Mass show of support by Ontario chiefs
Cathie Coward, the Hamilton Spectator
Native protesters in Caledonia got some help yesterday, when 100 chiefs from across the province marched in support of their land claim standoff — on the 99th day of the First Nations protest.
The Hamilton Spectator CALEDONIA (Jun 8, 2006)
First Nations chiefs from across Ontario pledged their support to Caledonia protesters yesterday, and warned governments to expect more occupations if native land claims aren’t settled.
The 100 chiefs arrived at Douglas Creek Estates on the eve of today’s 100th day of the occupation.
They were bused in to provide moral support to protesters and to urge the federal and provincial governments to exercise caution.
“We are all one nation across this country,” said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage, who represents 43 First Nations across the province.
“We will show support for each other and will come to each other’s aid,” he told reporters at the site.
The occupation began Feb. 29 and has run the gamut in its 100 days.
It started peacefully, descended into chaos and violence after a police raid April 20, and literally split Caledonia in two, when natives set up barricades. Violence broke out again just before the barricades were dismantled and again just last weekend.
Native spokesman Clyde Powless told reporters the mass show of support was about more than Caledonia.
“Canada,” he shouted, “this giant you woke up, grew enormously today and will continue to grow.
“We will not be bullied by Canada’s treaties.”
Leroy Hill, a Six Nations Confederacy subchief, suggested that the First Nations people are united in their common relationship with the land.
“They say the land is the dish we all eat from,” he told the gathering.
In interviews with The Hamilton Spectator, other chiefs said they might also resort to tactics like the Caledonia occupation to get the government’s ear.
“We’re here to show our unequivocal support for the people of Six Nations …” said Chief Wilfred King, of the Gull Bay First Nation, 90 minutes north of Thunder Bay.
“They’re battle is our battle and our battle is their battle,” he added.
Chief Shining Turtle, of the Whitefish River band, an hour southwest of Sudbury, said he came to “smoke the pipe with our people.”
His band is seeking compensation for land that was expropriated when the province built a highway through their territory in the 1980s.
So far, they haven’t seen a penny, he said.
Six Nations Confederacy Chief Allen McNaughton thanked the leaders for their support and said he is still hopeful the Caledonia impasse could be resolved.
“A peaceful resolution is the only way it will be resolved,” said McNaughton, who has been the lead negotiator in talks with former Ontario premier David Peterson and former federal cabinet ministers Barbara McDougall and Jane Stewart.
He expected to resume talks today with McDougall and Stewart, who have been appointed to help settle outstanding land claims.
McNaughton said there had been setbacks the past few weeks, when the province “reneged” on some of its promises.
But he didn’t say what promises the province had reneged on.
Still, he believes talks will continue to progress in days to come.
The Ontario chiefs had been attending a two-day conference at the Six Nations reserve, where they discussed the distribution of proceeds from Casino Rama.
The Caledonia dispute wasn’t on the chiefs’ agenda, but their hosts invited the delegates to visit the site. They were driven there in two large passenger buses.
The tour started with a sacred tobacco ceremony and gathering in a remote part of the 40-hectare site, which was out-of-bounds to non-native media.
During the gathering, the visiting chiefs also threw money into a blanket for the occupiers, who require a steady influx of cash to keep their lengthy protest going.
With a colour party of flag bearers in military fatigues, the Ontario chiefs were led across the survey to the entrance of Douglas Creek Estates, for the impromptu press conference.
For the first time in several weeks, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed and non-native reporters were allowed behind the barricade to speak to the chiefs.
Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.