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Nerves on edge at Six Nations as violence and racism spoil talks

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OHSWEKEN, SIX NATIONS RESERVE, Ontario – Nerves are fraying at the Six Nations Reserve of the Grand River as sporadic violence alternates with secretive talks over the ongoing Native “land reclamation” occupation of a projected housing subdivision.

At latest report, negotiators were scheduled to hold their regular Thursday meeting on June 15 after Six Nations elders ordered the removal of the last barricades blocking traffic in and out of the reserve. But tensions remained high as Native residents reported innumerable displays of hostility from non-Indian residents of nearby Caledonia, and non-Indian residents near the Douglas Creek Estates occupation expressed fears of attacks by the protestors.

“The people in Caledonia are fed up. A lot of Six Nations residents are fed up. We’re all fed up,” said Lisa Van Every, Mohawk, an activist on the reserve.

Reserve elders expressed dismay over incidents June 9, in which protestors swarmed two vehicles near the occupation site, including a sport utility vehicle apparently belonging to a U.S. law enforcement agency. A Six Nations resident commandeered the official SUV. Ontario Provincial Police charged that he drove it at one of their officers, who was injured as other officers pulled him from its path. The OPP issued seven arrest warrants. The most serious leveled charges of attempted murder and assaulting a police officer against Ohsweken resident Albert Douglas, 30, alleged driver of the seized SUV.

In a June 11 release, the Six Nation Haudenosaunee Confederacy said it had brought the individuals named in the warrants before confederacy chiefs and clan mothers “to discuss and understand the incidents.” It said the chiefs and clan mothers “spoke with these individuals about the Great Law of Peace and how it is to guide our actions. Our investigation is continuing.”

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In the meantime, it said, “for the safety of all involved,” the seven individuals were removed from the occupation site. Although the release disavowed violence, it also cited treaties giving the Haudenosaunee government jurisdiction over most crimes within its territory and pointedly stated “there is an extradition process which must be followed” for the exceptions.

The release raised questions about the relations between the traditional Confederacy leaders and the Six Nations police force, which answers to the elected reserve government dating to 1924 and which the OPP said was cooperating in executing the warrants.

Questions also deepened about the role of the United State officials. Although the two U.S. officers in the “Border Security” SUV were initially described as Border Patrol, the Haudenosaunee said the vehicle actually belonged to the former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency. Ontario Police subsequently revealed that it was carrying classified documents including lists of undercover officers, details of the surveillance of the occupation and reports from confidential informants. According to the Toronto Star, notes also dealt with investigations of human smuggling across the Niagara portion of the U.S. border. Copies of the documents reached a Native newspaper on the reserve and the main regional paper, the Hamilton Standard.

According to the Haudenosaunee report, the U.S. officers were in the area since April 2, several weeks before the early morning OPP raid on the occupation site April 20 that seriously escalated the confrontation.

Native protesters took over the construction site on Feb. 28, saying the land had been illegally taken from the Six Nations Reserve in the mid-19th century. The 45,000-acre reserve is the vastly diminished remnant of the Haldimand Tract, a 950,000-acre British land grant to its Haudenosaunee allies in the American War of Independence. The Iroquoian fighters, led by the famed Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant, were driven from their lands in New York state during the American Revolution.

The Douglas Creek Estate, a projected subdivision of 200 homes under construction by local developers Donald and John Henning, is located on one of several dozen land claims filed by the elected Six Nations government. In the aftermath of the latest violence, the Hennings’ company, Henco, announced it had lined up a deal with a national real estate developer to build an additional 2,500 homes around Caledonia. It said that Native land claims “were not a concern” for the potential investor.