If you only got your information about the Caledonia land-rights dispute from the news, you might get the idea that the government owns the land that’s in dispute, and that the native protesters were a bunch of rogues with no rationale for their position.
If you traveled to the non-native side of the barricade, you’d have to acknowledge that this country still has a lot of racism to deal with. One man carried a sign that said “Where’s John Wayne when you need him?” A woman on the radio news a few weeks ago reasoned that “these people have already said they’re not Canadians, and if you’re not a Canadian you’re a terrorist.” Makes you wonder what comments were deemed too stupid or offensive to broadcast.
It’s only when you travel beyond Caledonia to the Six Nations reserve that you start to see a more complete picture. That’s what I did about a week after this latest dispute became inflamed. I learned that the Six Nations have hand written records of meeting minutes going back to the 1800s, clearly documenting that the banks of the Grand were leased, not sold, to the government. (As far as they can tell, at one point someone in the government unilaterally decided the agreement was a sale, not a lease.) They also have a strong cultural context indicating the near impossibility of the elders at the time agreeing to a sale. I also learned that many of the natives at the barricades aren’t uneducated rogues, but rather treaty experts.
Now that the barriers are coming down in Caledonia, we have to remember that this is far from over. As the Green Party of Ontario recently outlined, and as John Ibbitson further explains today, urban sprawl means that we are encroaching on more and more treaty land, with little regard to the agreements of our ancestors. Beyond today, there are hundreds more Okas, Ipperwashes, and Caledonias waiting to be encroached upon.
Our choice is clear. We can either deal with (ie, acknowledge and respect) treaty rights at the provincial and national levels, or continue like this, case by case, barricade by barricade.