Upping the Anti is pleased to bring you a roundtable discussing the important land reclamation being carried out by the Six Nations people of the Grand River Territory and the role of non-native solidarity work in that struggle. To begin with, Tom Keefer provides a brief overview of recent events surrounding the reclamation to provide some context for the discussion. Brian Skye of Six Nations, who has been heavily involved in the activities of the site, then provides his perspective on the significance of the reclamation and the place for external support. Jan Watson, a local Caledonia resident and founding member of Community Friends For Peace and Understanding with Six Nations, then talks about the work she has been involved to build support in her community for the Six Nations reclamation. Finally, we interview three longtime members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty – AJ Withers, Josh Zucker and Stefanie Gude – to ask for their thoughts about organizing support as non-native activists.
The individuals that we have interviewed for this roundtable and the political opinions they express are by no means exhaustive or representative of all perspectives. We are merely attempting to initiate what will hopefully become an ongoing discussion of these questions. For those interested in further coverage of the struggle at Six Nation and are interested in hearing more accounts from the participants directly involved, we encourage you to check out the video interviews uploaded at the Autonomy and Solidarity web site at http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/2012.
Overview and Context
Since February 28th 2006, members of the Six Nations Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy have been occupying the Douglas Creek Estates, a small parcel of land that provides one of the few “buffer zones” between the expanding suburban sprawl of the nearby settler town of Caledonia, Ontario and the remaining territories held by the Six Nations. Historically, the Confederacy provided a crucial military force that enabled the British to retain control of Upper Canada in the face of half a century of conflict with the US, but one of the consequences of allying themselves with the British was that the Iroquois Confederacy lost their traditional lands in New York State after the US War of Independence. To remedy this situation the British General Frederick Haldimand granted a tract of land (6 miles along each shore of the Grand River from its mouth to its source) to the people of Six Nations in 1791. However, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, this territory was steadily whittled away by encroaching white settlers and squatters, and by deliberate land confiscations by federal and provincial governments. Some 200 years after the original proclamation, the Six Nations reserve near Caledonia now encompasses a mere 5% of the 950,000 acres originally granted to them.1
In their framing of the issue, the people of Six Nations insist that they remain an independent nation according to both their own constitution and the principles of international law. Consequently, the struggle around the Douglas Creek Estates poses not only the question of a struggle over the possession of a particular parcel of land, but also raises the very question of political sovereignty.
Since the beginning of the reclamation the struggle has gone through a number of different stages. During the first stage, from February 28 to April 20 2006, the reclamation was a low-key protest at which a small group of a couple dozen people from Six Nations set up a camp at the entrance of the Douglas Creek Estates to prevent further construction on the subdivision. Tensions with residents from Caledonia were low and many locals stopped by to bring supplies and show their support. On March 10th Henco Industries, the developers of the subdivision, obtained a court injunction against the camp, and tensions began to increase. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) stepped up its surveillance, and the site protesters requested the presence of warrior societies from other Haudenosaunee communities to protect their encampment.
Early on the morning of April 20, under cover of darkness and after having explicitly promised not to move on the protesters without warning, over one hundred OPP officers raided the encampment with automatic weapons drawn. As the OPP dragged protesters from their tents, they beat, pepper sprayed and tazered those who resisted. However, the OPP had seriously miscalculated the resistance they would face and the level of community outrage that their actions would engender. Within minutes, warriors who were camped in a dense bush area just beyond the reclaimed land streamed onto the site, and reinforcements soon arrived from the reserve. Outmaneuvered by all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks tearing across the rough ground of the construction site, and confronted by a determined group of men, women, and children, the OPP was driven off the site with several officers injured and a number of vehicles damaged. Sixteen indigenous activists were arrested, but the episode was a clear victory for the Haudenosaunee and represented the start of a new phase in the reclamation.
Immediately after the OPP raid was repulsed, the reclaimers expanded the perimeter of the reclamation by erecting a barricade along Argyle Street/Highway 6 which fronted the Douglas Creek Estates and from which the OPP had mounted their raid. Warrior groups established half a dozen security checkpoints around the perimeter of the site, and hundreds of people gathered on the site to defend it from further incursions. As word of the raid spread, hundreds of supporters from both indigenous and non-native communities arrived at the barricades. The camp which had previously consisted of several tents and a plywood cookhouse began to expand rapidly. It was at this time that the half-dozen partially completed homes on the Douglas Creek Estates were taken over and used for the purposes of the reclamation.
A groundswell of solidarity actions took place over the course of the next few days. In economic terms the most important of these was the action by the Mohawks of Tyendinega, who by closing rail lines running through their territory tied up over $100 million worth of train cargo and forced the diversion of over 6 000 Via Rail passengers. Marches were organized by indigenous people and their supporters in Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Sudbury, Calgary, and elsewhere. A huge outpouring of media coverage brought the Six Nations land struggle to the forefront of national attention.
Non-native support for the reclamation took a variety of different forms. Significant numbers of anti-capitalist activists including members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) were a constant presence at the site, assisting in campsite chores, and contributing to the production of the food required to feed the hundreds of people present at the site. Others produced blogs and web sites with news, reports, and video and audio interviews covering the reclamation.2 The leadership of several major trade unions and labor organizations including the Canadian Auto Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and the Canadian Labour Congress wrote letters of support and in some cases made financial donations. While the support from trade union officialdom remained largely symbolic, dozens of rank-and-file trade union activists made their way to the site, bringing donations of food, money, and flags from their locals to fly at the site. During this time, a labor and community coalition named “Community Friends for Peace and Understanding with Six Nations” was created with the intention of countering racism in Caledonia by building a network of local residents and nearby rank-and-file union activists.3
It should also be noted that there has been vocal opposition to the Six Nations reclamation by a significant proportion of the local population in Caledonia. On April 24, 2006 a group of over 2 000 Caledonia residents rallied at the local fairgrounds in opposition to the blockade; later that evening, 500 Caledonians attempted to break through police lines and forcibly reopen the road. On April 28, another large gathering of townspeople met to protest the road blockade; they held anti-native placards while chanting racist slogans.4
The OPP, shaken by its defeat on April 20, made no further moves to disperse the people at the reclamation site, and acted instead as a buffer between the hundreds of indigenous people and Caledonian residents who gathered each night. The town itself, which used to be relatively integrated, became a virtual no-go zone for Six Nations people. Racism within the high schools kept many students from school, and a number of local businesses refused to serve native customers. The Caledonia Citizens Alliance, a group formed by property developers, realtors, and local businesspeople with an interest in developing more Haudenosaunee land, claimed to speak on behalf of Caledonia citizens; with favored access to the local TV station, they unleashed a daily barrage of criticism against the reclamation.
