Conflict in Caledonia: Peacekeepers or a new settler militia?

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The area surrounding the town of Caledonia, Ontario, has been this province’s ground-zero when it comes to First Nations land claim issues.

A 200-year land claim dispute between the government and the Six Nations came to the mainstream media’s attention in the winter of 2006, when Six Nations protesters occupied the Douglass Creek Estates (a residential development) to defend their rights to the land.

Six Nations protesters argue that the Douglas Creek site was given to them by the Crown in 1784. Anti-Six Nations protesters from the Caledonia area assert that the land was official surrendered to the Crown in 1841.

Animosity against the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), under Commissioner Julian Fantino, has come from both sides in the dispute. Residents of Caledonia organized through the group Caledonia Wake Up Call (CWUP) feel that Commissioner Fantino botched the police operation to remove the Six Nations protesters from the development site, triggering clashes between activists and local residents and solidarity blockades.

On June 16, 2006, the Ontario provincial government eventually purchased the development site and is currently holding it in trust until the land claims dispute can be resolved. In addition, the province pledged $1 million to compensate businesses hit hard by the ongoing dispute, bringing the total to $1.7 million.

On March 29, 2007, Minister Jim Prentice announced efforts to advance negotiations with Six Nations and bring 'peace and stability' to the Caledonia area. The twofold announcement includes $26.4 million toward Ontario's extraordinary costs incurred as a result of the occupation near Caledonia.

In addition, it was promised that the Government of Canada would expand its negotiations mandate to allow more flexibility in moving these historical claims forward. Currently, the land claim negotiations continue at the Lands Side Table. (An explanation from the government regarding its negotiations can be found here.)

The land claim troubles have simmered on through these past three years with no resolution, flaring up from time to time like a fire refusing to burn out until its cause is resolved and leading to 148 charges being laid by the OPP against 61 people.

Along with protests from the Six Nations community which caused an Ontario Judge to suspend land negotiations regarding the Douglas Creek Estates until protesters evacuated the site, a group of Caledonia residents organize a “March for Freedom” in 2006 and 2007 demanding that Commissioner Fantino honour his declaration that, “There is one law for all,” and end what organizers consider the unequal distribution of justice and law enforcement which they claim favour Six Nations protesters over Caledonia land owners

The recent erection of a Six Nations smokehouse (small tobacco store) on the private property of a local resident is the new flashpoint in this conflict. It has been the fuel for residents Doug Fleming and Gary McHale, members of Caledonia Wake Up Call (CWUC), to create a local militia to defend what they describe as their land and their "Canadian rights" against "Native lawlessness" and "terrorism."

The CWUC claim that the OPP has not been fair in its policing of the two communities, forcing them to create a militia to take matters into their own hands.

According to Tom Keefer from the CUPE 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group (FNSWG), militia organizers such as McHale strictly control the group's message by, "Never being openly racist because he frames everything in terms of not being against Natives but that they are for the rule of law, or that they want equal rights. And he constantly talks about the racist police practices of the OPP and about all this oppression towards the while people in the area."

McHale holds fast to his political line, running as an independent candidate -- with a law and order platform -- in the last federal election in the Haldimand-Norfolk region on Ontario, where he claims he came in first in the city of Caledonia itself.

Crying 'terrorism' to discredit Native land claims

The CWUC has certainly proven its part in the escalation of the conflict here, as it throws around emotion-laden terms such a ‘public safety,’ ‘lawlessness’ and ‘terrorism’ to maintain a red alert level among the citizens of Caledonia

As an example, a June 11, 2009 post on the CWUC site titled, "Six Nation Women march in support of terrorism," stated, "In another exceptionally pathetic display by police, a group of Six Nations women including extortionist Ruby Montour and Janie Jamieson were among those conducting a highway blockade near Hamilton, Ontario."

Also on the CWUC site is a post declaring First Nations activist Sean Brant a terrorist and including numerous links to 'supporting evidence' -- including Brant’s involvement with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and an anonymous quote from a police officer.

