Still unresolved, the Six Nations land claim in Ontario continues to draw widespread support

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The intense standoff near the town of Caledonia between Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Six Nations people protesting the illegal occupation of their land by a developer has eased somewhat. But, says strong Six Nations spokesperson Hazel Hill, a legal and acceptable solution is a long way off.

A fork in the road. The land in dispute is part of the Haldiman Deed granted by the British Crown in 1784 to the Six Nations, or Mohawks, in recognition of their support for England during the American War of Independence. The deed included land stretching six miles on both sides of the Grand River. The Six Nations registered a claim on the land, known as the Plank Road Tract, in 1987, and say that the reserve now covers less than 5 percent of the original holdings. They have never been compensated for tract land sold to non-Natives and have registered 29 land claims during the past several decades. Only one has been settled.

The current dispute arose late last year when the Six Nations determined that they would lose title to the land if they did not stop a housing development being built by developers who obtained ownership of the land illegally.

At the urging of clan mothers, who are part of the Six Nations Confederacy governance system, protesters built a barricade to halt construction and block off police access. There is one mother for each clan of the band. Their unique responsibilities include understanding the clan’s spiritual laws and inherent rights, knowing the language, overseeing work, and preserving land in trust for future generations.

The Mohawk protesters, with women in the forefront, stood strong during threats of invasion by the OPP at Kanenhstaton, the reclamation site near Caledonia. They took all precautions not to use violent means to keep the police at bay, despite opposite reports in the racist media. To use only the truth for protection was a lesson learned from another Mohawk land claim struggle at Oka, Quebec, in the early 1990s, where meeting force with force brought bloodshed on the defenders of the land. The Oka claim has not yet been settled.

The developers in Ontario, Don and John Henning, of Henco Industries, had received an injunction from the provincial courts ordering the Native occupiers off the disputed land, known as the Douglas Creek Estates. When the protesters refused to leave, Ontario Court Justice David Marshall issued a contempt of court order. In the past, Marshall has acted as a friend to the Six Nations, even writing a book extolling the people’s humanistic principles, for which he was awarded an honorary Native title.

The standoff at Kanenhstaton ended when the province bought out the developers — paying them almost double the amount they had invested — and said it would hold the land in trust. While this ended the confrontation with police, however, it is not an outcome that the Six Nations agree with. The land belongs to them, and since the beginning they have asked to meet and resolve the issue nation to nation with the Canadian government, as stipulated by the Crown when the land was deeded to them.

Even though the developers have now asked the court to set aside the injunction against the protesters, Judge Marshall has vowed to enforce his contempt order and remove the occupiers. Marshall owns land near the Grand River that would probably increase in value if the development were completed.

On Marshall’s turn against the Native people he once embraced, Hazel Hill quotes a Hopi proverb. “On the road of life one will possibly encounter a fork in the road. One path will lead to living in harmony with the earth and one will lead to money and greed.” She suggests that Judge Marshall has chosen the latter.

Support warmly welcomed. The Six Nations have received a lot of support nationally and internationally, from Natives and non-Natives. One coalition, CommUNITY Friends for Peace and Understanding with Six Nations, has participation from Caledonia residents and many labor unions.

The Mohawks have taken down the barricades, and the racial tensions that erupted during the standoff with racist outsiders and some Caledonia residents have quieted. A group of Six Nations and Caledonia women has started meeting to dialogue on the true history and traditions of the confederacy.

But the struggle is not over. And until the Canadian government gets serious about negotiating in good faith with First Nations people over land claims, it will not be.

When asked what FS readers can do to help, Hazel suggested writing letters of support to the Six Nations. They have received flags from different countries and groups that they fly with the Six Nations flag, she said, and they have started a map showing where letters and other support have come from. This writer suggests that donations for printing, supplies and court costs would also be appreciated.

To get in touch, write to Hazel E. Hill, RR #6, Hagersville, Ontario, Canada N0A 1H0, or email thebasketcase@on.aibn.com. Readers can also visit www.sisis.nativeweb.org for more information.

Ann Rogers is a 79-year-old Chippewa who believes that the rock-bottom cause of Native land theft is capitalist greed and that the solution is revolution.

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