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Barricade goes down again as land claim talks resume

Natalie Alcoba - CanWest News Service
National Post
Published: Wednesday, May 24, 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, Ont. - The dismantling of a native barricade blocking passage on the main road of this restless southwestern Ontario town was seen Tuesday as a cautious, but constructive, step toward resolving a land claim dispute and repairing strained relations between natives and non-natives.

Negotiations held Tuesday between representatives of the Six Nations Confederacy and provincially appointed negotiator David Peterson appeared to have diffused an increasingly tense standoff.

Then, in the afternoon, native protesters extended a leafy branch to the residents of Caledonia considered to be a symbol of peace. The residents accepted, and within hours and under the watchful eye of dozens of police the barricade was down and vehicles were allowed to drive along Argyle Street for the first time since it went up in April.

Natives continue to occupy the land they have claimed as their own.

''This is a step toward repairing the relationship,'' Peterson, a former Ontario premier, said Tuesday.

''There are lots of things that have yet to be done. There's lots of deep distrust, there's lots of people who are still unhappy.''

Tuesday's move was described as a goodwill gesture by the protesters and predicated on the belief Ottawa will listen to their long-standing land claims.

''People need to realize all the time and money that has been wasted has been strictly on the barricades. The land issue hasn't even been touched,'' said Janie Jamieson, a Six Nations spokesperson.

Former federal cabinet ministers Barbara MacDougall and Jane Stewart have been appointed to settle the land claim dispute, and meetings were said to be ongoing.

Members of the Six Nations reserve have occupied a 40-hectare tract of land slated for development since Feb. 28, claiming it was their land that had been illegally sold. Enforcing a court injunction obtained by the land developer, police raided the occupied site on April 20, arresting 16 people.

Last week, the Ontario government announced no new construction would be allowed on the disputed parcel of land, provided progress towards a settlement continued.

In response, the barricade came down Monday, but was quickly put up again after violence erupted between the native and non-native sides.

Provincial riot police were sent in to quell the fighting. A nearby transformer was seriously damaged during the dispute, knocking out power to thousands of area residents. It wasn't clear when power would be fully restored, but businesses on the south side of the town were closed Tuesday and schools didn't open.

Many of Caledonia's non-native residents who gathered Tuesday behind yellow police tape said they'd had enough.

''We're being held hostage in our own town,'' said Mark Zecchini, a 40-year-old town resident.

''If they want to protest on the land, I don't have a problem with that. But stay within the confines of the law.''

A feeling of abandonment by municipal, provincial and federal leaders also permeated the crowd.

''We're caught in the middle,'' said Nelly Brooks, a 45-year-old psychiatric nurse. ''But they should have enough respect to tell us what's going on.''

Natives and non-natives have lived, worked and played peacefully alongside each other for decades. The dispute has changed things: A non-native father doesn't think it's safe to send his high school daughter to her prom on the Six Nations reserve; a native mother was heartbroken to learn her 15-year-old son was subjected to racial slurs while walking in Caledonia.

''One of the things you learn sometimes is there maybe is a thin veneer of civilization in these issues, but there's no alternative expect [sic] the communities getting along,'' Peterson said, who commended a group of local residents who have formed the Caledonia Citizens' Alliance and worked towards a resolution.

''Nobody wants violence, nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. We want to see our roads come back and we want (the natives) to take the case that we believe and fully support they have to the boardroom, where it belongs,'' said Ken Hewitt, with the Caledonia Citizens' Alliance.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty commended the goodwill that allowed for Tuesday's turn of events.

''It would be easy to allow this to descend into something that is ugly, so we will take whatever time is required to bring about a peaceful, safe resolution,'' he said.

McGuinty said he didn't have a ''neat and tidy'' answer as to what responsibility the federal and provincial governments should bear in terms of easing local financial hardships caused the by the dispute.

National Post

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