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Let's shake on it! Caledonia impasse ends

Natives, residents reopen Argyle St.

Deirdre Healey
Hamilton Spectator
(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.]

All it finally took to bring down the barricade was a simple peace offering between natives and residents.

Less than 24 hours after Caledonia residents and Six Nations protesters hurled insults and blows at each other, both sides had grown weary and agreed it was time to reopen Argyle Street.

Many town residents woke yesterday morning feeling shame and anger at how quickly weeks of progress had been destroyed by a moment of violence. Their Six Nation neighbours began the day feeling distrustful of the Caledonia residents, but still wanting to keep their promise to safely remove the barricade across the road.

Together the two groups, who have lived peacefully together for decades, decided to take negotiations into their own hands. And for the first time since the native blockade went up 34 days ago, traffic was flowing uninterrupted along Argyle Street by yesterday afternoon.

"The only way to describe it is relief," said Valerie Melick, who has lived in the small town for 28 years and watched yesterday as the entire resolution unfolded. "Maybe with this first step, things will start getting back to normal. Now with the barricade down, maybe calm heads will prevail."

Yesterday morning residents were pushing to have the military brought in to remove the native barricade, but that thought quickly faded when it became apparent they could potentially resolve the issue on their own.

The whole process took just under two hours and there were no boardroom meetings or high-powered politicians. Instead there was a handful of residents and natives walking out to meet at the halfway point of the 50 metre stretch of road separating the two groups. They met several times and the handshakes and friendly pats on the shoulder were signs to the hundreds of town residents, natives and reporters looking on that the blockade was coming to an end.

It all began with establishing trust.

The Caledonia residents had to assure the natives they would be safe from violence if they took down the barricade, said Ralph Luimes, one of the three residents who made several trips to the halfway point to talk with native representatives.

David Peterson, former premier who has been working to bring the two sides together over the past three weeks, was also talking with natives over the phone conveying the same message.

Then it was the natives turn.

The first sign of resolution came in the form of a tree branch. Protester Michael Laughing, in traditional native dress, walked with Caledonia resident Jim Meyer towards the crowd of residents who had formed a line across the road. Meyer, who lives on Argyle Street and has a friendly relationship with the protesters, placed a branch on the ground at the residents' feet and told them it was a sign of peace from the natives.

Ken Hewitt, Caledonia Citizen Alliance spokesperson, didn't hesitate in picking up the branch and crossing the yellow police tape into the crowd of residents. He then urged them to be the first to move off the roadway and residents responded by shouting out in agreement.

The tension was dissipating, but still Caledonia representatives took every precaution and told the natives if they moved off the road, the protesters must immediately begin to do the same. Luimes said they feared the crowd could easily become agitated as they did Monday if they didn't see the native side immediately reciprocate.

At the same time, Caledonia representatives were also calling county road officials to the site so they would be ready to inspect the road once the natives had removed the barricade.

It took several minutes, but eventually members of the Caledonia group, along with the help of about 60 police officers, managed to back about 300 hundred residents and members of the media off the road and behind yellow police tape.

Now it was the Six Nations turn.

The Six Nations protesters had met yesterday morning and decided to uphold their promise to remove the barricade despite the brawls that had happened Monday. The promise was made last week after the province froze construction of the housing development at the heart of the dispute.

"We are doing it in good faith that negotiations will move forward," said spokesperson Janie Jamieson after crossing the residents' barricade. "The ball is now in the government's court."

The removal of the native blockade began just before 2 p.m. when the hydro tower, which had been pulled across the road Monday, was dragged away by a front-end loader and placed along the entrance of the disputed development site. Then step-by-step the road was cleared and the hole in the asphalt, which had been dug up Monday, was filled.

The meetings between the two sides continued in the middle of the roadway with representatives returning to their groups at opposite ends with constant updates.

The first native to cross the barricade line went virtually unnoticed. But then one by one, cars from the native side began driving past the crowd and the residents greeted them with cheers and applause. In return, the natives waved out the car windows and gestured a sign of peace with their hands.

Once the native end of the road was cleared, police opened the road to a stream of traffic flowing from town.

But despite the removal of the barricade, the effects of unrest in Caledonia were still evident with many residents returning to homes without hydro. About 2,000 residences in the town and another 1,600 in the area were still without power last night.

Hydro One had been working to repair the damaged transformer on the occupation site after it caught fire Monday. It was expected hydro would be restored today or tomorrow.

Talks between Peterson and representatives from Six Nations and Caledonia residents were also scheduled to continue last night with the focus shifting toward getting the blockade on Highway 6 removed.

However, Jamieson said the natives do not plan on leaving the development site until the land is given back and warned the Argyle blockade could easily be re-erected if negotiations turn sour.

"It will be up to the government to decide if the blockade goes up again."
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