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Natives, townspeople in a faceoff after police arrests spark fires, anger

Deirdre Healey and Daniel Nolan
Hamilton Spectator
CALEDONIA (Apr 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.]

Hundreds of Caledonia residents and masked natives stared each other down last night, separated only by about 50 metres of Argyle Street.

About 300 white residents taunted nearly as many natives, mocking them for wearing masks and telling them to go home. The occupiers, many wielding pieces of wood, shovels and bats, mostly watched, speaking up to order the Caledonians back if they ventured too near.

Police stepped in to push the two sides further apart.

Nearby, a historic wooden bridge was set on fire. Police refused to comment, but one native said protesters did it to prevent the OPP from using it.

Caledonia last night appeared like a town under siege. Tensions grew steadily after the pre-dawn raid, in which dozens of OPP officers swooped down on a handful of protesters at the subdivision they have occupied for eight weeks in Caledonia.

But less than four hours later, the police turned on their heels and left after protesters reoccupied the subdivision.

The day had been filled with scenes of angry natives gathering at the site, setting up roadblocks and fires. Then it was the townspeople's turn.

More and more people gathered near the barricade before dark, angry that their community is literally cut in two and the effect this has had on their town. Schools are closed today, Hwy. 6 is shut down and many shops aren't bothering to open.

Local residents who live inside the native lines were barred from their homes last night by occupiers. Natives were permitted to cross over, but residents were turned back. Shortly after 8 p.m., a truck dumped a load of wood and another fire was lit in the middle of the road.

It's amid this atmosphere that the Six Nations Confederacy will resume talks with the federal and provincial governments today. But it's unclear where those talks will lead.

The federal government has said the dispute is a provincial issue. And yesterday Ontario Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay called on his federal counterpart Jim Prentice to appoint a personal envoy to take part in the talks with the Confederacy, which has been delegated to deal exclusively with land claims by Six Nations Chief David General and the elected band council.

In Montreal, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters his government was "obviously watching carefully" the developments in Caledonia. But all he would say is that Ottawa prefers a "peaceful resolution".

Dozens of OPP officers stormed the Douglas Creek Estates at 4:30 a.m. yesterday and arrested 16 activists for mischief and assaulting police charges.

But an estimated 75 protesters pushed back onto the land shortly after 8 a.m. Three police officers were slightly injured in scuffles - one who needed stitches to his head after being hit with a bag of rocks.

At that point, a convoy of police vehicles retreated from the area, setting up a perimeter about a block from a native barricade.

Seven of the protesters were freed yesterday, the other nine remain in custody.

Angry protesters paralyzed Caledonia yesterday, setting up roadblocks on Argyle Street on the south side of town and the Highway 6 bypass. Natives cut down hydro poles to use as barricades, tore up highway fencing and dumped truckloads of gravel to stop police from returning.

They set fires at several locations, tires and wood sending plumes of black smoke choking into the air.

Masked protesters, many waving Mohawk Warrior flags, shouted their defiance across barricades, saying they're willing to die before surrendering.

The natives on scene yesterday came from as far away as eastern Ontario and Manitoba. And organizers say many more are on their way to reinforce Six Nations members.

Some Caledonia residents are upset the government has let the protest get this far and believe the victims are the people who live in the community.

"We have a lot of people suffering here. People can't even run their businesses or go to work. Who is going to pay our wages when we can't go to work?" said Janet Whintemute.

Whintemute said the police did more harm then good by arresting a handful of the natives yesterday morning.

"They have stirred up a hornets' nest and then deserted us," she said.

Kevin Clark, who lives near the site, described the protesters' actions as "lawlessness at its finest."

Mayor Marie Trainer visited the site first in the afternoon to speak with media and returned again in the evening to give an update.

She stood about 50 metres from the blockade for the interviews and a group of protesters immediately gathered around her and began heckling and asking questions. At one point when she was trying to back away from a protester, she was pushed from behind by another. He then blocked her from getting out of the scrum of reporters and natives asking her questions.

OPP Sergeant Dave Rektor said police intended to remain around the scene with a perimeter and in a command post in an old school north of town. But he said the force was "very hopeful that those who can make a difference will get back to negotiating and work toward a peaceful resolution."

Ramsay said there is a new urgency to bring the standoff to an end because of "the mayhem we saw" yesterday. "This is not what Canadians want to see. If anything it should focus everyone's attention to really get down and get to a peaceful resolution."

He wouldn't comment, however, if the situation brought a new focus to a suggestion for the province and federal government to buy out developers Don and John Henning and leave the land in native hands.

Yesterday afternoon, Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pillon said the OPP has no immediate plans to go in again to clear out protesters.

"We, unfortunately, are in the position where we have no negotiating power, if you will," Pillon said. "We are caught in the middle of this situation. Our main focus is on public safety, has been from start and will continue to be."

At Six Nations, the anger at the morning raid was palpable.

"Everybody's watching. Everybody's talking. Everybody's concerned," said Carrie Hill, manager of the busy Big Six Gas and Convenience on 4th Line near Oneida Road, where customers shared news and rumours.

By early afternoon, Hill had heard everything, from talks continuing to talks breaking off, to the police backing away to the police planning to return.

She blamed Ottawa and the province for the vacuum.

"Nobody's willing to come forward and take responsibility for anything," she said.

At Sixth Line and Oneida Road, just west of the occupied subdivision, a small group led by a handful of young natives was slowing traffic and swearing at white people, as burning tires spewed black smoke into the air.

The Six Nations Confederacy negotiating team issued a press release stating they were "saddened and disappointed at the police action," but they still welcomed the chance to meet with provincial and federal officials today.

The six-member committee said restoring peace "is even more urgent" in the raid's aftermath.

They also said they do not control the protesters, but do have influence over them.

"But that influence depends on our ability to convince them that serious attention is being paid to the causes of the protest," the release said.

The band council also issued a statement and appealed for calm "as we work through this difficult situation." The council reiterated that it recognizes the lead of the Confederacy in this matter and "shall remain in an active supporting role."

The Henning brothers, who had been urging the OPP to execute the court injunction for weeks, issued a brief statement.

"We are very dismayed at the situation that is now occurring at and around our Douglas Creek Estates subdivision project. We have always said that we hoped the situation would be resolved peacefully."

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