OHSWEKEN, Ontario – Barricades still block the Douglas Creek Estates construction site on land claimed by the Six Nations Reserve, but more than a mound of tires separates the largely Haudenosaunee reserve from its neighbors.
As preliminary talks began with a high-level government negotiator, anti-Native feeling flourished in the nearby town of Caledonia.
Ontario Provincial Police returned to the scene of their earlier botched predawn raid on Native protesters, but this time they were protecting the barricades against a large crowd of angry townspeople intent on tearing them down.
Residents of the Six Nations reported that a flier was circulating in Caledonia with a picture of a Ku Klux Klansman and urging residents to get out their “brightest, cleanest” sheets.
In the midst of this unpromising atmosphere, former Ontario Premier David Peterson visited the Six Nations Reserve briefly to resume talks among provincial and federal governments and Six Nations leaders.
Peterson will report to Ontario’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay. He was the Liberal Party premier of Ontario from 1985 to 1990. Since 2003, according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, he has been chief negotiator for the federal government in talks with the Northwest Territories and aboriginal leaders on the transfer of federal land and resource authority to the territory.
Traditional Chief Allen MacNaughton reported on the opening round to an evening public meeting in Ohsweken May 2. He said he had presented several preconditions for the talks to continue, including the dropping of all charges against the 16 protesters arrested in the 4:30 a.m. April 20 raid on the occupied construction site and a guarantee that police would not try to clear the site again.
He said he would not accept a financial settlement in place of land, and promised to consult with the Six Nations public before agreeing to anything.
He said he thought the talks would go well, although it had taken some time to adjust Peterson’s approach. According to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper, MacNaughton said of the former premier, “His attitude is, ‘I’m here to save you. I have a day and a half; let’s get it done.’”
The issues on the table have been simmering for at least two decades, and they date to the end of the 18th century.
The Six Nations Reserve is now 46,500 acres, less than 5 percent of the original Haldimand Deed of Oct. 25, 1784. That grant gave the Iroquoian British allies in the U.S. War of Independence six miles on either side of the Grand River, from its source to its mouth in Lake Erie.
The Six Nations maintains that the province of Ontario gobbled most of the land in the 19th century through illegal sales or leases that were never properly compensated.
The Douglas Creek Estates, a projected housing development of 400 homes, is on a lease granted by the Six Nations in council at Onondaga on Jan. 17, 1835.
Ontario requested the lease to build a plank road from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. It extended half a mile on either side of the road. Plank Road, now Highway 6, is the site of the present barricade.
According to a Six Nations position paper, the last recorded correspondence with Canada on the lease was dated Oct. 31, 1844. The Six Nations chiefs specified that the land was “leased and not sold.” The letter was signed by 41 chiefs.
The Six Nations Band Council presented this claim to the government of Canada on June 17, 1987. It was one of a series of land claims and land suits over the ensuing years.
But the Douglas Creek lot was sold to the Henco Industries construction company in 1991. The local developers, John and Donald Henning, had 10 homes in various stages of construction when protesters led by clan mothers occupied the site at the end of February. The Hennings say they have invested up to $8 million in the project.
Early proposals from the provincial government were reported to consist of a land swap of 6,500 acres in other locations for the 130 acres on Plank Road. But confederacy leaders insisted on retaining what they now consider a “reclamation site.”