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Indian Country Today
Posted: April 21, 2006
OHSWEKEN, Ontario - More than 1,000 residents of Canada's Six Nations Reserve rushed to the site of a standoff between Native protesters and the Ontario Provincial Police during the early hours of April 20 after an armed police raid resulted in 10 arrests and several hospitalizations.
According to one report, two of the hospitalized were non-Native supporters of the protest. About 15 protesters were sleeping at the ''reclamation site'' when a caravan of at least eight police vehicles raided and made arrests.
According to the TV report, police were armed with drawn guns, Taser devices and tear gas, although the weapons were not used.
Protesters at the contested construction site regrouped and pushed police back to the nearby road as the call went out for support from the largely Iroquois community, Amos Key, director of the community radio station CKRZ-FM, said. The Native-run station is broadcasting a live feed from the standoff on its Internet site, www.ckrz.com.
Key said that urgent talks were now under way between the Confederation chiefs and officials of the provincial and federal governments.
Lisa Johnson, of the Bear's Inn in Ohsweken, was following live television coverage of the events all morning and said that residents of the reserve poured into the site as news of the early morning raid spread through the community of 22,000 and by 7:50 a.m. had gathered in sufficient numbers to force the police to leave. As of noon, no police were on the site, although talk spread throughout the community that they were regrouping in riot gear with about 1,000 reinforcements.
The arrests could total up to 15, but protesters who had been arrested were released after being fingerprinted and photographed, although they were warned that they faced jail time if they returned to the site. Several had reportedly rejoined the protesters.
The television coverage resulted by accident. An employee of Hamilton CHTV, noticed the police activity as he drove to work and notified a camera crew, which broadcast from the site all morning. All other reporters were barred from the site by provincial police.
After the OPP withdrew, protesters blocked Highway 6, also known as Plank Road, which runs by the construction site called the Douglas Creek subdivision, and a secondary road. They set a pile of tires on fire and pulled a large dump truck across the road. A large pile of tires and planks were assembled at another crossing, but at last report it had not been set ablaze.
After the roads were blocked, residents continued to reach the site by walking to the surrounding forest.
On the other hand, police closed streets entering the nearby town of Caledonia, although schoolchildren were bused to school early in the morning. Both schools were closed later in the day and parents on the reserve were still uncertain how their children would be returned home.
Haudenosaunee Confederacy chiefs had met all night before the raid. They reportedly told provincial officials that they did not control the protesters, but they were attempting to negotiate on their behalf.
The timing of the raid was still unexplained, but the developers of the subdivision had reportedly threatened to start a civil action against the OPP to pressure it to remove the protesters.
The crisis brought a rare spirit of unity to the reserve, healing a decades-long split between the elected band council and the traditional confederacy chiefs.
The elected council was imposed on the reserve in 1924 by the federal Canadian government to replace the traditional leadership, but the confederacy persisted as an institution often at odds with the elected governments on both sides of the border.
The band council had expressed doubts about the occupation of the Douglas Creek site, which was supported by the confederacy chiefs.
In the aftermath of the raid, however, the council delegated negotiating authority to the chiefs.
The crisis apparently has also hardened the outlook among the traditional chiefs.
According to Key, the chiefs originally instructed the warrior groups in the protest to leave the site if ordered to by the OPP.
Said Key: "It's escalated and escalated. We're all frustrated. Our goal is to get to the quality of life second to none that Canada espouses to the world, but we are 30 years behind."