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Caledonia's road to peace

Highway barricade comes down, but natives still occupy disputed land

Natalie Pona and Vivian Song
Toronto Sun
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 -- The road that divided this town has gone back to uniting it.

By 3:30 p.m. yesterday, traffic was flowing down Argyle St., ending a tense Six Nations blockade and subsequent counter-protest by town residents.

"I never thought a highway with a bunch of cars driving down it would be such a beautiful sight," said former Ontario premier David Peterson, the chief negotiator in the dispute.

The dismantling of the barricade began early yesterday afternoon when two men -- Michael Laughing, wearing a traditional aboriginal headdress and Jim Meyer bearing a lilac branch -- walked down the road and met with members of the alliance.

"We've held out an olive branch," said Six Nations Chief Allan McNaughton.

"It's a good beginning."

The road opening is just the start of the resolution to the dispute, Peterson said. Two Six Nations blockades were still up on a nearby highway bypass and on railway tracks. Construction at the housing development, which is still being occupied by natives, has been halted until negotiators settle the land's ownership. Talks were slated to continue last night.

Speculating on the state of relations between the neighbouring communities, Six Nations spokesman Janie Jameson said some wounds may linger.

"What we saw yesterday was a really good portrayal of what is underneath the surface of people here," Jameson said of some of the taunts directed at the natives. But Tong expects Caledonia's wounds to heal with time.

"Everyone needed a chance to shout and get what they needed off their chest," he said. "But now it's time to move on."

The nearly month-long native blockade was to protect a housing development Six Nations members claim is being built on their land. The residents set up another protest down the road, claiming native action was bankrupting local businesses and disrupting their lives.

Anger had raged out of control at the scene on Monday, with residents refusing to allow cars to pass and Six Nations members digging up a portion of the road.

Fist fights and screaming matches broke out between the sides, nearly 1,000 strong together. Riot police were called out to ensure the protest didn't get further out of hand.

Haldimand County OPP Const. Paula Wright confirmed police arrested one man Monday night for breach of peace. The man, who was protesting with the townspeople, was later released. Police are also investigating incidents of looting on the Douglas Creek estates, Wright said. Several police officers received minor injuries from residents who volleyed projectiles like rocks, eggs, fireworks and a hockey stick during Monday's tense face-off, Wright said.

Townspeople were livid that OPP formed lines facing only their camp and tempers ignited when police shone two floodlights on the residents while the natives were unsupervised.

"Projectiles were being thrown at the officers so it was important for the officers to see what was going on," Wright said, insisting the OPP acted professionally.

A fire set at a transformer station caused an outage that spanned the area, leaving nearly 8,000 residents without power. Power may be back on today.

The nearest accommodation, the Super 8 Motel in Mount Hope, saw a 30% increase in bookings among young and elderly Caledonian families as well as the flood of journalists who descended on the small town, said manager Mary Plott.

In the meantime, entrepreneurs like Lee Kuhn also capitalized on the situation by selling generators by the side of the road to powerless families who were out of luck at sold-out hardware stores. But unlike some predatory salespeople who were rumoured to be jacking up prices three-fold, Kuhn sold his generators for retail prices starting at $199.

"These people are getting screwed enough already," said Kuhn, a Smithville resident. "I'm doing the little that I can."

Yesterday morning, a smaller and cooler-headed group gathered on either side of an OPP line, which separated the factions by a few hundred metres.

Negotiations with Peterson, residents, natives and town council led to the dismantling of the blockade.

"It's amazing how these people have come together," said Steve Tong of the Caledonia Citizen's Alliance, a two-week-old coalition formed in response to the native blockade.

Peterson had another explanation for the decision.

"My guess is that people went home last night with their kids and looked at themselves and said, 'You know, this isn't really the way we want to live. This really isn't the kind of community we want to live in. And this isn't the message we want to send to the world,'" he said.

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