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Six Nations does not stand alone

Justin Podur
April 24, 2006

On Thursday April 20, Hazel Hill, one of the Six Nations Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) leaders on the blockade at the Douglas Creek Estates near Caledonia, told me about her beating at the hands of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) hours before. Early that morning, at 5am, the blockade – not a protest, as Hill emphasized, but a reclamation - of about 100 people from the Six Nations Reserve had been assaulted by heavily armed police. The police came out in force. Exact numbers are unknown, but eyewitnesses said there were over 100 police knocking people down and clearing them out, guns drawn. They arrested 15, including a 14-year old child. The police were acting on an injunction filed on March 10 by a real estate developer, Henco Industries Limited, to clear the native people - who had been holding the blockade since the beginning of March – and facilitate Henco's scheme to build a few more blocks of suburban houses on the site. When Provincial Court Judge David Marshall issued an order to the indigenous people to leave their land by March 22, he reportedly asked the Clan Mothers: “What's the matter with you people? Why don't you forget all about the past and listen to me?” Judge Marshall was evidently uncompelling, and the indigenous people remained on the blockade. The Clan Mothers, who have led the action, made the decision that the blockade would be unarmed. “The men are here to defend us”, Hazel Hill told me, “but there are no weapons here. We told them no weapons and they respect our decision.” The OPP had to know, both from the announcements of the Clan Mothers and, no doubt, their helicopter and other surveillance of the site, that the blockade was unarmed. This did not prevent them from engaging in a violent, disproportionate pre-dawn raid on the site. Victims reported police use of pepper spray, tasers, and batons.

But the OPP got more than they bargained for that morning. Within hours of their raid, the indigenous returned. At around 8am on April 20, they evicted the police – who, after the raid, had reduced their presence significantly – returning with twice the number that had been removed. Like the original blockade, this was an unarmed action by the indigenous: “We started moving in on them,” Hill said, “and asked them to leave... then we just walked them out.”

At one point, however, Hazel Hill found herself alone with a few police officers. One officer threatened her with arrest, citing the injunction that protesters leave the territory. Hill replied that it was, instead, the officer who was in violation of the law of the land – Six Nations territory – and also, for that matter, international law. At that point, the officer physically attacked – and other police joined in. Hill was quickly rescued by others from the blockade, however, and the police withdrew, though not before using a taser on Hill's rescuers and pointing their guns at them.

Provincial and Federal

The OPP's 2-hour coup, and the government's handling of the blockade, reveals something about Canada.

The OPP are the police for the Canadian province of Ontario. Those on the blockade at Six Nations assert national rights and demand to be treated as such. The Canadian government refuses to treat the indigenous as nations. It would rather treat them as second-class citizens of municipalities and outsource the repression of the inevitable resistance to the provinces. But the Liberal provincial government, through Ontario's premier Dalton McGuinty, had said the day before the raid (April 19) that the government was going to take the time to resolve the issue peacefully. In saying so, McGuinty was probably trying to distance himself from the previous provincial government, the Conservative government of Mike Harris, which had ordered the OPP to attack another native demonstration at Ipperwash in 1995. At that demonstration, an OPP sniper killed an unarmed indigenous man named Dudley George. An inquiry into that murder is still ongoing.

The afternoon after the April 20 2006 raid, McGuinty said "This police action comes completely independent of me, my office and my government." But if he hadn't ordered it, who had? Unless the OPP acted on their own, the obvious candidate is the Federal government, with its new Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and its militaristic pretensions. But if Harper gave the order, he hasn't said so (and indeed, the Canadian media don't seem to have asked). In any case, the federal government can't give orders to the provincial police (can it?) And the federal government's line is that it is a provincial matter. And yet, if this unarmed blockade is really a provincial matter, according to the federal government, who sent the Canadian military, now operating just off site at the airport in the nearby city of Hamilton (1)? 

The Settler Problem

The land where the Six Nations reserve sits, with its 21,000 people, and where the blockade holds, was granted to Six Nations in 1784 by Lieutenant Governor Haldimand. The land had been alienated from the Mississauga Nation. The Haldimand Grant was a bit different from other treaties between the British colonial government and indigenous nations. The Six Nations were granted an area six miles deep from the Grand River (an area far larger than the current Six Nations reserve) in exchange for their military service to the British during the American Revolutionary War. Many whites (the Loyalists) who fought in the same war and lost their lands (as the Six Nations had lost their lands to the Americans) were given similar grants by the British at the same time (2).

The double standard related to the problem of settlers. These were whites – often Americans – who decided to take a piece of indigenous land for themselves and start to farm it. When they did so, they put the indigenous in a dilemma. The indigenous could appeal to the government to protect their land rights, as they repeatedly did, for example in a resolution in 1809 that named specific settlers and violations (Harring 1998, pg. 42). Against these settlers and their depredations, the government pleaded a lack of capacity, while the settlers relied “on the unwillingness of the Canadian government to remove them and believed ultimately that they would get legal title to their lands.” (Harring pg. 45). When settlers encroached on the lands of other whites, however, they were removed. When indigenous people, recognizing that the law wouldn't protect them, took matters into their own hands and attacked settlers, the government did act – to prosecute and punish them (Harring pg. 45 describes a case from the 1830s). The message was clear: the government would protect settlers against indigenous, but not the reverse, whatever the law said.

