KANONHSTATON – It was nine years ago, and yet it still seems like yesterday for anyone that was there on April 20, 2006, when hundreds of OPP, some in riot gear and carrying assault weapons, raided sleeping Six Nations land protectors and non-Native allies in a tent village.
The unprovoked pre-dawn raid instantly turned the peaceful protest into a standoff between residents of Caledonia and Six Nations over a housing development that was begun, without consultation or accommodation, on contested Six Nations lands.
By 5:30 a.m., hundreds of Haudenosaunee of every age, political and social corner of Six Nations were woken by the news of the attack and were converging on the scene to protect their people and land from the heavy-handed OPP response to the peaceful protest.
News of the attack reverberated throughout not only Six Nations, but was carried to every reserve across Canada and the United States, as major TV and radio news outlets began setting up their command posts along Argyle Street, where a large gathering of Caledonia citizens began congregating.
Six Nations set up a barricade across Highway #6 to prevent a second wave of police from raiding the site. By 11 a.m., the OPP was expelled from the site by hundreds of unarmed Haudenosaunee men, women, teens, and elders who bravely faced down the rows of armed OPP officers.
Supporters from reserves across Canada and the United Stated as well as non-native trade union activists, environmentalists and local residents soon began arriving at the site bringing food and water and putting their bodies on the line.
The political battle between Canada and its historic Iroquois allies to the Crown made front page and lead news stories across Turtle Island. The standoff was even covered by the BBC in London, England.
The Douglas Creek Estates housing project was never completed, as Ontario defused the stand-off by purchasing the land in question from the developers and allowing a small group of Six Nations protectors to remain on the property to hold their interest until the 150 year-old dispute over the former Douglas Creek Estates land could be settled.
Eventually, the barricades along Argyle Street were removed and traffic once again began to flow along the former Plank Road, now known as Highway #6. But not before several skirmishes between the citizens of Caledonia, who saw the expulsion of the OPP as a threat to their families, property and lives.
Since then, a tenuous peace has slowly settled in, although hostility still remains not far under the surface. Six Nations insisted all along that their fight was with the government, not the people of Caledonia. But tempers would routinely explode into brief skirmishes, the largest of which happened on Victoria Day of 2006. On this day, Six Nations celebrates as traditional gifts of Bread and Cheese are given out as a memorial to Queen Victoria, who began the tradition near the turn of the last century as a token of thanks for the role Six Nations allies played in protecting the Crown in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
That weekend, the population of Six Nations soars as families who have moved off reserve come home to visit friends and family. Disgruntled Caledonia citizens decided that they would erect their own barricade on Highway #6 to restrict travel to Six Nations.
When an elderly couple going to the Six Nations celebration was swarmed by angry Caledonians and a peace liaison representing Six Nations was punched, the lid came off and several street fights began between the two sides with the OPP trying to keep the two factions apart. It came dangerously close to an all-out riot, but Six Nations women were able to calm their men down and another barricade was erected for their protection.
Now, nine-years later, Federal and Provincial governments continue to drag their heels, and there is still no resolution to the issue. A fence and front gate has been installed around the property by the traditional Confederacy Chiefs organization known as the Haudenosaunee Development Institute to protect the land and its protectors from the small but determined group of anti-native rights activists that still seeks to instigate conflict.
The Caledonia crisis has brought Native land claims back in focus across Canada and has spawned many other acts of protest and civil disobedience in Canada and has brought the eyes of the world and the United Nations to revisit the reputation Canada has as a peaceful and open society for all.
Those who were a part of the initial peaceful protest of Feb. 24, 2006, which triggered the affair, can take pride in knowing it was not all in vain, and the ripples from that action are still carrying the Canadian body politic in a different direction than what it traveled before that historic moment.
Once again, this year, on the morning of April 20th. Six Nations residents will commemorate the retaking of Kanonhstaton, the name land protectors have given the former Douglas Creek Estates land. It is a Mohawk work loosely translated as “the Protected Place”.
A march down Argyle Street is planned with activities at Kanonhstaton to follow.