From April 20 until May 24 when the barricade on Argyle Street came down, the site remained highly active. Food was prepared for the hundreds of people who came to the site every day, solidarity activists from other communities and towns were often present, and delegations from different indigenous nations rotated through the encampment. The security team maintained strong perimeter control, stopped a number of incursions from white Caledonians, and also dealt with low-level harassment from OPP officers.
Under the impact of both the blockades’ disruption of rail and highway traffic in Caledonia, and solidarity actions taking place elsewhere, media coverage intensified and the provincial government began a process of negotiation with representatives of the traditional leadership of the Haudenosaunee people. This in itself was a significant victory, since the Canadian government was acknowledging the traditional longhouse leadership of hereditary chiefs and clan mothers for the first time since it had forcibly imposed the band council system at Six Nations in 1924.
However, as negotiations dragged on, internal debate grew within the ranks of the reclaimers. Because the government refused to negotiate over substantive issues until the barricades came down, on May 22 it was decided to remove the Argyle Street barricade as a good-faith gesture. Within minutes of the barricade coming down, a handful of white Caledonians set up their own barricade, re-blocking the road, and refused to allow indigenous people through. A full-scale physical confrontation ensued and the Six Nations barricade went up again. Later that same day a burning vehicle was driven into a power substation within the perimeter controlled by the reclamation, and the region was plunged into darkness as power was knocked out in Caledonia, the Six Nations reserve, and a number of surrounding towns.
The power outage and renewed conflict over the lifting of the blockade brought matters to a boiling point. With the OPP taxed to the limit in its efforts to prevent a direct confrontation between townspeople and supporters of the site, and with a two-day power outage affecting the nearby region, the mayor of Caledonia and other prominent townspeople called for the army to come in. The possibility of the Canadian army arriving and the likelihood that such a move would result in an Oka type standoff intensified rifts both between different sections of the Six Nations community, as well as between some community members and indigenous allies present from elsewhere. While the reclamation had in many ways united the community to an extent unparalleled in recent years, the community retained pre-existing political and social divisions. The potential escalation of the situation into armed conflict, and fears about the long-term effects of such an escalation for residents of the area, brought these divisions into the open. After an acrimonious debate the main blockade on Argyle Street was removed on May 23 and the barricades on the Highway 6 bypass and the railroad were lifted several days later.
The summer was marked by a series of confrontations between Caledonians and people from Six Nations, although for the most part life in Caledonia returned to normal. In early June a series of significant incidents occurred. On June 4 two OPP officers caught trespassing on the Six Nations reserve, were “arrested” and detained by a group of Six Nations people before being marched off the territory. On June 9 matters escalated again when an “elderly couple” taking pictures and driving around the perimeter of the site were involved in a confrontation with people from the reclamation. Later that same day, a fistfight broke out between reclamation supporters and reporters from CHCH – a local TV station which had been harshly critical of the reclamation. Perhaps the biggest embarrassment for the forces of law and order also occurred on June 9 when a US border patrol vehicle lurking around the area was captured and police documents including operational plans were confiscated. Various protests by Caledonia citizens continued over the summer, especially on long weekends and on Friday nights, but despite repeated attempts they were not able to make it past OPP lines.
The removal of the barricades thus marked the commencement of a new stage in the standoff, which has continued to the present day. Support for the reclamation remains strong within the Six Nations community, but many external visitors and supporters have returned home. The number of people at the site on a regular basis has dropped to a level comparable to that which existed before the April 20 OPP raid. After the barricades came down, the Ontario government purchased the disputed lands from Henco at the cost of some $20 million and no longer considers the people of Six Nations to be on the land illegally. But, as was the case at Oka and Ipperwash, the government has refused to turn title of the land over to the indigenous people. While immediate development of the Douglas Creek Estates has stopped, the struggle is not yet over.
As of November, 2006, discussion at the negotiation table continues although the Ontario government insists that the “protesters” must not spend the winter at the site. Protests from the Caledonia side also continue as evidenced by the October 15 “March for Freedom” which sought to bring Caledonians and their outside supporters on to the reclamation site.
Under steady pressure from the Tory opposition, the Liberal government of Ontario is trying to assuage public opinion in the area by dispersing hundreds of thousands of dollars to local businesses which claim to have been negatively impacted by the crisis. The Ontario government has not, however, provided anything for the Six Nations people who have also had to make significant changes to their lives in order to deal with the disruption caused by the reclamation and racism in Caledonia. As it now stands, the government seems to be waiting out the reclamation, hoping that with the immediate threat of development gone, the occupiers will eventually go home or become demoralized by the strain of maintaining the reclamation site. For their part, the people at the reclamation remain committed to bringing political pressure to bear on resolving not only this conflict but the underlying question of Six Nations land rights over the Haldimand tract as a whole.
1 For a good overview of the historic situation concerning the people of Six Nations and the struggle over the Douglas Creek Estates in particular please check out the pamphlet “Documents Regarding the Struggle at Six Nations” at http://www.lefrigovert.ca/pdf/sixl.pdf.
