Bitter land dispute results in road blockade on Six Nations in Caledonia
First Nations people have manned a blockade on the outskirts of Caledonia for three weeks.
A blockade by members of Six Nations has barred a portion of Argyle Street, the main road in Caledonia for the past 21 days.
The protest is connected to a parcel of land that was put into a federal corporation in March by Six Nations’ elected band council, allegedly reneging on an Ontario promise to return it to Six Nations people in 2006 to ameliorate the Caledonia Standoff — a protest that saw a group of Indigenous people occupy a housing development called Douglas Creek Estates. The blockade is situated near the site where violence broke out over 10 years ago.
It concerns a disagreement between the elected band council and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a traditional government system comprised of five First Nations. The latter says it has been responsible for the lands for over 10 years.
A letter penned by former Ontario premier David Peterson in 2006 states that “The title of the Burtch lands will be included in the lands rights process of the Haudenosaunee/ Six Nations/Canada/Ontario. It is the intention that the land title be returned to its original state, its status under the Haldimand Proclamation.”
Ontario honoured the 2006 commitment by transferring the land into the corporation, said a spokesperson with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
“We are hopeful that all of the parties involved will be able to work together in a spirit of mutual respect to ensure the land benefits all the people of Six Nations,” said Antoine Tedesco in a written statement. “As this matter is before the courts right now, any further comment would be inappropriate.”
This summer, Mohawk farmer Kristine Hill was evicted from the Burtch lands — about 380 acres west of the reserve line — after an injunction was filed against her, despite the Confederacy issuing a five-year lease to her. A decision on this case, along with a contempt of court charge, will be delivered in an Ontario court on Sept. 22, said Hill.
“The government needs to sit down and talk,” said Hill. “They can’t make unilateral decisions, pan-Aboriginal decisions and expect individual nations to be happy with that.”
Hill did not want to comment about the blockade or Burtch lands because her court case is ongoing.
“Ontario defaulted on the original agreement,” she said, adding that the elected band council is carrying out the province’s bidding. “The province is responsible for what’s happening here because it did not live up to its obligations, in terms of that letter and the promises they made. They broke their promise.”
The land is being held in trust until it becomes designated reserve land. The Confederacy is at odds with this concept — it wants the area to be independent from the Canadian government.
The Confederacy has been invited to sit on the board of the corporation, Tedesco said.
In a press released dated June 4, a Confederacy chief says the offer relegates the council from a government to an individual on the board.
Elected band council staff did not respond to requests for comment.
On Tuesday, members of Six Nations addressed the media on the outskirts of Caledonia, south of Hamilton, providing site updates. Independent interviews were refused and no photographs of people at the barricade were permitted.
“We the Onkwehonwe of Kanonhstaton are still standing strong,” said Ronda Martin, in front of the blockade decorated with Haudenosaunee and Mohawk Warrior flags, built of what appeared to be part of a decommissioned electrical tower. “We ask again for the public’s patience as we work on some very complicated issues.”
In a YouTube video uploaded by Turtle Island News on Aug. 17, a woman identified as Doreen Silversmith lists off three demands of Six Nations people at the barricade. They include that the province and the Canadian government return to the negotiation table with the Confederacy, that Ontario honour its promise encapsulated in the 2006 letter and that Six Nations elected band council withdraw its injunction against Hill.
A camp has been established behind a gate — surrounding a small hut were tents, lawn chairs and a small crowd.
A Caledonia resident who lives close to the blockade called the demonstration an “inconvenience” because it obstructs the thoroughfare.
“The local businesses, they’re being impacted severely,” said Sean Sullivan, 45. “It’s a land dispute, but it has nothing to do with Caledonia. This is in the wrong place.
“I’m supportive of their claims, but let’s compensate them and deal with it,” he said.
OPP cruisers are stationed at opposing stretches along Argyle St. around the clock, said OPP spokesperson Rod Leclair.
“Our only role is preserving the peace,” he said. “There has been no problems. It’s been peaceful.”
Martin said that First Nations people have been corresponding with Indigenous councils this month to raise awareness and gather support.
“We continue to put pressure on the Canadian government to honour our treaties and respect our jurisdiction over our sovereign lands, people and water.”