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Native blockade near Hamilton removed, put back up; tensions high, power cut

AM940 Montreal
Posted on May 22, 2006, 23:15 EST

[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, Ont. (CP) - Simmering tensions between aboriginal demonstrators and frustrated residents of Caledonia, Ont., erupted Monday after a contentious blockade was taken down and then reconstructed hours later.

It had been hoped the removal of a barricade that had blocked traffic to the town's main road for more than a month would mark the beginning of the end of a divisive land-claim dispute.

Instead, the situation degenerated as aboriginal and non-aboriginal protesters, separated by dozens of police officers, took up positions on the disputed road and refused to budge.

Provincial negotiator David Peterson said Monday it was "heartbreaking" to see the sudden turn of events after a positive round of negotiations that he had hoped would bring about a peaceful resolution.

"The behaviour on some of these folks today was not constructive," said the former Liberal premier. "This situation was settled today. It was settled today, I remind you of that, and the barricade was coming down today."

"It was a lot of hard work and a lot of blood and sweat and tears went into fixing this situation. And somehow or other, it came apart."

The aboriginal protesters had briefly dismantled their barricade early in the day, a sign of goodwill after the province pledged last week to indefinitely halt development on a plot of disputed land.

But town residents had begun barring aboriginal protesters access to the site over the weekend and the scene began to turn ugly at around noon Monday, when an SUV driven by a Six Nations protester tried to force its way through the locals, prompting a fist fight. Police intervened in several such clashes throughout the day.

"They're instigating, (they're) a bunch of irate radicals," said Janie Jamieson, a spokeswoman for the aboriginal protesters.

Hundreds of local people assembled in the area Monday afternoon, waving Canadian flags and, at one point, bursting into a spontaneous rendition of O Canada.

Aboriginal protesters responded by returning to their blockade, dragging part of a large metal electrical tower across the street with a truck and then using a small steam shovel to tear up pavement across the road.

Authorities called for peace.

"I think we have to appeal to the calmer heads to try to think carefully about the consequence of their actions," said Peterson, who arrived in the area Monday afternoon to the scene of the tense standoff.

"I want to join with people across Ontario in calling for calm and goodwill in Caledonia," Premier Dalton McGuinty said in a statement released by his office on Monday night. "The confrontation we saw today has no place in our society and it does nothing to help resolve this difficult situation."

By evening, aboriginal and non-aboriginals demonstrators had taken up positions on the rural highway, engaged in an uneasy staredown over the heads of the police officers acting as a large human buffer. Some taunting between the groups continued, with shouts of "terrorists" breaking the dark silence. By late evening, police wearing riot gear had emerged as a show of force.

A power outage early Monday afternoon plunged thousands of customers in the surrounding area into darkness on a night when temperatures were expected to dropped to near freezing.

Hydro One spokeswoman Laura Cooke said the cause of the outage was clearly vandalism to the local power transformer.

It was several hours before crews could even access the site of the power disruption as they awaited a police escort through the demonstrators and Cooke said it will likely be days before service is fully restored.

Hydro trucks were ready to move in but couldn't because of the barricades.

"They can go home and let the trucks through and try to get at the problem or they stand here all night and not let the trucks through," said Peterson. "They've got a choice, they can freeze here if they want to."

Six Nations spokesman Clyde Powless said aboriginal protesters were only trying to maintain peace in the area when they re-established the blockade earlier in the day.

"We moved our people back," said Powless. "Unfortunately, they seem not to want to move, they did not want to allow the road opening, so we're forced to close it for the safety of our people."

Some area residents lashed out Monday at their neighbours, angry that they had taken measures into their own hands just as the road was being opened up.

"There were about 50 of us who came out here this morning," resident Diane McCormac told the Hamilton Spectator. "We were so excited to walk the road."

Aboriginal demonstrators began blockading the road on April 20 when police attempted to forcibly remove protesters who have been occupying a 40-hectare piece of land since Feb. 28.

The Six Nations protesters say a new development there is being built on land stolen from them more than 200 years ago. Six Nations concede they agreed to lease the property for a road in 1835, but dispute arguments that it was later sold to the Crown.

A meeting of police and municipal officials Monday night was expected to determine whether a curfew would be imposed in an effort to defuse the situation.

"Everyone, of course, is frustrated," said Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer. "The public is frustrated, they've been showing that at the lines, stopping the natives going through, just as the natives have been stopping us going through, and it's come to a head."

Six Nations Confederacy Chief Allen McNaughton said Monday morning that the barricades came down as a goodwill gesture since progress was being made in negotiations. He said the protesters have always acted fairly during the dispute.

"As the world has seen, our protest has been firm but peaceful. Our people are responding without weapons, using only their bodies to assert that we are a sovereign people with a long history and that we cannot be intimidated," he said. "Justice and reason are on our side."

Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, more than 30 aboriginal protesters set up a blockade on a major highway near North Battleford to show solidarity with the Ontario blockade.

Traffic backed up for about three kilometres Monday afternoon on a northern section of the Trans-Canada Highway before protesters reached an agreement with the RCMP and the group disbanded.

Blockade organizer Skyler Whitefish said it's important that aboriginals stand up for their rights to show others that everyone should respect the spirit and intent of land treaties.

"If they hurt my brothers and sisters over there in Caledonia, we're willing to die for them over here," Whitefish told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

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