Friday, 8 November 2013

Why Caledonia has become the Focus of so many Six Nations Protests

Caledonia is a small, rural community of about 10,000 individuals, situated along both banks of the Grand River south of Hamilton along old Highway 6.  The end of town straddling the north bank of the Grand River is like any quaint Southern Ontario town of its size, with the main street (Argyll Street) lined with commercial buildings whose brick facades date back to the 19th Century, as seen in the following photo:

The southern half of Caledonia is very different from its northern aspect, however.  Across the picturesque 9 spans of the bridge over the Grand River one finds that the "look" is much different.  There are two early buildings which have been preserved, namely the Old Caledonia Mill (built circa 1853) and the Haldimand House (a wooden structure, now an antique store, built circa 1865).  However much of the rest of the town along Argyll Street is the same sort of functional yet characterless sprawl of car dealerships, strip malls, and both the LCBO and The Beer Store (which for my American readers are the only places where alcoholic beverages can legally be purchased).  It is also here that the schools and library are found.  At the southern most aspect of Caledonia is the Zehr's grocery store and the Canadian Tire store.  Then the great abyss - the lands most vulnerable to being the subject of "actions" by members of the Six Nations.  It is here that developers had bought land in the 1990s, on which they planned to construct fairly large housing developments (well beyond 200 units).  It is here at the "south end" that the events since February 2006 (the "reclamation" of Douglas Creek Estates), right up to October 2013 (the blockade of Highway 6 near the 5th Line), have all taken place.  See here for the utter frustration of elected officials and others at the way in which the OPP handles such situations; and at Six Nations using Caledonia as a punching bag.

So the question might be posed, "why Caledonia"?  In a few words, proximity and easy direct access to the Six Nations Reserve No. 40.  Of course Brantford is also close, and includes a series of contested sites, but it is a medium sized city of almost 100,000 people, and 5 or more miles via a tangled network of roads from the Six Nations Reserve.  The logistics of conducting a mass protest here more or less ensures that only relatively minor and local confrontations (as at Erie Ave. in the former Eagle's Nest Tract in November 2013 but largely involving two factions of Mohawks from Six Nations) will break out.  Also the City has a critical mass of residents who could arrive en mass to surround the protest site.  The entire dynamic is vastly different from what is seen at Caledonia.

The response of the Courts has also doubtless played a role in "toning down" things, at least to a degree.  In 2008 Superior Court Justice Harrison Arrell rules that the efforts to stop development at the Wingate Site in Brantford by members of the Mohawk Workers, and the HDI (among others) were illegal, and the Court Injunction issued a fine in the amount of $325,000 levied against the defendants - see here.  A more recent case heard by the Superior Court inolves the Mohawk Worker's attempt to stop development at Tutela Heights. Justice Arrell ruled that the developers, the Walton Group, are the rightful owners and thus issued an injunction preventing them from in any way disrupting the project. The developers are contemplating bringing suit of close to a million dollars against the primary defendants, including Bill Squire, and Ruby and Floyd Montour. This was in November 2012, see here.

So what about Hagersville?  It is smaller in size than Caledonia, with a population of about 3,000, located 10 miles south of the latter along Highway 6 (the old Plank Road).  It is situated at the southwest end of the Reserve, directly adjoining the Reserve, while Caledonia is situated even further from the Reserve boundaries, at the northwest end.  It is here one finds the only hospital in the area.  While "actions" have occurred here, such as that in 2007 at the site of the old Northview Elementary School, where the Editor of Turtle Island News was assaulted by a protester for reporting the facts of the events of late (see here).  Things seemed to calm down, and little of any significant inconvenience really, except to the developer (although I may stand corrected on this).  A likely major reason for backing off any further protests in Hagersville is the March 2009 Court ruling by The Honourable Mr. Justice J.R. Henderson that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council and the Men' Fire have no legal reason to block John Voortman & Associates from proceeding with the construction of the townhouse complex on Main Street.  His lengthy reasoned argument included the fact that neither of the defendants (HCCC and HDI) had a legal right of any sort to the property.. Voortman et al., however possessed legal title.  The Judge ordered the OPP to enforce the Court injunction (in other words forget about being "peacekeepers"), and permitted Voortman or associates to use "reasonable force" to eject the trespassers, as shown here

One of the factors shielding Hagersville, and inhibiting protests, is that it abuts not the Six Nations Reserve, but the New Credit Reserve (Mississauga, Anisinnabe).  It is the Six Nations who have a bone to pick, and it is just a bit too complicated and inconvenient in relation to Caledonia.