2 The Autonomy & Solidarity website has made over 40 videos available at its page supporting the reclamation at http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/2012. Other important sources include the blog Sketchy Thoughts at http://sketchythoughts.blogspot.com/, Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty at http://sisis.nativeweb.org/index.html, the Reclamation Information site at http://www.reclamationinfo.com/, and TnL Productions at http://friendsofsixnations.bravehost.com/ who have produced a large number of videos posted to Google Video and YouTube.
3 For more information about this group, please see their web page at www.honorsixnations.com.
4 For coverage of this rally please see http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3107072711881835098.
The Political Significance of the Reclamation
An Interview with Brian Skye
Can you tell us who you are and what your connection to Six Nations and the reclamation is?
My name is Degunohdohgae. I am of the Cayuga Nation, Wolf Clan, Six Nations. My colonial name is Brian Skye. My original name, Degunohdohgae, translates into English as “between villages” and that’s who I am as recognized by the Confederacy. I’m at the reclamation site because of the history that is there. As a writer of historical plays, the reasons why we are at the reclamation site as a Confederacy aren’t lost on me.
Our symbol in relation to the colonial countries was the Two Row Wampum, the two rows symbolizing the respective paths of our Confederacy and the non-native country or peoples that we were making the agreements with. The idea behind the symbolism was that we would continue on our path without interrupting their government and religion, assuming that they would show us the same respect and wouldn’t try to force their laws, religion and governments on our people. So that history is something that I’m well aware of. That is part of the history of how we came to be in this part of the country along the Grand River and it’s that history that we are affirming by exercising our rights with the reclamation on the outskirts of Caledonia.
How would you situate the reclamation in terms of the last 50-100 years of resistance to Canadian colonialism in this area? Do you have any thoughts as to why it came about when it did or why people decided to carry it out at this time?
It has certainly been the most high-profile of our protests because of the aggressive action of the OPP on April 20th 2006. However, there have been several other reclamations or protest actions, although these were brought to an early end by the Band Council. The Canadian government wants to deal with the Band Council as they represent the system imposed by the Canadian state to govern the people of Six Nations. But that’s not the recognized system; the recognized system is the traditional system of the Confederacy. In terms of this reclamation what really galvanized us were the actions of the OPP following the orders of Judge Marshall, and this chain of events brought things to where they are now.
The OPP thought that support behind this reclamation was low when they raided. They weren’t aware of the traditional oral history that goes on within communities, or if they were aware of it, they didn’t give it much weight. The traditional oral history affirms that we had always owned Plank Road (the area which includes the “Douglas Creek Estates”). From 1835 on it has been passed down from generation to generation that we owned it and that it was taken from us. Everyone knew that. But we also knew that since the Canadian government only deals with the Band Council, if it was pushed to any type of action the Band Council would just be bought off again as it had been at Bing Island in Dunville, as it had been at Red Hill Creek, as it had been at the Glebe Farm in Brantford or the occupation of the Department of Indian Affairs offices at Brantford. Different actions that had occurred in the past had similar results. In this case, however, events took a different course as seven different members of the Band Council thought it wise that the traditional Confederacy government should take the lead in negotiations.
I think that the mandate for the Confederacy to negotiate came through on April 17th, 2006. Three days later the OPP thought they could just wipe away the protesters and that would be the end of it. What their actions actually did was to unify all of Six Nations including the Band Council supporters, the Confederacy supporters, the longhouse traditional people, and the church people. All were united by the injustice perpetrated against our people by the OPP. And again, all these people knew the oral history about the ownership of Plank Road. So they knew that what we were doing was absolutely just. If it had been something that was up in the air, that they weren’t sure about, it definitely wouldn’t have been a strong unifying movement. But, in this particular situation, it was a fully Six Nations supported reclamation.
How significant is it that the Canadian government is negotiating with the Confederacy? What is happening with the negotiations that are taking place?
From what I last heard, Ottawa can’t prove that they own the leases or that they ever bought the property, since payments were never made to the two financial bodies that were supposed to control monies from those leases. Essentially, Ottawa has said ‘we can’t prove it so what do you want in lieu of it?’ So now it’s a question not of providing proof, it’s a question of how does the Canadian government and the provincial government say to us that we are right and what should be done about it. But that doesn’t make things easier. If anything it will probably entrench people into trying to get us off the land. Since they can’t do it legally they’ll probably try and do it physically, by provoking a state of emergency through which they can try and rally the rest of Canada to support them. Our Caledonian neighbors have fully bought into the Canadian government’s stories about that not being our land. What they’ve been sold is a false story of conquest and a claim that as a people we no longer exist. Well unfortunately for them, we do still exist and we do still own the land.
What kinds of alliances are being made between yourselves and groups of supporters in Canada?
We have a lot of support from non-native groups. I don’t know that I want to actually put names out there. Generally I can say that yes we have received a lot of support. A lot of groups have come out and a lot of unions have expressed their support, because this is an issue of having freedom of speech, which is one of the aspects that has solidified support from non-native groups. The fact is that this reclamation is part of reclaiming our land rights, exercising our right to control the future of what is being done with the land on the Haldimand Proclamation. We’ve looked towards the future and we don’t want to simply exploit the land as a resource; it is something more precious than that. And I think that this has been echoed by non-native support groups who also want to look out for the future not only of the country but of the world. Things cannot continue the way they have been going because the world will just not support it ecologically. It’s a humanistic battleground; once you’re there you understand the humanity that is behind it. It’s not about adversity, it’s not about heroism, it’s a peaceful reclamation and as such it is focused on the land and the future.
There are a lot of non-natives in this region – literally millions of people – and a fair number of them are fairly supportive of indigenous rights in general and indigenous people and Six Nations in particular. What should those who want to be in solidarity with your struggle do to get involved?
