May 25, 2006

Traffic moving through Caledonia as both sides weigh options

Last Updated Wed, 24 May 2006 19:51:23 EDT

CBC News

Traffic is moving freely through Caledonia in southwestern Ontario for the first time in nearly six weeks after aboriginal protesters removed a highway blockade on Tuesday.

Six Nations protesters fill the hole
in the highway at one of the
barricades in Caledonia on Tuesday
(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

But a protest continues at the nearby site of a housing development that demonstrators say is being built on native land.

Most of the debris has been cleared from Highway 6, and Hydro crews are working on fully restoring power in the area, southwest of Hamilton. More than 4,000 people are still without electricity after a transformer was vandalized on Monday.

Both sides agree the land claim issue must be dealt with to prevent future conflicts.

"This is just the beginning of the whole land issue," said Janie Jamieson, a spokeswoman for Six Nations protesters.

"It hasn't been discussed yet and people need to realize that all the time and money that's been wasted has been on strictly the barricades. The land issue hasn't been touched on."

The protesters from the Grand River Territory reserve near Brantford have been occupying the site since Feb. 28, saying a new subdivision of luxury homes is being built on land that belongs to them.

"As long as we sit back and acquiesce and allow ourselves to be walked on without speaking up for ourselves, of course it will be quiet and peaceful," said Jamieson.

"Once we assert our own rights in regards to who we are, and try to take back what's ours, what's rightfully ours, of course there's going to be people upset and people frustrated."

Former Ontario premier David Peterson, who was appointed by the province to mediate the conflict, says the land issue is a federal responsibility that must be dealt with sooner rather than later, particularly since the entire Haldimand Tract is under dispute.

The land in question extends about 12 kilometres on each side of the Grand River in Caledonia. The British Crown gave it to First Nations people in 1784.

"This is a federal issue, not a provincial issue," Peterson told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday.

"All my advice to the federal government is that they have to engage in these issues and if they don't, they're going to see a lot more of this kind of activity."

Another concern stemming from the blockade is the sense that relations between people of the Six Nations and the town's people are ruined. They've lived side by side without incident for years.

Longtime resident Phillip Wade says the blockades and brawling in Caledonia will leave a permanent mark on the town.

"It's very embarrassing," said Wade. "We did not want to be known for anything but maybe a little bit of tourism, a wonderful place to live [and] good relationships with the natives, and that's forever gone."

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