Six Nations protesters stand outside a barricade in Caledonia, Ont.,
yesterday, which was put up Thursday in response to a police raid.
Mohawk protesters block a road near Marysville, Ont., on
Friday in support of the occupation in Caledonia.
Michael Laughing smiled while speaking to Ontario Provincial Police Inspector Van Straalin as Jim Meyer looked on. Laughing and Van Straalin were part of May 23 talks that sought a solution to the Native blockade at Six Nations Reserve in Caledonia, Ontario, which involves construction plans on land claimed by the reserve. A flare-up on May 22 resulted from a miscommunication between Caledonia residents and protesters. An agreement was reached.
Some Background On Six Nation Standoff
The unique history of the Six Nations reserve in Southwestern Ontario makes the standoff at a housing development a land-claim dispute unlike most of the others across the country.
What is not unusual is that this land-claim battle has generated bitter feelings because of delays and miscommunication between band members and the federal and provincial governments. The British Crown gave the Six Nation property to Iroquois followers of Chief Joseph Brant in 1783 as a reward for fighting on the side of the British during the American Revolution.
The Iroquois had lost their land in New York State under the treaty the British signed with the United States. As compensation, they were given a huge tract in Southwestern Ontario -- a 12-mile-wide (almost 20-kilometre-wide) strip along the banks of the Grand River that the Crown had bought from the Mississauga Indian band.
Originally about 385,000 hectares, the property shrank over time through government action and land sales, and currently is about 19,000 hectares. But there have been many disputes over the lost land, including the site of the current standoff, a piece of adjacent property that is being developed for housing.
However, this battle does not fit the usual native land-claim model, said Darlene Johnston, a University of Toronto law professor who specializes in First Nations affairs.
In Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and the North, where few treaties were in place, natives have filed so-called comprehensive land claims to get back traditional territory that was never ceded to others, she said.
In Ontario and the Prairie provinces, most claims involve disputes over breaches of treaties that had been negotiated to govern the use of traditional lands. But the Six Nations dispute is over lands purchased by the government and given to them by an act of the Crown.
"They have a very special claim to that land because they lost their other [New York] land," Prof. Johnston said. "They relocated on the strength of [Crown] promises."
The fight at the Caledonia building site stems from confusion over agreements signed in the 1840s with the province. The band says its leaders intended only to lease the lands adjacent to the "Hamilton-Port Dover plank road" -- now Highway 6 -- but the government considered the arrangement a purchase, and resold the property.
With houses now going up on it, militant members of the band felt they had to take action.
But the fact that not all members of the band agree with the occupation underlines another unusual feature of this dispute: that Six Nations essentially has two governments. The traditional chiefs support the occupation, while the elected band council does not.
Still, if all land-claim disputes across Canada -- including that of the Six Nations -- have anything in common, it is in the frustration of dealing with endless delays in negotiations and legal processes, Prof. Johnston said.
The Six Nations began filing dozens of land claims in the 1970s concerning their disputed properties, including the "plank road" land. After almost 25 years of little progress, it decided to sue the federal government in 1995. Those court battles are still outstanding.
"From the point of view of bands waiting decades for the resolution of claims, Six Nations is symptomatic of the situation all across the country," Prof. Johnson said. "In terms of frustration and lack of government attention, it's typical."
The delays are widespread, said Bradford Morse, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "There are literally hundreds of unresolved land claims across the country, awaiting validation by the federal government, or in negotiations with the federal government, or not yet submitted to the federal government, or [appealed] to the Indian claims commissions, or in court."
THE HALDIMAND PROCLAMATION
At the heart of the dispute is confusion over agreements signed in the 1840's. The band says it leased the land along what is now Highway 6 to the province. The province considered the deal a purchase and resold the land.
LANDS GRANTED BY HALDIMAND PROCLAMATION (Oct. 25, 1784):
The lands at the heart of the Caledonia are part of the Haldimand Grant, which originally cut across Ontario, six miles each side of the Grand River from its headwaters to its mouth on Lake Erie.
SIX NATIONS RESERVE: 182 square kilometres, home to descendants of the League of the Iroquois who came to Ontario.
NEW CREDIT RESERVE:
24 square kilometres, home to descendents of a nation that moved from the Toronto area in 1824.