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Tensions flare as Caledonia standoff continues

CBC News:
Last Updated Mon, 22 May 2006 17:25:34 EDT

[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.]

A fragile calm has settled in but a tense standoff continues in Caledonia, Ont., hours after aboriginal protesters and non-native residents traded punches and insults.

Ontario Provincial Police officers have separated the two sides, lining up in a pair of columns to keep them apart on Highway 6, the main road running through the southern Ontario town.

Local officials were to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

Earlier in the afternoon, a number of native and non-native demonstrators were injured in scuffles as two large backhoes dug up a section of road in front of the native blockade.

A native spokesperson had approached the non-native demonstrators and told them: "If you leave, we won't dig up the land."

Shortly after that, the native demonstrators narrowed the gap between the two sides from hundreds of feet to a couple of metres. They later returned to their blockade, saying they had to discuss the situation.

Tempers reached the boiling point just a few hours after what had seemed to be a breakthrough in a five-week standoff over the construction of a subdivision on land the aboriginal protesters claim is their land.

Barricades that the Six Nations protesters had erected on April 20 on Highway 6 came down as planned early Monday.

However, traffic was still being impeded because several dozen non-aboriginal protesters had set up a human barricade of their own.

That led to a scuffle between native and non-native demonstrators. Six Nations members then rushed to set up a new barrier.

The non-native blockade began Friday night, as part of a weekly demonstration by members of the community frustrated about the barricade that has been in place for almost five weeks.

Sides trade punches, accusations

"That's colonialism at its finest," Janie Jamieson, a spokeswoman for the Six Nations protesters, told CBC News in a midday interview as more aboriginal people returned to the site and Ontario Provincial Police officers tried to keep the peace.

"The OPP is witnessing it but nobody's doing anything about it," Jamieson said.

At one point, shouting, pushing and shoving broke out as a vehicle tried to get through the new barricade. Some people from the opposing sides traded punches, and each side accused the other of using racial slurs.

"Most people in Caledonia have a great degree of sympathy for land claims and want it settled," said resident Pat Woolley, interviewed at the site of the non-aboriginal protest.

However, he said, "people behind the barricade feel they weren't consulted" before the blockade went up.

Shortly before the new Six Nations barrier went up on Monday, Woolley pointed out that people are still off work because the aboriginal protesters were continuing to block a nearby rail line. As well, he said, the Six Nations group does not intend to leave the subdivision at the heart of the dispute.

For weeks, vehicles have been let through only irregularly.

The Six Nations community claims the land on which the subdivision was being built was never signed away by their ancestors, but was illegally taken from them 200 years ago.

"Our own populations are growing, and if we allow the loss of land, we will be remiss in our duties in our children and our ancestors," Six Nations Confederacy Chief Allen McNaughton said Monday.

"We thought everything was going to happen today, but we've got a delay and we're going to work it out," David Ramsay, Ontario's minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, said early Monday during an interview with CBC News.

"You get incidents out there that upset people and minds get changed," he said. "That's unfortunate."

Negotiator on scene

Former Ontario premier David Peterson, who was appointed at the end of April to help resolve the standoff, arrived at the scene around 4:30 p.m. EDT.

He appealed for calm, saying he hoped cooler heads would prevail and that demonstrators from both sides would go home.

Peterson called the escalation of tension "heartbreaking," and said he doesn't know what set it off.

"It's tough to know...frustrating for everybody," he said.

Earlier in the day, Peterson told CBC Newsworld it was crucial that the Caledonia dispute be ended responsibly because it is being watched by native groups across North America.

"Don't underestimate the significance," he warned. "All of us were praying and working hard to ensure that something ugly didn't develop out of this, like an Oka or a Wounded Knee or something like that.

Saskatchewan blockade disrupts traffic

In a development that seems to underline Peterson's concerns, members of First Nations in the North Battleford area of Saskatchewan set up a blockade of their own at a major highway near the community Monday afternoon.

Although some cars were being let through, it was causing problems for holiday travellers on the Yellowhead Highway near North Battleford. The Saskatchewan protesters, who are from First Nations in the North Battleford district, set up near the bridges that cross the North Saskatchewan River.

Marcia Neault of the Poundmaker Reserve says they want to draw attention to First Nations land issues everywhere.

"We're doing that in solidarity with Caledonia, and all lands that have been taken over by people that are non-Indian," she said.

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