several hours in a police wagon at the Cayuga detachment before being processed and released. He said he signed an agreement not to return to the disputed property.

But he did. "It's not their right," he said of police. "They're in no position to make that demand. Like, I was invited by the people who actually own this land."

Among the mostly white Caledon residents, sympathies were mixed.

"What I'm nervous of now is the OPP going in with guns. The natives don't make me nervous at all," said Kathy Maher, a thirtysomething woman who rents a house on the edge of the disputed property and witnessed part of the early-morning confrontation.

"It was all peaceful until this morning."

Her friend Jim Meyer concurred. "I don't understand why [authorities] are not just showing them [the protesters] the bill of sale and saying, 'Here's where the money went,' They've been asking for the records for years."

Others, less sympathetic, thought the police action was overdue. "If they were going to go in and do this, they should have done it sooner," said a Caledonia-area resident who did not want to be identified.

"Now [the protesters] have had a chance to get organized. I'm not against native rights, but what about my right to go about my life, and drive down the road without getting turned back at a roadblock?"

Deputy Commissioner Pilon confirmed that the raid came the morning after talks between Six Nations representatives and federal and provincial government officials. "There were talks going on last night and those did not lead to resolution of the land issue," he said.

The Confederacy chiefs, who are the traditional government at Six Nations, issued a release yesterday expressing disappointment at the police action. "We believe we were within reach of a peaceful resolution." Another meeting is set for today, the statement said.

Elected Chief Dave General, in a statement released by the Chiefs of Ontario, asked that supporters from other native communities not travel to the Caledonia site because the immediate priority is to defuse the situation and avoid any physical confrontation between the protesters and OPP.

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