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Caledonia clash turns violent

The barricades seemed about to come down -- then 'something happened' and things got much worse

Natalie Pona and Vivian Song
Toronto Sun
Tuesday, May 23, 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.]

CALEDONIA -- Tensions sparked by the continuing aboriginal demonstration erupted into screaming matches, fist fights and destruction yesterday just as a blockade holding a housing development hostage was taken down.

As a sign of goodwill, Six Nations members dismantled their contentious blockade that had stopped traffic on the town's main road for more than a month and had planned to reopen the road even though an agreement on the future of the development had not been reached.

Former Ontario premier David Peterson, the chief negotiator in the dispute, said he believed significant progress had been made, and that it was "heartbreaking" to see the sudden turn of events.

"We had very big momentum up until 10 or 11 o'clock this morning and something happened," Peterson said.

"I think we have to appeal to the calmer heads to try to think carefully about the consequence of their actions," he said.

Refused to budge

Caledonia town council declared a state of emergency last night as dozens of police officers in riot gear gathered at the blockade.

Several hundred residents who had massed near the aboriginal barrier refused to budge yesterday morning, with some trying to march past the embattled housing development onto Indian land.

Anger raged out of control as a vehicle carrying aboriginals to the reserve tried to pass. Residents tried to block its path.

Six Nations spokesman Clyde Powless and a group of aboriginals approached the scene, and he tried to fight his way through the crowd. But he was blocked and a skirmish broke out between the groups.

But that didn't compare to the riot that broke out after the natives tore down a hydro tower and used it to barricade the road. Beating drums and chanting around the toppled tower, some of them hid their faces with bandanas.

The natives approached the residents and, speaking over the shoulders of OPP officers, offered to take down the blockade in exchange for a truce. But that didn't happen. After their offer was refused, some natives drove up in construction machines and began digging up the road.

That set off residents and led to the most violent exchange of the day, with natives and residents breaking past the police barrier and attacking each other.

Some made weapons out of scrap metal, and there were reports some people were pepper-sprayed.

Paramedics tended to a couple of injured people, but there were no serious injuries were reported.

More officers arrived and relative calm was restored, but tempers flared again when Peterson tried to pass through the throng of angry residents, who had been hurling insults at the mediator since his arrival.

"You're not getting through here," shouted protesters, as they moved to block Peterson.

When protesters began to swear at the towering mediator, the normally soft-spoken Peterson pointed a finger in a protester's face and warned, "Don't cuss at me."

A determined throng of residents then pushed Peterson and his handlers back toward the front of the line, forcing him into the neutral zone, all the while chanting expletive-filled orders to get out.

"We want him to push through their barrier, not ours," said Jim Irwin, 24. "They've been here too long. We want him to take the long way like we have to."

Peterson expressed his disappointment at the turn of events, saying the three-month standoff had been so close to being solved.

"We want to figure out the facts of who did what to cause what's happening today," he said.

"It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into fixing the situation. That somehow or other fell apart."

When asked about the possibility of declaring a state of emergency, Peterson deferred that decision to local council, adding he doesn't want to "incite the situation more than it is."

"We don't want another Oka," he said, referring to the bloody battle that raged throughout the summer of 1990 in the small Quebec town of Oka after Kahnesatake Mohawks set up a blockade to stop the expansion of a golf course.

After 78 days of racial tension, fights, stoning, gunfire and violence that led to the fatal shooting of a Quebec police officer, Mohawk Warriors surrendered and walked off the Oka land that they claimed was theirs.

Jobs have been lost

In Caledonia, protesters like Jim Downes, 22, stood firm, saying not only did he lose his job on a golf course because of the native blockade, his girlfriend and her uncle also became unemployed.

"Hydro is off, food is rotting in my fridge and I'm unemployed. What have we got to lose? We might as well do something about it," he said, his yellow sweatshirt torn from being embroiled in the brawl in the afternoon.

Blockades erected last month stem from tensions between members of the Six Nations Confederacy over the ownership of land that is the site of a partially completed subdivision. Since construction began Feb. 28, aboriginals have occupied the subdivision.

A police raid in April prompted Six Nations members to blockade the main route through Caledonia.

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