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Walking for Peace, Respect and Friendship along the Grand River

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Issue: 83 Section: Accounts Geography: Ontario Caledonia, Kanonhstaton Topics: Indigenous, six nations

May 14, 2012

Walking for Peace, Respect and Friendship along the Grand River

Honouring our historical agreements through shared action

by Dan Kellar

April 28 Coalition banner on display during a march. Photo: Dan Kellar

KITCHENER, ON—If you travel south along the winding 50-kilometres stretch of the Grand River between Kitchener and Caledonia, you will pass farms fields, forests, a sprawling patchwork of towns with their own industrial sites and golf courses, finally coming to the edge of the Six Nations reserve, and eventually, Kanonhstaton, the “protected place”—a site of Haudenosaunee land reclamation and defense. A brief walk from Caledonia's downtown, the site is still identifiable by the downed hydro tower at the entrance just off the highway, and the skeleton of the trailer burned in early 2008 by a gang of anti-reclamation settlers.

Located on the boundary between the Six Nation reserve and the settler town of Caledonia, Kanonhstaton has brought Indigenous land rights to the forefront of national attention over and over again in the past six years, gaining prominence rarely seen in land occupations since the 1990 Oka standoff.

Kanonhstaton is about reclaiming the land and stopping a housing development known as the Douglas Creek Estates. The initial action by the group of around twenty, mostly woman Indigenous land defenders was met with little protest locally, and instead garnered widespread support from settler allies.

But on April 20, 2006, the Ontario Provincial Police carried out a violent raid on the site, during which OPP tore open tents, tasered, pepper sprayed, beat, and ultimately, arrested 16 Indigenous people. That day, hundreds from the reserve flooded to the site in response to the raid, ejected the police, and proceeded to build road blockades. Following this unsuccessful eviction attempt, groups of white settlers began organising citizen councils and anti-native and anti-reclamation rallies, under a call for a return to the “rule of law and order.”

This act of police aggression and state intimidation did not end the reclamation. It did, however, lead to a series of violent confrontations and acts of intimidation between hostile Caledonians, the police, and Haudenosaunee land defenders that came to be known as the Caledonia crisis. Instead of breaking the camp, the raid worked to solidify resistance to the development.

“They [those who protect the land] have the dedication to hold on to the land for the next seven generations. We are here, we are here to stay, and we are not going anywhere!” proclaimed Dawn Smith during the sixth-year commemoration of the reclamation, which took place on April 28, 2012. Smith, an Indigenous land defender who was involved in the original reclamation action added: “When we started this, it was with a hope to bring the communities together... to commemorate the Haldimand deed.”

In the six years since the reclamation began, the Federal government, which is, according to Canadian laws, in charge of dealing with land claims, has done nothing to bring resolution to the issue. Ottawa added further insult by appointing the head of the botched police raid, Julian Fantino, to cabinet in 2011 first as Minister of State for Seniors, and then as Associate Minister of National Defence.

The government of Ontario, which has shifted all blame to the Federal government, also purchased the land in question from prospective developers for $15.8 million, settled for further millions with other affected Caledonians and businesses, and acted no further.

This inaction has left the situation simmering, leading to ongoing confrontations and arrests, including over 160 charges laid against Indigenous land defenders.

Ken Hewitt, formerly a lead organiser of the Caledonia Citizens' Alliance, a group which formed to organise anti-native rallies, is now the mayor of Haldimand County, which includes Caledonia. These rallies, now organised by a citizens’ council, known as “CANACE,” continue on a monthly basis with between two and ten attendees who gather and hold racist and anti-native signs as they parade along the boundaries of the reclamation site.

In February 2012, days before the sixth anniversary of the reclamation, a 17-year old Caledonian youth, wrote a suicide note and drove his parents' mini-van into the house on the site which has served as the headquarters of land defenders since the action began in 2006.

The youth ended up in hospital, and the attack left a large hole in the front of the house and troubling questions in the minds of many who live across the watershed and around south-western Ontario. The main question is: how can lasting peace be built with so much trauma and hurt remaining within and between settler and Indigenous communities?

Two weeks after this attempted suicide attack on Kanonhstaton, many of the activists and union organisers from across southwestern Ontario who have been active in the reclamation, were again invited to the site to discuss ideas for building peace between affected communities.

“We have to rebuild our historic friendships, through actively living the agreements that were created to guide our relationships—the Two Row Wampum and the Silver Covenant Chain, we have to respect Indigenous land rights and the Haldimand proclamation, and think to our common future on this land aboard our ever crowding vessels,” said Luke Stewart, a born settler on the Grand River, an indigenous solidarity activist, and a resistance movement historian, as we drove down from Kitchener for the first meeting.