It comes down to the individual and what they would see as a satisfactory give and take. If a person is a chef or a cook in a restaurant and he wants to come out and show support or he wants to get involved in some way, it would probably be best if he came and worked in the kitchen. If they’re a computer programmer and they want to show their support, then it might be in a financial way or it might be in helping out with our computer systems. In utilizing their skills and abilities they’ve helped us make it through another day. They make a contribution and they take that back knowing that they have done something. We can’t do that with every person, and allow them free access to everything, so what’s important is patience. Networking is important and just having the patience to know that at some point in time if your heart is in the right place you will be allowed to assist us.
How do you assess the support work that’s going on with groups like Community Friends in Caledonia or other support groups in Toronto or elsewhere?
First of all, the fact that there is actually an organized Community Friends group was somewhat of a surprise to me, and this may have been the first one in regards to other protests such as Ipperwash or Oka. I’m sure there wasn’t a Community Friends group in Oka. Since I have done some other actions in this area, it has never been the case that the non-native community has said okay we support you and we’re going to have a group that actually does things to support you. So that was a wildcard, something that was unheard of and that came as a pleasant surprise. As for the other groups that have been involved at the site and the protests, the things they have done to bring public attention to what is happening here are necessary. I think they also need an outlet to show to themselves and feel that they’re making a difference to the world and making a difference to the people here at the reclamation site who they have come to know and trust and have some regard for, so that again is positive. Groups like Community Friends or the other groups that are out there doing different things to support us can be bridging groups between us and the rest of Canadian society.
There’s a danger of the OPP coming back in. They’ve always stated that they won’t, but then again on April 19 they said they wouldn’t come in. Another thing that we have to be aware of is that some people might not want to come out to the reclamation because there are racists out there in Caledonia, there are white supremacists, and there are angry rednecks who view the non-native supporters as traitors. I must also recognize that our people have been oppressed for a long time, most of their lives. And this reclamation has given them a sense of pride and, in some of them, although it’s not a positive thing, it made them lash out at non-natives, and made them treat non-natives poorly. Those situations have occurred. It’s unfortunate, but it is a result of the colonization process and the genocide that has occurred. So these groups and the people in these alliances have to have patience, understanding, and the ability to be accommodating in some instances.
How should alliance groups and bridging organizations relate to Six Nations? Should they be relating through a framework established by the Confederacy or should they be relating through the people that are present at the site?
It all depends on what the bridging organization or group wants and what their structure is. Seeing how this is so far a grassroots organization or movement, it has to maintain its level of involvement with that same focus. Because the people of the reclamation site are the grassroots of that process I think that grassroots support groups should primarily relate to them. If a grassroots group were to try to go above that grassroots level then I think you would lose a connection there. If it was a funded organization, a government run organization of some sort or a union organization, I think you would be more attuned to a balance of understanding with the negotiation table and work through them. If it was your government meeting with our government I don’t think that any type of grassroots group would have any involvement at that level, although they could present information at the table.
How have the people of Six Nations met the challenges of maintaining a presence at the site given the tremendous sacrifices that people have had to make? What other lessons are there to be drawn by people who might want to do similar actions?
I guess there are varying accounts of what you might term a success. Definitely we have gotten through it so far, the negotiation process is still going on, and that’s all that we can really hope for. However,our needs at the site itself aren’t currently being met and in terms of the group dynamic, we don’t always get along. That’s unfortunate but that’s part of living with each other as a family. However much we try to leave our personalities at the gateway to the site and as much as we all want to live equally and cohesively, it is not always possible. However, we do have unity in one respect, and that is for the reclamation site itself, the land which we are there to reclaim. So it’s important to remind all the individuals, who have brought us this far that they’re special. Making sure they know that they’re the reason that we are at the table negotiating. Just letting them know that they’re appreciated, and that they are honoured for their work and their sacrifice. And it’s in trying to meet their needs and wants, trying to forecast and foresee what will be needed to make every day run smoothly, that you develop a cohesive unit ready to do what is necessary for the reclamation process.
What did you mean when you said that people’s needs weren’t currently being met?
Basic needs aren’t being met. Our food is substandard. The nutrition that the guys are receiving now will leave them susceptible to colds and flues. Their nutritional needs aren’t been met and that’s due to financial constraints. Things like warm clothing and firewood to keep them warm on the posts are needed, and those needs have to be met. It’s an issue of drawing from the community constantly. It’s not a question of waste, it’s just a question of not having access to resources that are out there but are not getting to us. We met with the Band Council recently and they turned down a budget we requested. We asked them for $10,000 a month and they turned that down while granting $948,000 to spray for gypsy moths on the very same night that we asked for money just to feed and clothe our people and buy medical supplies, gas, diesel for generators, etc., the things needed to keep that site as a secure and safe area. These needs aren’t being met by the Band Council or the cigarette profiteers, whether it’s GRE, the multimillion dollar company that makes cigarettes and distributes them around the world or whether it’s the local smoke hut owner whose rights as Six Nations confederacy members are being upheld and defended by people at the reclamation site. The Band Council loses sight of the fact that we are essentially their lobby group for self governance. We’re there to make the Band Council and Confederacy stronger; we’re not there to take away their power.
What do you envision when you look ten years into the future? What changes will the reclamation have brought about for the people of Six Nations?
First of all, I see us winning this in its entirety. There will be a new understanding of what our jurisdiction is along the Grand River watershed. I hope that ten years from now the Canadian people will be educated as to why that has occurred and that racist views will be dispelled and that the Canadian government brings the proper understanding of these issues to their people. That’s what I see as being the paramount necessity. I see The Grand River watershed as being a focus for understanding that within the Haldimand proclamation we have jurisdiction over development and anything that progresses along those lines must be looked at from the viewpoints of our concern for Mother Earth and future generations. We must be focused on what and how they’re going to live and what we need to do to continue to be the protectors of the land.