In 1841, the government came up with a solution for the settler problem: “if the Indians would give up most of their lands, the depredations would cease.” (Harring pg. 51) And even though, lacking any recourse, the chiefs did surrender the lands, the settlers did not stop, nor did the government punish the settlers for breaking the laws. Harring summarizes the history as follows (pg. 61): “With no recognition of their legal rights, the Six Nations were forced to accept repeated reductions of their lands, the last occurring as their reserves were occupied by as many settlers as Indians. While the process took a different form in other Indian land cessions, similar dishonesty and coercion was employed.”

It was in the context of this 1841 surrender that the 1992 acquisition of the Douglas Creek Estates by Henco Industries Ltd., the counterpart of the settlers of the 19th century, took place. Six Nations launched a lawsuit over the land in 1995. But as Henco Industries and Six Nations understands, as settlers and indigenous people the world over understand, the law and the facts on the ground are two different things.

“Our job is to be able to kill people”

And as the police attack on Hazel Hill reported illustrates, governments on the losing end of legal arguments often get violent. The Canadian government has moved in more violent directions in recent months. This is attested to by Canada's changing of its voting pattern at the UN to unconditional support for Israel, including its right to murder and dispossess the Palestinians with impunity (3). It is attested to by its deepening engagement in aggressive military operations with the US in Afghanistan, which were announced by Canada's Chief of Defence Staff General Hillier in July 2005 with the words: “We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.” (4)

What Canada's government must consider is whether its appetite for violence is matched by the population. It seems unlikely. Settler states always hope the indigenous can be contained, made invisible, and disappeared. But the indigenous have different ideas (5), and the police raid of April 20 had the opposite effect, with more attention on the situation now than ever. Other indigenous nations have taken action in solidarity. Across the country, in British Columbia on the West Coast, Secwempec people from the Neskonlith Reserve struck an information picket in support of Six Nations. The Secwempec are in their own fight with the Sun Peaks Resort, built on their land in vioaltion of their rights. Closer to Caledonia, the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, who had themselves been expecting some sort of attack on their lands (6), blocked a CN rail line and the Mohawks of Kahnawake stopped traffic on the Mercier Bridge to Montreal on April 20. In their press release, the Mohawks wrote: “We anticipate similar action will be taken in First Nations communities across the country and would encourage those communities not taking action of their own to make their way to Six Nations or join us here. Six Nations does not stand alone.”

Kahentinetha Horn of the Mohawk News Network wrote: “Supporters, if you want to send us a flag from your country to show your support, we will be honored to hoist it.... sign it and send it to Hazel Hill, RR#6, Hagersville, Ontario Canada N0A 1H0.  Deliver it in person.  We'd be glad to meet you.”

[Justin Podur is based in Toronto and visited the blockade on Thursday April 20].


1) See Fenton and Jay, The Dominion:Are Military Forces Operating From Hamilton Airport in Six Nations Standoff?

2) For this history I rely on Sidney L. Harring's “White Man's Law: Native People in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Jurisprudence.” Osgoode Society, University of Toronto Press, 1998. Thanks to Irina Ceric for recommending this title.

3) This may have been what Canada's previous Prime Minister, Paul Martin, meant when he said that Canada and Israel have “shared values”.

4) I wrote about this with Sonali Kolhatkar for Briarpatch December 2005. Too many Canadians have killed, and died, in Afghanistan already, the most recent Canadian deaths on April 23, 2006.

5) I reproduce a recent statement by the Clan Mothers in full:

The Women, being Title Holders to all lands of Turtle Island, assert our constitutional jurisdiction over the Haldimand Tract.  We have never and cannot ever give up our land or our sovereignty.

i. The Six Nations are distinct original nations.  We are to be dealt with on a nation-to-nation basis by the Crown and all other nations.

ii. The Crown must respect our original relationship as set out in the Two Row Wampum, our jurisdiction as provided in our constitution, the Kaiannereh’ko:wa, and as respected by Sections 109 and  132 of the BNA Act, 1867 and according to international covenants that  Canada has signed.

iii. We are to be dealt with on a nation-to-nation basis, as was the custom before Canada separated from the British Empire. Respect for the independent international status of the Six Nations by Canada was established before Canada achieved recognition as a state or gained the ability to sign treaties on its own.  The independent international identity of the Six Nations identity has never been legally extinguished.

iv. The band councils were established with procedures that violated international law.  They continue to function as colonizing institutions. We have never consented to their establishment nor their representing us.

v. Canada and all its politicians, bureaucrats, agents, assignees and appointees should cease and desist immediately their attempt to criminalize and apprehend our people for defending what is rightfully ours, the land to which we hold title.  Any further action by Canada, Ontario and their agents shall be viewed as being a direct violation of the Two Row Wampum, the constitutional accord between the Ratino’shon:ni and Canada and international law.

vi. The claims of Canada and the province of Ontario to have a right to legislate for the Rotino’shon:ni Six Nations and to grant private title to our land has no foundation in law.

6) I did a blog entry on this in March 2006: Jonah Gindin wrote an op-ed on it as well:

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