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Blockade brings good and bad to Hagersville

Paul Legall
The Hamilton Spectator
HAGERSVILLE (Apr 29, 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.]

The old Lawson House has the warm homey atmosphere of a neighbourhood pub and sports bar.

Built near the railway tracks in 1871, its walls are covered with old pictures and memorabilia depicting its colourful history and strong connection with the local sports scene. There's a team picture of the 1960s Chicago Blackhawks when local legend Ron Murphy played with the likes of Stan Mikita, Al Arbour and Bobby Hull. Murphy eventually bought the pub and renamed it Murph's.

Today, new owners Tracy Rutty and Geoffrey Roman have continued the athletic tradition and sponsor local sport teams, including a native lacrosse squad.

The establishment is at the western edge of the village a few hundred metres from the Mississauga of the New Credit reserve and the clientele is evenly split between natives and non-natives. There has been little tension between the two groups in the past as they socialized, played pool and watched television together.

But the friendly tavern is only about a 15-minute drive south of Caledonia where tensions have been escalating between natives and Caledonia residents over the occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates residential development.

Native activists moved onto the site on Feb. 28 and lifted a large banner proclaiming "Six Nations Land." Calling the action a land reclamation, the protesters say the tract was stolen from them in the past and is still Six Nations territory.

For the past nine days, they've blockaded the Highway 6 bypass around Caledonia and erected a barricade where all motorists are stopped and questioned by a protester.

Rutty noticed a sudden drop in business last week after the OPP stormed the occupation site and arrested 16 natives camped there overnight. She believes some of her native customers joined the protest and have no time for the pub.

In the meantime, she and her husband are doing their best to make sure the dispute doesn't spill over to Hagersville. They discourage patrons from discussing the standoff and usually switch to another channel when it comes on television. They have at least one protest leader among their customers, Clyde Powless, and OPP officers have dropped by a few times to make sure there weren't any problems. So far, they've been able to keep the lid on the situation.

"Our motto is that you leave your troubles at the door," Rutty said yesterday. She's concerned, however, there could be some long-term bitterness.

"I find this all very disturbing," she said. "I hate to think what might happen after it's over. We've coexisted -- natives and non-natives -- and done such a good job and I hope we don't go back 20 years as far as our relationship with each other is concerned."

Rob Smolka and Steve Taylor, owners of the Hagersville Station and Feed Company, are already starting to feel the economic impact of the Highway 6 blockade which has discouraged some out-of-town customers from eating at their restaurant. If the blockade continues, they say, the situation is bound to get worse during the spring and summer when they depend on drop-in business from day trippers and cottagers.

Taylor said they also have a "loyal" group of customers from the reserve who probably will continue to patronize the restaurant.

Smolka said he understands the protesters are more concerned about safety since the police raid and probably erected the Argyle Street barricade as a security measure, rather than to annoy Caledonia residents. He doesn't see why they couldn't remove the Highway 6 barrier, however, which has forced motorists and large trucks to make a long detour through the York bridge on the Grand River. The route adds about 15 kilometres to the trip around Caledonia.

"Everybody would be happier if they removed the blockade," Smolka said.

And nobody would be happier than Ryan Wardell, whose family has owned Wardell's Factory Warehouse for 29 years. The appliance store employs 17 people and has customers from as far away as Port Dover and Simcoe in the south and Hamilton, Dundas and Ancaster in the north. Since the blockade, Wardell said out-of-town business has dropped "substantially" and could get to the point where he'll have to lay off workers. But some fast food restaurants and stores say they've experienced an increase in business since the bypass was closed. It also appears that some natives from Six Nations are now shopping in Hagersville, instead of Caledonia.

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