Six Nations Solidarity
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Thomas Walkom - National Affairs Writer
April 22, 2006. 09:56 AM
[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—The roots of what is being called Canada's latest Indian crisis are deep yet personal, institutional yet quirky.
They lie partly in the 18th century politics of Canada and the American Revolution. Those who didn't know that part of their country's history received a crash course Wednesday night when protestors set fire to an abandoned minivan near this small southwestern Ontario town and hurled it off a bridge to make their point.
They lie, too, in the much more recent decision of Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government to foster urban growth in selected parts of southern Ontario.
But they also lie in Janie Jamieson's decision last October to hold a potluck supper to commemorate the history of her Six Nations people.
As always, all of these things are intimately related. But before getting to that, it is probably worth pointing out that the latest Indian crisis isn't a crisis — at least not yet.
Rather, it is a carefully calibrated and well-organized protest designed to get maximum media attention without causing any serious physical damage.
No one has been killed. No one has been seriously hurt. Little has been vandalized (the incinerated minivan was donated by one of the demonstrators).
A small housing development has been stalled; a town has been inconvenienced and a few trains in eastern Ontario have been delayed.
Which brings the story back to Janie Jamieson, the American Revolution, Dalton McGuinty and how this whole thing started.
Most Canadians today cannot appreciate how different the constellation of political forces was in 18th century North America. At that time, European settlement — particularly in what is now Canada — was fragile, dependent for its survival on alliances with rival Indian nations.
One of the most enduring was the alliance between British newcomers and the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, based in what is now upper New York State. This alliance helped Britain defeat the French in North America in the 1760s.
A few years later, when the American colonies rose up in the rebellion of 1776, Britain again called on its Iroquois allies. For this, the Six Nations paid a bitter price. George Washington's revolutionary army razed their villages and burned their crops.
In 1783, commanding Gen. Frederick Haldimand and his defeated loyalists retreated north across the Great Lakes into what is now southern Ontario. The Six Nations were part of this trek. In recompense for their service to the Crown, Haldimand awarded them all the land for 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River, from its mouth on Lake Erie to its source, northwest of what is now Orangeville.
All in all, it was about 385,000 hectares — a sizeable chunk of the best land in Ontario.
Ken Young's ancestor Theobold Young, an Englishman with ties to the Iroquois, was part of that retreat. The Simcoe-area farmer was at the barricade in Caledonia this week to show support for old allies.
The story of what happened to that 385,000-hectare grant is depressingly familiar. Most of it was lost to European settlement — legally, says the Canadian government; illegally, say the Iroquois. The Six Nations have filed a host of land claims, some of them 20 years old, none of them resolved.
To make matters even more complicated, the people of the Six Nations reserve are split in their political loyalties.
Some support the elected band council, first introduced in 1924. Others support an older competing council of hereditary chiefs chosen through a complex system of clan lineage. To many supporters of the hereditary chiefs, the elected councillors are sellouts and usurpers — puppets of the federal government that created them.
Jamieson is a spokeswoman for the hereditary chiefs. Last October, she was trying to come up with a way to commemorate the 221st anniversary of the original Haldimand grant.
It was at about that time that work was being started on a new housing development just outside of Caledonia, on land which the developer owned clear title to but which many of the neighbouring Six Nations members felt had been illegitimately taken from them.
To Jamieson, the development exemplified two problems.
One was the longstanding land grievance. The other, she explained yesterday, was the McGuinty government's decision to encourage intensive population growth in parts of southern Ontario.
"They were talking about twice the population of Toronto," she said, and "5,000 families in this area alone."
"Think of all of the social problems. We already have a water shortage on the reserve."
So she decided to hold a one-day protest on the site. She would organize a potluck supper (in the end, it was catered) and a social.
As it turned out, the protest lasted two days and was a smashing success.
Situated next door to part of the reserve, the new subdivision symbolized to many residents 221 years of failed promises.
In November, Jamieson and her allies handed out pamphlets near the site.
In February, they received permission from the hereditary chiefs to occupy it indefinitely.
The rest followed inexorably: a court injunction ordering the protestors to leave; negotiations with the province that went nowhere; the eventual OPP decision this week to enforce the injunction, leading to a dawn raid by police and the inevitable reoccupation by reserve residents angered at police tactics.
Now the entire reserve is on side with the protestors. Even the rivalry between the elected and hereditary councils has been papered over for the purposes of this struggle.
"This is coming from my heart," group home worker Wayne Miller told me. "It's nothing else. This is for my 11 grandchildren."
How will it end? No one I talked to seemed to know. All acknowledged that it would be unrealistic to expect the return of all of the original Haldimand grant (which includes portions of Brantford and Cambridge).
Many sympathized with developers Don and John Henning. The two brothers are well liked locally. Indeed, some protestors work for the Hennings.
All said the federal government would have to become more actively involved if there is to be a settlement.
But in the meantime, they wait. "It's already been more than 200 years," said Sam Longboat, a garage owner and artist.
"We're used to it."