On September 13th there was another violent confrontation in Caledonia between Indigenous people defending their land and settlers defending what they consider their property.
Initially the settler media reported that Sam Gualtieri, a 52-year old man who was “trying to build a house for his daughter” in Caledonia, had been beaten unconscious. The man’s brother was quoted talking about “native terrorism”, and the story being floated was that this man was violently attacked without provocation. It sounded horrific.
In the immediate aftermath, the Six Nations Confederacy Council issued an apology for the violence, distancing itself the people who had been protesting the ongoing development on Stirling Street in Caledonia. This was echoed by Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse. Progressive Conservative leader John Tory used the occasion to posture, announcing that if elected he would use the courts to sue Indigenous protesters for the costs associated with policing during confrontations like that at Six Nations. Responding in kind, the representatives of Ontario’s Liberal government announced that they would be pulling out of this week’s negotiations with the Six Nations representatives. This was followed an announcement that the Six Nations Confederacy was repudiating the protesters and approving the continued construction at the “Stirling Woods” site (though the article makes it unclear if this was the neo-colonial band council or the traditional chiefs).
Within a few days another version of events began to come out, though, as Jacqueline House (from the Kanenhstaton Reclamation Site) and Kahentinetha Horn (of Mohawk Nation News) both reported that what had happened was that two Indigenous teenagers were set upon by five men with baseball bats, and it was in defending themselves that Gualteri was injured.
This occurs in a context determined by Canadian colonialism and the resistance to it which had been spearheaded in Six Nations by the reclamation at Kanenhstaton, formerly known as “Douglas Creek Estates”. Over a year and a half ago this section of land was occupied by Indigenous people acting to stop ongoing real estate development on unceded native land. This occupation took an important turn on April 20th 2006 when police raided the site, beating and tasering the people, only to be confronted by hundreds of Indigenous people from the surrounding area, who literally drove the cops from the area. It was only with this mass support that the reclamation was able to survive. Barricades went up and were maintained for almost two months.
While the Indigenous people at Kanenhstaton have tried to frame their actions in terms of their own peoples’ struggle against dispossession and genocide, and to emphasize that their conflict is with the Canadian State which illegally sold off their land along the Grand River (the so-called “Haldimand Tract”), this has only been partially successful. The deeply ingrained ideology of colonialism, which teaches Canadians that this land is all their land, and that the First Nations were “conquered” in the distant past, has led many settlers in the Caledonia area to react with disbelief and indignation at the idea that their homes may lie on land which belongs to someone else. As a result there were regular and at times rowdy settler rallies against the Indigenous Reclamation throughout 2006, often attracting individuals from outside of the area, including members of the far right.
Although the reclamation at what was then Douglas Creek Estates was initiated by a small number of dedicated women, it soon enjoyed support from large numbers of people not only in Six Nations, but across the continent, becoming for a time emblematic of anti-colonial resistance to Canada. As such, it created space in which other groups could operate, and also which other groups felt they had to fill. It is not a coincidence that the Assembly of First Nations – a neo-colonial organization bringing together elected chiefs from across Canada – felt a need to organize a National Day of Action in 2007, both to maintain its own legitimacy and to try and capture the growing oppositional sentiment amongst the colonized.
Amongst those who support the reclamation there are a variety of views as to what the ultimate goal is, and not a few people may see such land seizures as useful bargaining chips either for cash settlements or increased government investment in their communities. Obviously, this can be a double edged sword, and the people who actually led the reclamation have been unwavering in their position that the land belongs to the people and cannot be sold.
It is within this context that the council of traditional chiefs in Six Nations recently announced that they would be issuing permits to anyone who wanted to build within the disputed Grand River area, through a newly fomed “Haudenosaunee Development Institute“. While denying that they would send protesters against those who did not seek such permits, the chiefs also claimed that they would not be relying on Canadian courts.
At the same time, some people have been taking direct action to halt ongoing construction in the area. The logic to this is clear enough: while Indigenous sovereignty may be a bitter pill for people building houses on land they thought was theirs, we know it will be far worst if the houses are built and more settlers move in. It was within this context that a protest stopped construction of a new house in nearby Brantford earlier this month, and it was in this context that the incident with Sam Gualtieri occurred. Another subdivision of unceded land was having houses built upon it, this one at “Stirling Woods”, a few kilometers away from the former Douglas Creek Estates.
These two approaches – direct action versus permits, sovereignty versus settlement – form the backdrop to the Confederacy’s distancing itself from the ongoing protests in the area. It is only through the direct action of the reclamation that space was created for the Haudenosaunee Development Institute to be able to demand money for permits, and yet it is unlikely that those carrying out such land seizures will control the direction this all will take.
The space between these two approaches had provided room for the Canadian State to reassert its own sovereignty in Caledonia, which it did last night, sending in over a hundred riot cops to clear the “Stirling Woods” protest site. News reports this morning have announced the nine people were arrested, charged with with assaulting a police officer, mischief and trespassing. The Globe and Mail reported that the police raid was carried out with the tacit approval of the Confederacy Council, its anonymous source describing the protesters as a “splinter group that has been giving all the trouble.” This could be spin, i don’t know.
Police have made it clear that these charges are not related to the fight on the 13th, and that they are continuing their investigation into that matter, having already identified unnamed “persons of interest”.
The ongoing anti-colonial resistance in the Six Nations area continues to be a liability for the Canadian State, and also for those sections of the First Nations which seek integration into Canadian capitalism. The settler population is certainly in an unpleasant position, as they realize that there are issues relating to their homes beyond their Canadian State issued property deeds. In this they may share the same rude shock as yuppies trying to gentrify a working class neighbourhood, or Jews who have moved to Israel, or what lies in store for those rich Americans and Europeans who are buying up oceanfront properties throughout the maritimes. Sadly, this class position will lead many of them to side with the State, and take a “reasonable” stand against those who resist. i can understand that, but it doesn’t make it less wrong.
As resistance to Canadian colonialism continues, the State will be more and more tempted to resort to provocation and repression. Already Trevor Mills of the Mohawk Nation spent six months in jail last year for defending the reclamation site. This summer Shawn Brant spent fifty six days in jail and still faces 9 charges having to do with two blockades, one that occurred in April 2007 and the other in June 2007, including 6 charges of indictable mischief (for which the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison). Not to mention a SLAPP from CN Rail, potentially for hudnreds of millions of dollars for disrupting the railways that go through Mohawk land.
It is more important than ever to pay attention to what is happening on the ground and in the courts as we continue along the current cycle of anti-colonial resistance.