The obstacles that I see coming out of this is that there is a lot of money associated with the lease payments that have been held in trust, lost or invested elsewhere. The estimated amount is $843 billion, so I see that as a potential hazard. It would not be a good thing if that were just given back; there’s just too much healing that has to go on before things like that can occur. And again we have to be very careful when we talk about jurisdiction and what our Confederacy is going to do with that. If they continue to take things slowly and proceed cautiously, I don’t see that as being a bad thing. It has taken us this long for the recognition of jurisdiction from the Canadian government, so if it takes even 10 years for the entire process to work itself out in relation to jurisdiction over land, resources, law, justice, administration of health, education, that will be a good thing. Considering that its been over 200 years since the proclamation ten years is not such a long time.
Community Friends of Six Nations
An Interview with Jan Watson
As a non-native Caledonia resident, how did you get involved in supporting Six Nations? Have you ever been involved before as a political activist?
No, I have never been an activist, it’s just the way I was raised. I feel that as human beings this is something that we should be doing. We shouldn’t be looking at the people from Six Nations any differently because of their race. It’s no different than helping a neighbour, helping somebody that has a flat tire; you stop on the road as a neighbourly person. It reminds me of the time when a person’s house in Caledonia blew up in a gas explosion, and we all got together to organize different events to raise money for them. We didn’t ask if they had insurance, or whose fault it was, we just immediately dropped everything to help them in any way we could. That’s the same spirit that got me started with Six Nations. I knew that they needed assistance and I just assisted as much as I could.
What did you start doing when you first got involved with the site?
Well, in March I drove by and I saw them on the land, and so I started searching on the Internet to find a phone number to call somebody at Six Nations and ask how I could help. That was really one of the biggest challenges, just trying to find a key contact person. I started emailing anyone I could find saying that I was a Caledonia resident and wanted to help the supporters that are on the site. After I was directed to contact Janie Jamison, I called her and she told me what was needed. I would go out and get some of the things and drop them off, then we would touch base again after another few days. It got to the point where sometimes I’d be heading home, and I’d just pick up a few large pizzas for them when I knew there was a large crowd, and then I would go on my way.
Was this before the OPP raided the site on April 20?
Long before the OPP raid, yes.
How would you compare the actions of Six Nations people to the non-native protesters in Caledonia who have opposed them?
I don’t think you can even compare them. You always have to look at something in the big picture. If you look at the last 200 years in this area, the people of Six Nations have been dealt an injustice. It is absolutely appalling that we can live in a house like this in Caledonia in a neighbourhood with all the amenities and it would literally only take me 30 minutes to walk to a house that does not have running water. There’s something wrong with that. Six Nations has lived with that for 200 years. Since I moved here in 1999 there’s not one native person that’s come up to me and said “I see you’ve had something that we haven’t.”
They have been treated like second-class people, which is totally appalling. When you look at the kinds of things that they’ve had to put up with day in and day out, you can understand why they’re frustrated. When they first took the land, they were there calmly, having to put up with the odd thing from Caledonia residents going by. When they were invaded by the OPP, their families were put at risk. They were arrested without justification and yet they calmly put up with it. They put the barricades up because they had to protect themselves, and yet we reacted in such a negative way. Look how quickly we reacted when they had not reacted to us in that way in the past 200 years. When you understand the things that they have had to put up with and the way that we have reacted, I don’t think that you can compare them at all.
What have been some of the responses from people in Caledonia to the reclamation?
Myself and another person from our group spent a few days going around to the homes on Thistlemore and Braemar roads. We basically focused on the houses that backed right onto the reclamation site, and we got a lot of positive responses. Everybody that we talked to said that everything had been quiet for the last month, other than a few small things here and there. When we asked if people had their homes damaged they told us no, that they were not threatened or told to leave. When we asked if some of the rumours were true (we heard that flags were being shot at), a lot of the residents just shook their heads and laughed.
And what are some of the more negative attitudes you’ve seen displayed against Six Nations?
We’ve had one person that said they were from the Army and they felt that they could take care of it themselves had the OPP not been around. But mainly we’ve heard a lot of positive stuff. There was an incident on a Sunday night when I was swarmed by angry residents. These were definitely very negative people. They were out of control and there was no way of dealing with them. So I can understand why some of the people we’ve met were hesitant to talk because if they have neighbors like that next-door they’re not going to want to speak out.
Could you talk a little bit about the group that you’re a part of? How did it come to be and what was the group’s purpose?
It started when I began attending the Friday night rallies of Caledonians against the blockade. I was just going just to talk to people on the Caledonia side and ask them about their thoughts and just give them a different spin on things by talking about what it would be like to see things from the perspective of Six Nations. And out of that I met Tom from Toronto and Tim and Lisette from Brantford and we got together and started a group because we were all on the same page and we wanted to do something to make a positive impact.
What are the group’s goals?
We’re looking at education and communication between people from Six Nations and Caledonia. We’re also looking at getting information out to the media, talking to people to find out what their thoughts are, and educating them so that they’re aware of the issues. We put ads in the papers for quite a few weeks and we’ve had very positive feedback from that. We’ve had one or two negative comments, but they weren’t threatening. And we’re getting supportive e-mails from as far away as Korea.
Can you talk a little bit about who some of the different groups are that are a part of this coalition, and where different people are coming from?
We have members from unions such as Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), and the Steelworkers, as well as people that have joined us from Brantford, Brampton, Toronto, Hamilton, Caledonia Hagersville, and Cayuga.
What’s the relationship of this group to Six Nations?
It’s very positive. The relationship has really developed since the group started. We have quite a few people in our group that are from Six Nations. At first they felt very awkward coming to Caledonia (where we meet on a weekly basis); they were fearful at first, but over time we’ve been able to build trust and start some great friendships.
How would you contrast your group to the Caledonia Citizens Alliance (CCA)?
