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Fury, confrontation at Caledonia

Phinjo Gombu - Staff Reporter
Toronto Star
Monday, May 22, 2006 | Updated at 3:48 PM 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 day that was supposed to have marked the peaceful end of a month-long standoff between native protestors and residents of Caledonia instead escalated into fury, confrontation and reinforced blockades on the main road leading into the Hamilton-area town.

Even Queen Victoria’s holiday tradition of providing natives with a gift of bread and cheese, in appreciation for their loyalty, became part of the fracas on Highway 6 yesterday when native protestors hurled loaves of bread and packages of processed cheese back at the townsfolk, who had left the offerings near the Indian barricade.

“Everybody’s temper is shortening because it’s been going on for far too long,” said retired taxi driver Melvin Stenabaugh, 64, as he watched the angry crowds at the barricades. “I’m afraid somebody is going to wind up getting hurt and I don’t know which side it will be.”

The day of angry confrontation began with natives, who have been protesting a planned housing development on land they say they own and have never sold, agreeing to remove their barricade while talks on resolving the issue continued under the leadership of former Ontario premier David Peterson.

But that offer was quickly rescinded after townsfolk and their supporters began building a barricade of their own just down the road, prompting native protestors to rebuild and reinforce their own barrier.

The high feelings and a lack of mutual respect, Peterson said, derailed what was supposed to have been a peaceful end to the months-long showdown.

The display of anger, Peterson said, was “heartbreaking.”

“I think we have to appeal to the calmer heads to try to think carefully about the consequence of their actions,” he said. “It’s the future of the community and the reputation of the community that’s at stake here.”

At one point, Peterson found himself jostled by groups of demonstrators and was shoved back toward native lines by townsfolk who told the former premier he wasn’t going anywhere.

Peterson found himself in the midst of a pushing and shoving scene after meeting with native protestors shortly after 6 p.m. He then walked across to a non-native protestor and asked them to clear the road so that hydro crews could fix a blown transformer that caused a blackout in the town.

But Caledonia residents would have none of it, derisively booing and jeering Peterson.

According to radio station CD 98.9, the failure of the Caledonia transformer station — the main source of power for the surrounding Norfolk and Haldimand counties — has left thousands of area residents in the dark, but it’s not known whether the outage is related to the standoff.

As Peterson tried to appeal for calm and reason, saying, “both sides need to cut each other some slack,” angry residents vowed not to leave their side of the road.

At one point, as Peterson tried to walk through the crowd, several residents blocked his path and pushed him back toward the line of Ontario Provincial Police officers separating townsfolk from the native blockade.

“You ain’t going home until we get our town back,” shouted one resident.

Peterson later told reporters that last night’s events had derailed what was supposed to have been a successful end to the blockade.

He said at 10 a.m. yesterday, native protestors were prepared to take down the barricade. “This situation was settled,” he said. “We have to figure out what happened. Somehow it fell apart.”

Even the occasional gestures of peace, such as the bread and cheese, were quickly rejected.

Shortly before 8 p.m., two Caledonia residents walked from their side over to the native barricade, carrying a lilac branch as a gesture of peace.

They were greeted by the natives, but jeered and condemned as traitors by the people on their side.

“If we move back, they’ll gladly move back,” said one of the town residents, a woman who did not wish to give her name. “Somebody’s got to do something, otherwise we’re going to be here all night.”

Demonstrators began blockading the road on April 20 when police attempted to forcibly remove protestors, who have been occupying a 40-hectare piece of land since Feb. 28, saying it is rightfully theirs.

Six Nations Confederacy Chief Allen McNaughton said yesterday the barricades came down as a goodwill gesture since progress was being made in negotiations. He said the protestors 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.”

But tensions grew as non-aboriginal residents built their own human barricade on the road and stopped aboriginals from passing through, said the native protestors’ spokeswoman, Janie Jamieson.

“They’re instigating, (they’re) a bunch of irate radicals,” she said.

“What they don’t realize is if they continuously threaten our safety, that barricade can go right back up again, so it’s entirely their decision.”

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