Six Nations Solidarity
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Gregory Bonnell and Jennifer Graham - Canadian Press
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 20:13
[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) - A highway blockade that became a "symbol of the disunity" between First Nations protesters and their non-aboriginal neighbours was dismantled Tuesday as the aboriginal leadership shifted focus instead to the land claim at the root of their occupation.
While residents of this southwestern Ontario town cheered the reopening of a major thoroughfare, the protesters took up position once again at the housing development that borders the road.
"We remain committed to securing our land rights and restoring our tradition of respect, trust and friendship with our neighbours," said Six Nations Chief Allan McNaughton.
"Our land rights are real, they are just, they can no longer be ignored."
The barricade sparked weeks of emotional and sometimes violent protests from non-aboriginals who expressed dismay at being "held hostage" by what many considered to be a dispute between the aboriginals and the government.
"This is a huge step for Caledonia," said Steve Tong of the Caledonia Citizens' Alliance, an ad-hoc group formed in the wake of the barricades going up last month.
"It was a huge stress for the town, lives must get back to normal."
The dismantling of the barricade began early Tuesday afternoon when two men, one wearing a traditional aboriginal headdress and the other bearing a lilac branch, walked down the road and met with members of the alliance.
"We've held out an olive branch," said McNaughton.
"It's a good beginning."
Tuesday's developments, the result of a daylong phone meetings between the citizens' group and the aboriginals, came one day after a planned reopening of the road was scuttled when residents formed their own blockade. That prompted the aboriginal protesters to reinforce their position by dragging a large hydro tower onto the highway and tearing up a section of the road with construction machinery.
Riot police were called in Monday night as confrontations on the roadway turned violent.
"Safety is the biggest concern for our people...because of the anger and racism that was shown," said aboriginal spokeswoman Hazel Hill.
To that end, the hydro tower was repositioned off the roadway and across the entrance to the occupation site.
"We do have to protect our people," said Hill.
Although a moratorium on building on the contested land is in place, the protesters vowed to maintain their occupation until there's a resolution.
"We're not leaving," said Hill.
"That's up to the delegates to decide how that's resolved."
The removal of the barricade will allow talks between the aboriginals and the provincial and federal governments to progress, said former Ontario premier David Peterson.
"The barrier became a symbol of disunity," said Peterson, who is leading the talks.
"The big issue is the land issue, this has to be engaged and dealt with. (Removing the barricade) is only one step, but it was a big step and it's important."
In Calgary Tuesday, federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was optimistic that the dispute was heading toward a resolution.
"I think that we have turned the corner," said Prentice. "We're at the table, we'll continue to negotiate. But I think all Canadians... will be encouraged we're on the right path marked by negotiations, patience and goodwill."
While citizens heralded the reopening of the road, some 4,000 residents were still left without electricity after a hydro transformer was damaged Monday in what officials are calling an act of vandalism.
Two other aboriginal barricades, located on the highway bypass outside the town, remained as well.
"We're working on that," McNaughton said when asked if those barriers would be coming down in the near future.
Speaking in Ottawa, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the province and Ottawa have a shared responsibility to help the community resolve the standoff.
"It's one of those things that if I had a magic wand, I'd wave it, and we'd be out of this overnight," McGuinty said.
"We continue to believe that the best approach for us to bring is one which will result in a resolution as a result of negotiation."
Aboriginal demonstrators began their occupation of the housing development on Feb. 28. The Six Nations protesters say a subdivision is being built on land stolen from them more than 200 years ago. The aboriginals concede they agreed to lease the property for a road in 1835, but dispute arguments that it was later sold to the Crown.
The protest spilled onto the roadway last month when police attempted to enforce an court order and forcibly end the occupation.