Like night and day! We stand for completely different things. I’ve had discussions with the leaders of the CCA and we know that we are on opposite sides of the fence, and that we will probably remain on opposite sides of the fence. They come from a business standpoint and we come from a very humanistic perspective. We think that this is a question of justice and human rights. We’re taking seriously the injustices that have been done to Six Nations, while for the CCA it’s a money issue.
We’ve seen the way that the CCA has acted; there have been incidences of racism during meetings, there have been radical comments made by some CCA members who want to do damage to people at the site or want to find the homes of people in Caledonia who are raising funds for Six Nations. That’s totally uncalled for and it breeds hate. With our group, we’re about peace, trying to get the message out, and trying to foster communication between the two sides. We’re also demanding that the government return the land to Six Nations so that no future development takes place on the land. We stand behind the land claim, not only on the reclamation site but on the entire Haldimand tract.
Are you ever afraid that, as a Caledonia resident, people from Six Nations are going to kick you out of your house or take away the land that you bought?
It has never once entered my mind. Ironically, last year I was talking to somebody about possibly purchasing a lot over on the Douglas Creek Estates to build a house. My realtor’s health wasn’t very good so I was supposed to connect up with him in March but of course by March we knew where we stood with the reclamation. Even that didn’t affect me. It’s one of those things where if that door shuts in your life you don’t try to put your head though it and bang against the wall, you just find another door that opens up.
Do you see the tensions and hatred being overcome in the future ?
That’s hard to say. There is an anti-Six Nations group being organized whose members are filled with hate, and that is very concerning. However, if the right people can get at that group and dissipate it that will help. But I think that Six Nations has gone way out of their way time and time again. We asked for the barricades to come down and they took them down. Six Nations are constantly doing things out of good faith. What are non-native Caledonians doing? Businesses have been hurt in Caledonia, but who’s getting the money right now? I do not see any money going to Six Nations, yet those people have given up their lives, their families, their jobs. Some of them are giving up houses in order to stand up for something that they shouldn’t even have to stand up for because it should have been theirs in the first place.
It’s not the people of Six Nations that are destroying our town, it’s the people of Caledonia that are doing that. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day and be happy with what we’ve done. I can’t see how the people of the CCA and the people going against Six Nations with baseball bats can be happy when they look at themselves in the mirror. We have to know deep inside ourselves that we’ve done everything possible in order to promote peace and to be positive. If you’re negative then all you’re going to do is bring more destruction on this town.
From Anti-Poverty to Indigenous Sovereignty
A Roundtable with OCAP Organizers
This roundtable was conducted in September 2006 with AJ Withers, Josh Zucker and Stefanie Gude of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
What led you to get involved in supporting indigenous struggles in general, and the Six Nations struggle in particular?
AJ: The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) is a social justice organization and, as such, we support indigenous struggles. I hadn’t heard of what was going on outside of Caledonia until some friends of mine in Tyendinaga told us about it and suggested we go. We went to check it out and see if there was anything we could do to support it. We didn’t know anyone and were quite shy so we sat silently by the fire a lot and hoped people would speak to us. Finally, we learned about things we could supply, and asked if there were things in Toronto we could do to show our support.
Josh: I got involved with indigenous struggles through working with OCAP. When I joined OCAP in 2001 there were 5 paid organizers, one of whom was Shawn Brant, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory which is near Belleville on the Bay of Quinte in southern Ontario. Most members of OCAP, I would say, started learning more about native issues and sovereignty through the links Shawn brought to OCAP, which went back to before 2001.
There were a number of actions over the years that built this connection, the most notable of which was the attempt to open up the bridge that runs from the U.S. through the Mohawk territory of Akwasasne into Canada. This action was planned when demonstrators came from the U.S. to attend the anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec, and it was done in conjunction with Mohawk people. The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte have also been providing OCAP with deer meat, fish, and other kill from their hunts for a number of years which we serve at demonstrations in Toronto. They always reminded us that “every hunting issue is a sovereignty issue.” These connections increased our consciousness about the issues grew greatly.
Why do you see these indigenous struggles as being such an important issue to organize around? What is their connection to your anti-poverty work?
AJ: I am white. Everything I have is a result of the theft from and genocide of Native people. I have a responsibility to fight for justice and support their struggles, we all have that responsibility.
The obvious connection to OCAP’s anti-poverty work is that a lot of Native people are poor, especially in the cities. Systemic racism leads to less opportunities, lower pay and lower standards of living for many Native people. Further, Canada’s current and historical violation of treaties means that most First Nations do not have access to the lands, resources and funds that they are entitled to.
More than being about poverty, though, connecting anti-poverty and Native rights movements is about building resistance. Aside from there being a lot of poor Natives, poor people and First Nations people have a great deal in common in regards to our issues, struggles and the repression we face. As a poor person, I know that our movement is stronger when we are united with other communities and movements. The only way any of us will be truly victorious and free is if we all are.
Josh: I remember the first conversation I had with anyone at the reclamation site was about welfare rates. It was the first day I was there and I was talking with a man named John about when he lived on the streets in Toronto. He told me point blank that we should be fighting to get the welfare rates raised in Toronto and so we talked a bit about the OCAP “Raise the Rates” campaign. The connection is obvious. Native people live in extreme poverty unknown in many other communities across the country.
Beyond that, I see the struggle for native sovereignty as the most fundamental issue for people who want to see radical change in this country; it’s the bedrock, the first issue. There’s a quote from the paper by Taiaiake Alfred on warrior societies that was excerpted in Upping the Anti #2, which has really stuck with me. It’s from an interview he does with Sakej Ward, the head of the East Coast Warrior Society where he’s talking about his aspirations for sovereignty. He says, “I don’t see us having a strong enough military power to conquer Canada, but I do see us having the strength to create a condition of deterrence where colonial domination becomes very difficult for Canada to continue. This will create the physical and political space for us to pursue our own definition of our rights and our ways of life.” I think that’s very powerful and something that we could see in our lifetimes; not the conquering of Canada, but autonomy for Native Nations from it. Would this, in and of itself, end poverty, racism, exploitation? No. But it would shake the foundations of Canadian identity as a benign power, one that cares for its poor, and one that encourages peoples of all nations and colours to become part of its fabric. Exposing these myths is critical for all our various struggles.
