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Anger, racism in Caledonia surprises after years of peace

Anthony Reinhart
Globe & Mail
Posted on 29/05/06

[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. -- In the lounge at Legion Branch 154, Al Bernhardt sips his after-work Budweiser at the far end of the bar, away from the blowhards.

Life would be simpler if he were more like them: crude and blunt and full of ideas on what should be done about the damn Indians.

As it is, Mr. Bernhardt can't afford the lazy luxury of an us-versus-them approach to the native protests, and the townspeople's counterprotests, that reached an ugly peak in Caledonia early last week.

As the union rep at the local cat-litter plant, he's busy enough trying to maintain civility among his 33 members, a third of whom are aboriginals from the nearby Six Nations reserve.

And, as the son of a white mother and a Mohawk father, Mr. Bernhardt is hardly in a position to take sides.

He is us, and he is them.

"People don't really see the big picture," says the 54-year-old, who called in sensitivity consultants after two incidents of harassment against native workers. "What's going to happen to the community?"

The small picture, about the size of a television screen or newspaper page, has been just wide enough to take in the barricades that natives erected over an unresolved land claim, and by town residents fed up with the resulting traffic snarls and decreased business.

In other words, it's been a picture of two sides, when in reality, Caledonia and the Six Nations reserve have always been more like overlapping circles, and peacefully so, until recently.

That overlap, which is large, not only takes in those of mixed blood, like Mr. Bernhardt, but the scores of natives and non-natives who have worked together, married each other, bought each other's goods, played sports and studied side by side.

"It's a close community," says Lynn Lickers, who lives and runs a horse-breeding business on the reserve. "I mean, it is 2006 for heaven's sake."

But now, Ms. Lickers is among the many wondering whether that closeness will return once this is over.

Apart from the odd trip to the barricades to drop off food for the protesters, work kept Ms. Lickers away from the main barricade of Argyle Street, which came down on Tuesday after tensions with town residents had burst briefly into fistfights a day earlier.

Still, she heard enough in recent weeks to be taken aback by the viciousness of the townspeople's words. She had thought, too wishfully, that they understood the issues behind the protest, and that they might even join it to bring a swift settlement from the government.

Instead, she says, she heard shouts of "wagon burner" and "go home" and "get off our land."

Ms. Lickers, whose father, a Barefoot Onondaga, served in the Canadian air force, moved frequently as a child of the military and learned to let ignorant remarks roll off her back. But she fears this was something more.

"I don't want to say it was racism," she says, "but I don't know what else to call it. Anger?"

Dianne Woods thinks so; anger, along with "not knowing how to communicate, or that they [the townspeople] even could."

Ms. Woods, a 52-year-old non-native, has lived in Caledonia for four years. On April 20, when the Ontario Provincial Police tried to break up the natives' blockade of a subdivision under construction on the disputed land, she awoke to discover her house was behind a new barricade and protesters were setting up camp nearby.

"You know what? I've never had more kind and respectful neighbours," she says. "I lived on the inside [of the barricade] and I got to know 50 new residents. Everything I asked, they answered me."

The natives issued a pass to Ms. Woods -- an avid volunteer and member of the local tourism committee who is also studying for a master's degree in conflict analysis and management -- to let her move freely across the barricade.

Later, when she approached the townspeople's counterprotest with the same question she'd put to the natives -- "Why are you guys here?" -- she says she was met with apprehension and suspicion.

When tensions crested on Monday, and someone behind the native lines set fire to a transformer station, knocking out power in the town and on parts of the reserve, Ms. Woods went to the townspeople's barricade. She found a teenage boy holding a sign that read, "Do not feed the animals."

She asked him what it meant, then gently suggested that he was doing what his sign said not to do -- feeding the anger of extremists on both sides.

"My point is, I didn't berate him or praise him," she says. "We talked about it and he made his own decision to put the sign down."

It was a small victory for understanding that left her thinking it might be a good idea, once the protest is over, to develop a presentation for schools in the area.

Late last week, Ms. Woods drove deep into the reserve to attend a fundraising barbecue at the home of Gil Martin, a 67-year-old Mohawk who has lost his legs, all his fingers and most of his eyesight to diabetes.

On Saturday, for the fourth consecutive year, Mr. Martin led a walk on his prosthetic legs to raise money for a dialysis clinic on the reserve, which will also serve non-natives.

Like many Six Nations residents, Mr. Martin attended high school in Caledonia. "We never really had that much trouble," he says, aside from history books that depicted his people as "savages."

His first brush with overt bigotry was as a witness, not a victim. In the mid-1950s, while Mr. Martin was serving with the U.S. Marines, his unit went into a restaurant in the South. One of the soldiers was black and the server told the group they would not be served unless he ate in the kitchen.

"So we all did," Mr. Martin says.

That kind of solidarity has proved a far tougher sell in Caledonia, where three native barricades remained on Friday and tensions promise to simmer until the land claim is resolved.

"We're sensing that the external people to the community think that it's over, and it's not," says Ralph Luimes, who runs the Hald-Nor Credit Union in town and has been working behind the scenes to bring down the temperature.

"We talk about land claims, they say violations to treaty; we talk about blockades, they talk about safety lines," Mr. Luimes says. "They talk about a life and world perspective, we talk about property ownership.

"There's obviously two conversations going on, and they're going past each other, because people are talking in two different languages."

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