By Paul Choi. The Hamilton Spectator. NIAGARA FALLS (Jul 17, 2006)
More than 150 natives from across North America paraded through the Canada-U.S. border in Niagara Falls Saturday to commemorate a centuries-old treaty that enables them to freely enter either country.
But for some participants of the noon-hour parade, the event also served as a reminder of the land claim stalemate at Douglas Creek Estates in Caledonia — a 40-hectare subdivision Six Nations natives claim is theirs under treaty.
To these participants, the parade was symbolic of the struggle all natives undergo to ensure age-old treaties aren’t forgotten or superceded by modern law.
“In Caledonia, they’re reclaiming their territorial lands. Here we’re restoring our border crossing rights, so they are similar,” said Ralph Summers, a member of the Indian Defense League of America — which organized the 79th annual border crossing at the Rainbow Bridge.
“The rights we have crossing this border are the same rights the people in Caledonia are entitled to as well. We’re all brothers and sisters and we’re all fighting for the same thing — our rights, our land.”
Saturday’s border crossing, which began on the Canadian side, came under a sweltering sun, with natives from across the continent — including some Aztec aboriginals from Mexico –crossing the bridge over Niagara Falls in traditional pheasant-feather headdresses and costumes.
Cars headed toward the U.S. side were reduced to a crawl as the army of drummers, dancers and native flag wavers slowly walked their way to the border in remembrance of the Jay Treaty, which was signed by the U.S. and Great Britain in 1794 following the American Revolutionary War.
Within the declaration — which was later replaced by the Treaty of Ghent after the War of 1812 — is an agreement that all aboriginal peoples have the right to freely trade and travel between the U.S. and Canada.
This right was restated in the 1952 U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act, but natives on Saturday said they were marching — and would continue to march every year — to ensure new post-9/11 security laws don’t compromise their freedoms.
“This is a march that brings awareness of Indians. If their rights are taken away, who’s next?” said parade marshal, Mike Fitzgerald, who added it was the first time in his 30 years as marshal that custom officials asked participants to present their native status cards for identification. “These people here are just marching to keep those rights.”
Despite the tight security, no major incidents or delays were reported.
For Janie Jamieson, Six Nations spokesperson for the occupation in Caledonia, the parade is a family affair and an event that teaches young natives, and mainstream Canadians, the importance of treaty rights — both at the border and in places like Caledonia.
Since February, natives and non-natives have clashed over a piece of land in the town just south of Hamilton, with natives claiming the land is theirs under the Haldimand Deed of 1784.
“The problem is mainstream society, Canada or the U.S., isn’t made aware of what our inherent rights are according to our own laws,” said Jamieson.
“We as native people consistently educate our children, and ourselves, as much as we can.”
George Beaver, 75, a Brantford native who has attended the border crossing since he was 10, said the situation in Caledonia is a direct result of residents, government, and corporations — who all want to build on the land — ignoring long-standing treaties.
“It still goes back to the old treaties that were enforced at one time and have never been superceded by other laws. People just try to forget these treaties, especially those who might benefit.”
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