No end in sight for Caledonia standoff
By CHINTA PUXLEY
TORONTO (CP) - Even as Canada's longest running aboriginal standoff closes in on its one-year anniversary, the Six Nations occupation of a former housing development site in a small southwestern Ontario town isn't going to end anytime soon, warns federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice.
Negotiators working to resolve the 200-year-old land claim and end the year-long occupation are still working on peripheral parts of the claim, and have a long way to go before they can end the standoff that began one year ago Feb. 28.
They are dealing with "intractable" and "challenging" issues stemming from one of the oldest land claims in Canada, Prentice said.
"We'd be happy to be further toward the completion," he said in an interview. "But it is a complicated matter. I've always known that it would be a challenging situation that would go on for some time."
The occupation that began when a small group of aboriginals blocked construction on the housing development in Caledonia, Ont., a short drive south of Hamilton, "could have been far worse," Prentice added. Negotiations have brought relative stability and calm to the small town, he said.
Compared to the armed standoff between Mohawks and the Canadian army in Oka, Que. that killed a police officer 17 years ago, Prentice said Caledonia has been handled "in a very responsible way."
"If people are patient, we will get this resolved," he said.
But patience has long since run out in the small community that has been living with the sometimes violent occupation for almost a year.
After a year of turmoil and national scrutiny, Caledonia residents are expressing their anger and frustration in anniversary cards for both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The 2.5-metre cards feature pictures of both men wearing clown wigs, hundreds of signatures and the words "Unhappy First Anniversary" underlined with red duct tape.
Despair has set in, said Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer.
The site is a "mess," she said. Six Nations flags fly everywhere around the site, which includes a makeshift camp on the disputed land and non-stop police patrols - all a constant reminder for locals of the persistent, bitter conflict.
"You're in the middle of a lovely town and you've got this unsightly thing in the middle of it," Trainer said. "It doesn't help anything. The occupiers need to leave and the flags need to come down."
Janie Jamieson, who speaks for the protesters, said the year-old occupation embodies too much for Six Nations to back down now.
The prosperity Canada enjoys comes at the expense of the country's First Nations, putting aboriginal pride and dignity at stake, Jamieson said.
"Our people are still marginalized, " she said. "We're at the point where enough is enough. We've been backed into a corner for too long now."
Six Nations protesters made it through a cold winter last year and will remain on the land through several more if they have to, she added.
"It's not close to being over yet. We are fully prepared to stay for as long as it takes."
Ontario continues to insist the power to end the dispute rests with Ottawa. Although Ontario owns the occupied land, David Ramsay, the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, said the Liberals have "exhausted all the tools we have" to end the dispute.
"We cannot resolve outstanding land claims," Ramsay said. "That's up to the federal government."
The Liberals should be ashamed of themselves, said Conservative Leader John Tory. Despite the fact aboriginal land claims are Ottawa's responsibility, McGuinty could have ended the occupation by showing some leadership, he said.
"There's a tool (McGuinty) has in his toolbox - it's called being the premier of Ontario and acting like a premier," Tory said. "He should say to these people that it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what your claim is. We have certain ways of resolving disputes in our society."
The occupation began after Six Nations protesters moved in on land they said had been illegally taken from them by the Crown over 200 years ago. Police tried unsuccessfully to clear the site early on, arresting protesters only to see them quickly replaced by a flood of defiant supporters.
Over the past year, the town has been cut off by aboriginal barricades and police have had to keep the peace through several high-profile clashes between residents and protesters.
Although the provincial government took a lead role in the dispute at the beginning, the Liberals now say the province is simply a "devoted conciliator and peacekeeper" between the aboriginals and the federal government.
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