Remembering oppression and resistance
CALEDONIA, Ontario - Recollections of oppression and resistance marked the second anniversary of the police raid that failed to dislodge the reclamation of Kanonhstaton, formerly the Douglas Creek Estates.
On April 20, 2006, Ontario Provincial Police officers armed with M-16 rifles, tear gas, pepper spray and stun guns launched a surprise pre-dawn raid to eject a small band of activists.
''Our people were attacked by 400 fully armed Canadian police officers,'' recalled Janie Jamieson, one of those who had moved in three weeks earlier to stop a subdivision being built on land claimed by Six Nations of the Grand River. ''Their attempt failed miserably.''
Hundreds of unarmed Six Nations residents poured out of the reserve and forced the officers off the 98.8-acre property.
''This was a very monumental resistance,'' said Kahentinetha Horn, who started Mohawk Nation News after the foiled OPP raid. ''This is a worldwide issue; it hits a lot of indigenous people. How we did it, it's being studied by a lot of people.''
''Today is about remembering what this is all about,'' Jamieson said. She mentioned the KI-6, the six aboriginal leaders from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug who are serving six-month jail sentences for their opposition to mining exploration on their northern Ontario territory, and Mohawk warrior Trevor Miller, arrested in Minnesota in early April.
Miller is now in prison facing charges related to a June 2006 incident at Kanonhstaton for which he has already done time in Canada.
Jamieson paid tribute to resisters of the past, like Deskaheh, the Cayuga chief and Longhouse League ambassador to the League of Nations, whose international profile infuriated Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, prompting a 1924 attack on the traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy government.
Among those who spoke during the day was elder Wilfred Jamieson, 95, who was a child when the government, acting while Deskaheh was in Geneva, deposed the confederacy chiefs and ordered elections under the Indian Act.
''They sent the mounted police down, 50 or 60 of them,'' he said. ''I wondered, 'What's going on? Why are they doing this? We've got our treaty; it's signed by the English government.'''
In 1959, confederacy supporters marched on the Council House, built in 1864, three years before Canada became a country. The elected councilors ran out the back door, Geronimo Henry, 72, told the crowd.
''We took the door off the hinges and all went in there,'' he said.
Rudy Longboat, who's now 75, was there that day and a week later, when the police counterattacked and re-instated the elected council. ''At night, these Mounties came in by twos. When they got to the front of the building, they turned around and they started to club our people.''
Since then, the two systems of government have co-existed uneasily on the Six Nations reserve. In March 2006, the confederacy chiefs came out in support of the reclamation and, two weeks later, took their place at the negotiating table with Canada for the first time since 1924.
Those negotiations continue, presently at an impasse over the amount of compensation Canada is prepared to put forward. Six Nations values just one claim resulting from land lost to flooding from the construction of the Welland Canal at $1 billion. Canada has offered $26 million.
Six Nations was granted 900,000 acres, six miles on each side of the Grand River, in 1784. The reserve encompasses 45,000 acres. Some 29 claims regarding stolen land and mismanaged funds have been filed at various times.
The Ontario government purchased the Douglas Creek Estates from developer Henco in June 2006. Three days before the two-year anniversary, Conservative provincial legislator Toby Barrett questioned Aboriginal Affairs Minister Michael Bryant, asking whether he had given permission for the celebration.
''Some of my constituents are concerned that this type of event is provocative and would renew tensions between various groups,'' Barrett said.
Bryant rejected that notion.
Other speakers at the gathering, attended by about 50 people, included former United Church minister Kevin Annett, who is secretary of a group called the International Human Rights Tribunal into Genocide in Canada.
Annett recently released a list of 28 mass graves of aboriginal children who died in residential schools from tuberculosis or ill treatment. The list was compiled from the accounts of survivors who witnessed the burials that often took place secretly, he said; and since then, five more sites have been added to the list based on information from people who have contacted him.
Annett called on authorities to investigate the sites.
The gathering also heard from Jobee, the aunt of Dudley George, the Potawatomi activist shot by a police sniper at Ipperwash Provincial Park.
Problems lie ahead, she said, because the provincial government is making plans to return the former Stoney Point reserve - taken over for use as an army base in 1942 - to the amalgamated Kettle and Stoney Point band that was set up at that time.
That's not what George died for, Jobee said. ''That's not going to happen.'' But such interference is typical of the way the government pits nations against each other, she said.