In what concrete ways has your support for Six Nations manifested itself?
AJ: Most of my solidarity work with Six Nations has been on site. I see that work as playing four different roles.
The most obvious thing that I do to support Six Nations is cook. As there are a number of people who live permanently at the reclamation there is a cookhouse that feeds the people there. Primarily filling that role with people from outside of Six Nations (Native and non-Native) allows people from there to focus their energies on other things. This is especially true for freeing up some women to do jobs like security when they would otherwise be cooking. There are a number of other practical skills that I try to offer. From time to time, I act as a medic or provide legal information. I am also helping to compile a Kanenhstaton cookbook to raise funds.
Secondly, I am there as a witness. The presence of non-native people there shows support for the struggle outside of the Native community. This is important for the people there and for the Caledonians and the government to see. There is also a theory that the state will behave differently if they know there are non-Natives (especially white people) behind the lines. I do not know if this is true or not, I do, however, know that the white people there the day of the raid were treated dramatically different than the Native people were. Only three of the eight or so white people were arrested. Those who were arrested were not tasered or pepper sprayed and only one was injured. The only white woman who was arrested was released on the spot, for no reason that we could tell other than that she was a white woman.
Additionally, I act as a communications person between Toronto and Six Nations. The work that I do on site is closely tied to the work that OCAP and the Coalition for Indigenous Sovereignty do off site. Like any community, the people at Kanenhstaton have a diverse range of opinions about when, how, why and what things should be done, including solidarity work. I try to engage different people about their thoughts on the issue on a regular basis to help ensure that we are actually taking leadership from the community. I also attend meetings and raise ideas we have about organizing with the people. Because decisions are made by consensus it is crucial that people doing solidarity work are getting leadership from the people, not just one person.
Lastly, both myself and OCAP do not view the struggle over The Protected Place as an emergency issue at this point. That is to say that things have somewhat regularized in the six months that we have been doing support work with them. There is no longer the sense of crisis that there was in April and May and we had to cut back the level of support we are doing (especially on-site support) in order to be more sustainable. We are behind the people of Six Nations in this struggle for this land but we also look forward to working in solidarity with them for years to come. Part of my presence there is about building relationships so the respect and trust exists between us to have a meaningful, lasting solidarity relationship.
Stefanie: As an individual, I worked both to support the people from my organization who were spending intensive amount of time on the site, and to help make supportive actions, events, and education around the Reclamation happen here in Toronto. I did not ever spend a considerable amount of time on the site itself, but, beginning in late March, I traveled back and forth quite frequently, sometimes spending a night or two, but most of my work was a manifestation of this back and forth.
In and around the more severe crises at the reclamation site – the police invasion on April 20th, Caledonian mobilizations against the site, alarms being sounded about the military being called in, etc. – I worked with others in Toronto to respond to requests from the site to bring people and supplies in very short amounts of time. This kind of response – people coming to observe and support through their very presence, be it for a few hours or a few days – was definitely at its height in late April and May. This activity brought with it a responsibility to share with other supporters as much as we knew, in terms of what to expect, what codes of conduct were in place (respecting the sacred fire, staying away from the front lines, etc.). Within 12 hours of the early morning invasion, we helped to send almost 20 cars full of people to the site. Such efforts continued, to a lesser degree, throughout the next two months.
Specifically, in Toronto, I acted as the elected representative of OCAP within the organizing space of the Coalition in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty. In co-operation with other organizations who participate in the coalition, we held information sessions, a demonstration against the Minister of Indian Affairs, demonstrations in front of federal government buildings and letter-writing campaigns. We co-organized a couple of large visits of people from Toronto to the site, bringing food and other supplies. One such effort resulted in people from a downtown drop-in that OCAP is very connected to being able to meet people from Six Nations and be impacted by the experience of listening to stories at the fire on the site, as well as people who came through urban native networks. As well, in consultation with people from Six Nations, I was involved in organizing to prepare actions to take place in Toronto in the event of a raid on the site.
How does OCAP as an organization relate to Six Nations in terms of knowing what kind of work to do and how to do it?
AJ: We discuss our work with people from the community both on specific issues and in general. There are a number of different perspectives there and people who are part of different clans, nations, political factions and communities and it is very important that we get input from all of them, at least to the extent that is possible.
We do go to council fires and ask people’s opinions on what we are doing or planning on doing. Frankly, our presence at these meetings complicates things for us. There is a lot of power in sitting at a decision making table and it is power that I, as someone who is doing solidarity work, don’t want. However, because it is a government of the people it is the only real way to ensure that we are taking leadership from the people.
With that in mind, though, it is important for us to remember that we are doing solidarity work and that our need for leadership from the community not take up more space than is welcome or necessary. I do not think it is possible to do solidarity work properly or with integrity without constantly questioning your roles, tactics and actions. However, that questioning can lead to a lot of insecurity about what we are doing. No matter how much we want be constantly reassured that we are doing a good job, it is unfair to demand that kind of guidance and reassurance from the community, as they have more important things to be doing.
Stefanie: Our relationship to supporting indigenous struggle, as an organization, is centered in our own struggle against the government, for welfare, disability, housing, access to health care - a fight for respect and dignity, against poverty and oppression. It is also strengthened by our understanding of the impact of fighting back together as a community and shaking the power structure, can have.
