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Caledonia problem didn't arise overnight

FP/Drum Staff
First Perspective:
Thursday, May 25, 2006

[SISIS note: The following article is provided for reference only. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

One of the myths that characterize news coverage of the Caledonia dispute is that the developer is a victim ­ that the firm ended up inadvertently getting caught up in a centuries ­old land dispute that was drudged up recently. In fact, representatives of the Six Nation Mohawks who have blockaded the site say there has been an ongoing effort for many years to raise the issue and the developer chose to disregard warnings and walked into the situation with eyes wide open.

"It is not like this situation just came about all of a sudden," says Hazel Hill, who added that there had been an ongoing effort for at least 20 years to alert townships and other affected parties about the land dispute. In addition, attempts at notification were made last fall. "It is not like it just came up over night."

Media coverage consistently mentions that dispute dates back about 200 years but usually ignores efforts made by Mohawks in recent decades, years and months.

Hill, who has been involved with the land dispute for two decades, says that townships and others have been made aware of the dispute and added than none of people claiming to be landowners along a swath of the Grand River can provide legitimate proof of land ownership.

In 1992 the developer of Douglas Creek Estates, Henco Industries Ltd., acquired a company whose holdings included the land it now wants to develop. The subidivision was registered for development in 2005. In 1995 Six Nations initiated a legal case invlving the property. The Mohawks contend that land along the Grand River never was surrendered.

Colleen Thomas is a Cree activist from Prince Albert, Sask. concurred with Hill's assessment, but added that media coverage has contributed to other misperceptions as well.

Earlier this spring a group of non-Aboriginal protesters damaged two police cars and got into a scuffle with police. Yet, only one person was arrested and photographs of this side of the dispute didn't get front-page-type coverage, as might have expected.

Thomas lived in Ottawa for 12 years prior to moving back to Saskatchewan a few years ago. She said the levels of racism and ignorance toward Aboriginal people is as strong there as in Saskatchewan, but usually it is more buried. In Ottawa, for instance, native people are not one of the largest minorities. "It is more vocalized in Saskatchewan," she said. Ottawa is a polite community, but in Ontario racism surfaces strongly when there is an issue said Thomas, who added that she was involved in a dispute involving a First Nation that was without a land base but needed one.

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