[The following is taken from independent documentary photographer Allan Lissner who does an excellent job providing some background to the issue, but make sure to visit the source of this piece (http://allan.lissner.net/?p=1628) to check out some great photos]
Tensions on the rise again surrounding Six Nations’ land claim in Caledonia
By Allan Lissner,
Tensions are on the rise again surrounding the three-year standoff over a first nations land dispute in Caledonia, Ontario. Non native residents of Caledonia recently announced the formation of the “Caledonia Militia” in response to the lack of progress in the land dispute with the intent to “follow established procedures on the use of reasonable force to remove illegal trespassers”. The formation of the Caledonia Militia has caused a great deal of concern over the potential for violent escalation in the already tense situation.
The Douglas Creek Estates is the strip of land at the centre of this dispute. The land in question looks much like any other suburban construction site being developed across Canada, except that members of the Six Nations (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy point out that the land rightfully belongs to them.
This is one of hundreds of indigenous land claims being disputed across Canada. The Six Nations’ claim to this land dates back to 1784 when the British were fighting the Americans during the War of Independence; The British, who had always dealt with the Six Nations Confederacy on a nation-to-nation basis, asked the Six Nations’ to fight alongside them and offered a large area of land in return. The 380,000 hectare tract of land promised to them covered an area of six miles on either side of the Grand River. Today, less than five percent of the land promised to them is in their possession, making up what is now the Six Nations Reserve. The Government of Canada’s official position on the matter is that “the Six Nations validly surrendered all the lands that are not now part of the reserve.”
The women of the Six Nations Confederacy, however, argue that the land in question was never legally surrendered. The Six Nations Confederacy has been called the oldest surviving participatory democracy on earth, and according to their constitution the women are the ‘Title Holders.’ One of the women active at the blockade describes how decisions are made: “There are fifty chiefs who represent the Confederacy Council and they have a clanmother with each chief. It is the people whose voice the chiefs and clanmothers carry. Any decision regarding land comes first from the women, and then to their clans; and through the process of our council, when all are in agreement, or when consensus has been reached, only then does the decision stand,” she says. “In our history of the Haldimand Tract, this has never been done.”
“The idea that British Colonists or their descendents–like Canadians–were the only people who had ‘law’ is a legal fiction,” says Kahentinetha Horn, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake. Canada “has totally disrespected our laws and agreements to conduct a nation-to-nation relationship.”
Construction stopped on February 28, 2006, when members of the Six Nations moved in to block construction on the site and reclaim the land. They have remained there for over three years now with little progress being made in negotiations with federal and provincial governments. Both federal and provincial governments have been dodging the issue by claiming that the issue lies in the others’ jurisdiction. With the government completely avoiding the issue, the racial tensions continue to mount between the native and non-natives in the surrounding area. Both sides are growing increasingly worried about the potential for violent escalation.
The formation of the Caledonia Militia has been met with strong criticism from the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE) First Nations Solidarity Working Group, who argue that the formation of the Caledonia Militia “represents a major escalation in regard to the conflict at Six Nations … [increasing] the possibility of violent conflict between natives and non-natives.” To show their opposition, CUPE’s First Nations Solidarity Group brought busloads of protestors from Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph to gather outside the Lion’s Club in Cayuga, Ontario, where the first meeting of the militia was being held.