Canadians are used to governments or powerful institutions acting on their behalf, since that is how these institutions were designed to operate. They were granted rights to operate according to the British Crown within its legal system, and the idea, at least since the English Civil war of the 1640s, was that the Crown and its institutions operated on the consent of its people, at least those allowed to vote. But what happens when these institutions act in unjust and unethical ways? What are the responsibilities of the people on whose behalf actions have been taken if those actions are themselves wrong and oppressive?
The question touches close to home when it comes to the ongoing conflict over Kanonhstaton, the former Douglas Creek Estates. Here we have a conflict that has lasted for well over 200 years. Six Nations has a rich treasure trove of documents and oral history that documents a long pattern of neglect, abuse, and oppression from all levels of Canadian government and society. We won’t go into detail here, but it is a story not unlike that which as been replicated time and time again in the dealings between native and non-native people on Turtle Island.
The story of what happened in the 2006 conflict on the Douglas Creek Estates goes like this: A local developer wanted to put up a sub division on land adjacent to the reserve, which Six Nations has never surrendered, and which is subject to an active land claim. The developer ignored the protests of the people and went ahead and tried to build on the land. The Onkwehon:we protested and set up camp at the entrance to the site. On April 20, 2006, a force of over 200 heavily armed OPP officers carried out a raid and – and much to their surprise – were chased off of the land by a heavily mobilized Six Nations community. Between equal rights, force decides, but unlike in past instances where police force was used to over rule Six Nations rights (1924 and 1959 for example) in 2006 Six Nations proved itself the stronger side and has maintained control over the contested lands ever since.
The conflict in 2006 brought a lot of difficulty to both communities – children suffered from an explosion of racism and conflict within the school system, many Caledonia businesses suffered as native shoppers went elsewhere, the town of Caledonia’s road traffic was disrupted by an ongoing blockade, etc. And yet today there are still those people who seek through further agitation on the matter to advance their own personal interests. The poster boy for this attention seeking model of political activism is none other than anti-native rights campaigner Gary McHale.
In recent months, McHale has sought to carry out “citizens arrests” on native land defenders, and to dismantle the barricade at the entrance to the site which was positioned in such a way as to deny him and his followers access.
Recently, Haldimand County took the provocative position of stating that it was going to order its own subcontractors, backed up with OPP officers, to dismantle the barricade at the entrance to the reclamation site.
This move can only be construed as an endorsement of the kind of “activism” by McHale which has kept the issue constantly on the boil and seen Six Nations land defenders harassed and brought through the court system on the flimsiest of excuses.
With the agitation from McHale and the endorsement by Haldimand County of his actions, the stage has been set for an even greater confrontation. It is enough to make one wonder if Haldimand County and those who support the current mayor and council are aware of how quickly things could return to the 2006 scenario. You can harass and instigate conflict with people for all only so long. At some point they will resist.
Of course the Province and the Federal Government need to honor the negotiated process and to return land to Six Nations; thereby ending McHale’s claims that he has some kind of a right to march down the road and cause disturbances because of his right as a Canadian citizen to Canadian held lands.
But it has been many years since this government has done anything meaningful to honour its commitments to indigenous peoples. Indeed, if one looks at the whole course of Canadian history, we see a long trail of broken treaties and broken promises.
This brings us to the question of what the responsibilities are for the every day Canadian citizen who believes in the promise and fairness of the “Canadian way”. When a government or institution speaking on your behalf has consistently refused to do what is right and to address a fundamental issue of injustice and oppression, it becomes the duty of those who were being represented by that institution to stand up and make their feelings known. To remain in silence is to remain complicit.
And if this complicity continues for much longer, ordinary Canadians, and ordinary Caledonians, will have nobody to blame but themselves should another repeat of 2006 occur due to the provocations of Gary McHale and the seeming interest of Haldimand County in backing him up. If the good citizens of Caledonia want to keep the peace, we encourage them to stand up and be counted, because to stand quietly by and allow Gary McHale and the Mayor of Haldimand county to continue to rattle the cage has every chance of setting off another major conflict. And the only people likely to gain from such a confrontation are those who thrive on the attention and notoriety that it provides them.