On-site, after the initial heat of late April, many people in OCAP began to transform the request for non-native observers to the situation into something more concrete. You can’t stand around, watching, and feel useful for very long. This is how the work in the kitchen, which many people spent considerable time doing, began. Working in the kitchen was a means of freeing up people from the community to do other things, to get some sleep, to stay at the various camps farther away from the main kitchen, to go home to their kids, and so on. Because the volume of people from the community spending time on the site was so massive in the period after the invasion, and throughout the ensuing periods of high alert, there was clearly a need for people to fill this role. Obviously, the fact that people who stayed on the site slowly developed relationships with people from the community critically informs our organizational perspective and decision-making.
After the heightened tension subsided, from mid-June onwards, the number of people spending a lot of time on the site began to ebb. And the clarity of purpose in the kitchen work also subsided. So, non-Native on-site support began to make less sense, in very practical terms, and people stopped spending the same kind of intensive time on the site. At the same time as we were trying to support the membership on-site, we were also supporting within the city boundaries. And within this dual purpose is where some of the major criticisms begin to emerge.
What have been some of the challenges that you have faced in supporting Six Nations?
AJ: Kanenhstaton is a community with problems like any other. It is very challenging as an outsider to negotiate the need for me to be in my place as a supporter and still be myself. In the beginning I acted very differently than I do now as I increasingly feel confident in myself and my actions. My desire to be pleasing when I first started going meant that I actually behaved poorly. Because I was afraid I would offend someone. I wasn’t as honest as I could have been, even when I was being asked for my opinion. That wasn’t fair to anyone. Once I started being myself more and dealing with things how I would normally do so, I became more comfortable. That was when people actually started respecting me.
I also used to be paranoid that I would do something offensive without knowing it because I have a very limited understanding of Iroquois culture(s). At some point I realized that I had to respect and trust the people around me to let me know if I was doing something improper. Folks there knew that I was trying hard to learn things and if I was out of place I had to trust that I would be put back in it. To be clear, I am not saying that it is native people’s responsibility to educate me or correct my behavior but I am saying that at some point you have to accept that you don’t know shit and that you aren’t going to. At that point you have to be vigilant about learning but you also have to know you can trust your friends.
Stefanie: We should have worked harder to support our indigenous allies in the city, to ensure that native people from Toronto who wanted to be there or learn about the reclamation had access to resources available to us. It’s hard to make those things happen when your relationship with people from the native community living in your city isn’t strong, and I know this is something we need to understand how to develop – the capacity to share limited resources also within our own city blocks. This is where the relationship between OCAP and the Indigenous Caucus of the Coalition for Indigenous Sovereignty also becomes so important, which has been a crucial part of my experience of supporting Six Nations.
For those OCAP members supporting from Toronto, it was a priority to work with radical indigenous people that we met through the structure of the coalition, and being guided by their perspectives and experiences, both of their own struggles and their relationship to the reclamation. We respected the structure requested by them, in order to ensure that the group was not overwhelmingly non-Native. However, we failed to pursue the interest and energy being felt by countless people from all different sectors and populations outside of that structure and outside of OCAP. We had a responsibility to harness those things, and between supporting our people on the site, respecting the framework of CSIS, and trying to understand the constantly shifting ‘facts’ on the ground at the site, we did not live up to this as we should have.
There are many reasons why the work we were doing in the city has floundered. There was a tendency to be very susceptible to the complex unfolding of events at the site – often to the point where we were second-guessing our actions and next steps all the time. In terms of working constantly to respect the wishes of the people engaged in the struggle, this is not wrong. It is also appropriate to be cautious given the amount of time it takes to build trust with people across centuries of mistrust and racism. But we also lacked the confidence and the numbers of people organizing here in Toronto to put forward ideas, to think creatively, and have trust in the work we know how to do because of our own struggles here in Toronto.
After the heightened tension and large numbers of community members frequenting the site subsided, we did not adapt our support strategy fast enough. We had a lot of people who had burned themselves out on extended stays on the site, who needed to pick up with surviving in Toronto, doing their work in the city, and who struggled to make the experience of being on the site translate into Toronto-based support work. The number of people who had been consistently thinking about city-oriented support organizing had been few, and we had missed big opportunities to outreach to a broader public who had clearly shown interest and a desire to support Six Nations in the spring. We were left with a small, drained core of organizers. We should have put more energy into attacking the government from Toronto and confronting the racism of the Caledonian citizens, through the media and through actions and events in Toronto, in order to give voice to the other supportive opinions which non-natives have of the reclamation.
What drawbacks or dangers does this on-the-ground support pose?
AJ: A lot of the people we had on the ground were a part of the organizational core of OCAP. We had a lot of very skilled organizers doing a lot of unskilled work. While there were still people in Toronto working, there were times when they were largely unsupported and our work in the city did suffer for a period. We shifted focus too late and lost some organizing potential at the time and I think we should have refocused our energies onto doing other forms of support work sooner. Further, it took us a long time to start to figure out how to actually offer our skills at the reclamation site and we are only beginning to do that now.
I would certainly do things differently if I were to do it again. I think it is important to have people on site but that shouldn’t be the primary focus as it was at the time.
How do you conceptualize the role of non-native supporters in the struggle for indigenous sovereignty? What kinds of allies within settler communities can be relied upon to support indigenous struggles?
AJ: I think here, the question provides the answer; we are non-native supporters. It is important to remember that we are not and never will be the central players in this movement. Solidarity work is not in itself liberatory, only the struggles of the people directly affected will see their liberation.
I think that it is key that we take leadership from native people and that we ensure that we are taking it from the people, not a few people. It isn’t hard, in a community of a few thousand, to find someone to tell you what you want to hear and call that leadership. It is hard to try and figure out what an actual community wants and do that. In Six Nations, we are quite lucky because they have consensus based community meetings so it makes things a lot clearer than having a lot of individual conversations.
As far as what kinds of allies within settler communities can be relied upon, I don’t know if any can be relied on. The only thing you can ever actually count on an ally for is to screw up. I know that this is a