After lengthy discussions between the more than 20 attendees, a proposal was voiced to hold an event which could bring all residents from across the Grand River watershed and from other up and downstream communities, to build the relationships that would make living by the historic agreements possible.

This proposal was eventually transformed into a plan to hold a peaceful rally, walk, and community celebration near the sixth anniversary of the raid. The day would be organized by the newly-formed April 28th Coalition, comprised of a diverse group of Indigenous and settlers,
the group taking its name from the day the Walk for Peace was to be held.

“I feel it is important to make a statement to the government after years of inaction on our unresolved land rights," said Tracy Bomberry, a journalist and Indigenous member of the April 28th coalition, when I asked about her involvement in the event. "A walk for peace will provide the opportunity to get the governments' attention and to educate the larger community of our outstanding land issues not only on Six Nations but across the country."

To guide their work, the coalition looks to historic agreements between the British Crown and the Haudenosaunee. One is the Silver Covenant Chain which represents the bow line of a European ship being tied to the “Great Tree of Life,” indicating cooperation since contact, and commemorated by “polishing the chain"—literally coming together to clean the wampum belt that the agreement is represented on.

The English also agreed to live with the Haudenosaunee in peace, respect, and friendship in accordance with the Guswhenta, or the Two Row Wampum. First agreed to by Dutch settlers and Haudenosaunee in 1613, this agreement has settlers and Indigenous moving forward in parallel on the same river (of life) in their own boats, where one group is not to impact the course (sovereignty) of the other.

“Clearly, somewhere along the way our ship was commandeered by villains and crashed into the Haudenosaunee canoe,” said Stewart, reflecting on the failure of settlers to respect the Two Row.

The other key agreement for the April 28th Coalition is the 1784 Haldimand Proclamation. After the British lost the American War of Independence, the British crown granted six miles deep of either bank of the Grand River to their war ally the Haudenosaunee after purchasing the land from the Mississaugas. This is known as the Haldimand Proclamation.

“While some of this land was later sold off—blocks one to six—and some was leased to settlers, including the Caledonia claim, the vast majority has never been legally transferred from Six Nations,” said Stewart. In another obvious breach of peace, respect and friendship, the money paid in the few legitimate deals from blocks one to six was not kept in trust, added Stewart, it was instead plundered by colonial administrators and misappropriated for infrastructure projects that built Ontario and Canada.

On April 28th 2012, a thousand Canadians from across Southern Ontario participated in the Walk, Rally, and Potluck for Peace, Respect, and Friendship and joined with Indigenous land defenders and families who are tired of the inaction and disrespect shown by all levels of Canadian government, to demand that Six Nations land rights be respected.

Stewart described the walk, which was led by a 25-metre long representation of the Two Row, as “a call to honour and respect our historical agreements, and move toward a peaceful future of healthy coexistence, not colonial subjugation and corporate land theft.”

The march was not the only event the coalition has been working on, said Stewart, who pointed to public information sessions, documentary movie nights, and community meals organised in the lead-up to April 28th that ensured a respectful day with good representation from many communities.

The walk through Caledonia's downtown to Kanonhstaton was occasionally delayed by a small group of Caledonians, who ignored a history of colonialism as they sneered “it is a little late for peace” and demanded to see the passports of marshalls, who asked them to kindly “join in or stop obstructing the path of peace and friendship.” These hecklers included those who had received million dollar settlements for the impact of the situation to their lives.

Local authorities refused to stop the anti-reclamation rallies, but did try and halt the community events on April 28. "Hewitt went to extraordinary measures to stop the walk, with fear mongering in the media and proposing to council that they seek an injunction," said Stewart.

After the rally, march, potluck meal, games, concert and social at Kanonhstaton on April 28th, the buses departed and residents returned home.

“This is only the starting point in an ongoing dialogue and awareness raising on Six Nations land Issues, it was a chance to network, share a meal, make new friends, enjoy some music—all in the spirit of peace, respect and friendship,” said Bomberry. In communities all along the Grand River, added Bomberry, meetings to keep the dialogue going and to build on the momentum of the walk have been set to take place throughout the spring and summer.

Dan Kellar is a born settler on the Grand River Territory, and is an anarchist social justice organiser, who participated in April 28th coalition activities. Dan co-hosts Grand River Radical Radio (GRRR!) and AW@L Radio on 100.3 CKMS-FM (http://soundfm.ca).

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