Thus Caledonia is the "perfect" spot to stage an effective and efficient protest.  It has all the necessary ingredients, particularly the fact that within minutes, people from Six Nations could funnel across the Stirling Street Bridge (at one time, but it was torched by Natives during the 2006 protest), and particularly 6th line (closest) and 5th Line, or even the railway tracks for walkers.  Ease of access.  It is also vulnerable because its south side is only accessible to the north side via one single bridge.  It has all the necessary ingredients.  Twitter messages go out to Six Nations members from Turtle Island News and other sources and within literally minutes a critical mass can be assembed anywhere along the Highway 6 corridor between Caledonia and Hagersville.  Given that fact, and knowing the topography of the area, I am not sure why the Ontario Provincial Police did not block the 5th and 6th Lines at the Reserve edge to prevent the amassing of large numbers of protesters in rapid time back in 2006.  Of course hindsight is always 20/20.

The residents of Caledonia are in large part do not have long roots or a strong sense of "community" - nothing which would compare to the Six Nations Community.  So people are as likely as not to do nothing, to leave matters to the police (that is a sick joke), or just ignore it and hope it will all go away soon.  Only small groups of angry non-Native protesters have been able to challenge the will of the Six Nations people when as a group they feel threatened - whether the cause is just or not, is not the point.  This will not change, so one does not have to be a rocket scientist to predict that any further significant protests by Six Nations activists are more likely to be staged at Caledonia than any other location in Ontario.  An excellent example is the "parade" organized by Communist supporters of Six Nations, with some minimal Six Nations participation, which shut down Caledonia from the north to the south along Argyll Street in the spring of 2012.  Lucky Caledonia. 

The Six Nations have continually thumbed their noses at the Court Injunctions issued by the Ontario Superior Court, so we know that this will not work without the prospect of real policing, and real fines.  Caledonia is perceived as a "tinderbox", and so what goes in Hagersville does not necessarily fly in Caledonia.  Again, it is a combination of factors at play here, but simple geography would seem to be paramount in understanding the different responses.

Unless strong determined action such as the above is taken, one would not be in the least cynical to ask when will the next riot, parade, or protest happen?  That remains to be seen - there appears to be no awareness by the "usual suspects" at all that Caledonia has been hard hit by these repeated protests, and that the humane thing to be would be to back away to let residents at least attain the "illusion" that things are better now, and that life can go one as it does with people who live in "normal" regions such as say Bowmanville or Port Hope.  What must it be like to live in such a place, we in our dysfunctional part of Ontario can only dream.

Update:  In a letter to the editor of The Sachem & Gazette dated November 14, 2013 (p. 6),  entitled, "We need to take pride in our united community", Marnie Knight, a Haldimand County resident, makes some poignant comments.  She used three examples, that of the Douglas Creek Estates "occupation", the Provincial Government's decision to "shove down our throats" the wind turbines, and the recent decision of Haldimand Council to close down one of the High Schools, to illustrate her point that by in large, people here don't get involved unless they are personally affected.  I have seen the same tendency, and even the lack luster response of Caledonia to the "parade" of 2012 reflects the same lack of willingness to get involved - but in this case even when it was directly affecting the people there - with oursiders preparing to close down Argyll Street - no more than a handful were there to challenge the organizers.  This is the Achilles heel that separates Haldimand County residents from the Community at Six Nations.  With the latter, despite all the factionalism, if they feel that Community members are being threatened in some way, such as by the OPP in Caledonia in 2006, the word goes out via social media or telephone trees and bingo, cars are flooding down 5th and 6th Lines to engulf the parties seen as a threat.  Hence the OPP were outnumbered by a very determined group of people and they saw no choice but to retreat.  Does this sound in any even remote way as to what the citizens of Haldimand do in response to a threat?  I can answer that from personal experience - NO.  What I have seen is largely apathy, an unwillingness to get involved, and a wish that the whole thing would just go away.  This rather than confront threats directly.  The exception is the dedicated group of followers of 5 or so locals willing to challenge the Six Nations or the OPP, for example in relation to the latter, for the two - tiered policing system in place where "Aboriginals" are treated with kid gloves, while the Haldimand residents risk arrest for conducting themselves in the same way as the Native contingent.  Double standard.  Hyporicy.  Most on this group in later blog posts.  Thus I agree entirely with the author of the letter, that the mind set is, "oh well, it is not my problem".  There seems to be no empathy for fellow citizens, nor a willingness to stand one's ground to fight tyranny.  So Haldimand, you get what you deserve.


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