Regarding the issue of smokeshacks and trespassing charges, Tom Keefer explains that Fleming is simply making the Six Nations community a scapegoat. Holding Native people, “responsible for a crime wave in Caledonia; breaking and entering into homes and then running back with the stuff they steal.” Of McHale, “he pathologizes Native people as being violent terrorists and the CUPE union as supporting terrorism.”

The threat from the Caledonia Militia

Keefer helped organize a CUPE 3903 FNSWG protest on June 23, 2009, against the creation of the militia. Two hundred people attended the counter-protest while the police kept the group from shutting down the meeting.

Keefer himself is on CWUC’s terrorist list in his own right for supporting the Six Nations. CUPE is also named, charged with supporting terrorism.

Parkinson, head author of CWUC’s website, posted his opinion of CUPE and Keefer, “This is a union after all so I anticipated something different from the usual racist, bigoted, ignorant crowd that gathers in small numbers to protest against law and order in Caledonia. Fortunately I’m not afraid to admit it when I’m wrong and I was very wrong.”

Regarding the militia itself, Keefer explains, “According to Fleming, the militia would patrol areas in Caledonia by car and by foot wearing uniforms and communicating with radio equipment. If alerted to an instance of native lawlessness the militia would then use reasonable force to affect a citizen’s arrest and would hold the native person until such time as the OPP arrived to take the prisoner to jail.”

At the June 23 meeting itself, the group “made a show of stating they were not racist and that they welcome people of all races into their militia, but the fact remains they were still going to be carrying about actions to restore the rule of law.”

The “rule of law,” according to McHale and Parkinson, is of course the rule of law based on a traditional British system steeped in colonial history towards First Nations communities -- this is the institution they seek to protect.

Semantics: When a militia become a 'peacekeeping force'

The militia organizers have since declared that they are not organizing a “militia” but rather a “peacekeeping force.” It should be noted that, according to the online version of the Farlax dictionary, a militia is defined as: “An army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers.” Peacekeeping, on the other hand, is defined as, “Of or relating to the preservation of peace.” The former refers to “an army” while the later refers to the “preservation of peace,” as a wolf wears sheep’s clothing.

In a statement released to the media, Doug Fleming laid out the motives of the newly formed group: “Enough is enough! Due to the ongoing reality that the OPP refuses to enforce the Criminal Code with regards to people's property rights I am forming the Caledonia Militia to ensure that the criminal code is upheld. Hotheads need not apply. We're opposing terrorism, not engaging in it.” He ends the statement with the words, “Your community needs you.”

The militia/peacekeeping force will keep a sharp focus on the Douglas Creek Estates land, which Fleming states is a “safe-zone for native criminals” because the police refuse to patrol there. The ultimate goal would be to provoke confrontation, forcing the police to act.

OPP Commissioner Fantino warned the militia to reconsider its potential actions. He said, “the days of vigilantism are long gone in this country. That group had better seek good and adequate legal counsel because, if they exercise what they think is their right and their authority, they better be prepared to defend themselves, as we always have, and justify what they do."

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Brad Duguid stated, "We're trying to do everything we can as a government to help bring people together… Efforts such as that -- forming a militia -- it's a shameful attempt to divide, and that's exactly what people should not be engaging in."

Regarding the issue of Six Nations smokeshacks on the private property of Caledonia residents, the Caledonia farmer, Ernie Palmer, at the center of the controversy over land right use told local news that he is upset that the militia is using his situation as their justification, stating he had already spoken to the operator about an agreement to tear the site down. “The agreement that the natives were going to leave was destroyed by Doug Fleming," Palmer said. "My problem is with Doug Fleming."

A tortured analogy: The 'Native Supremacy Movement'

The protection the peacekeeping force seeks to provide is from what organizers have defined as the “Native Supremacy Movement”, their enemy and the raison d’etre behind the urgent need for an escalation in tactics represented by the formation of a militia.

For a glimpse into the mentality of the CWUC, we can look at what Jeff Parkinson wrote in a 2007 Internet communiqué entitled "Red Power – Native Supremacy Movement in Ontarip," which was hosted on the CWUC site:

“The ideology of these people is clear. Hatred for everyone but Natives. The same ideology that fuels White Supremacist groups, Black Supremacist groups, a German Supremacist group that changed the world we live in, and now a Native Supremacy movement. To these people equality is a loathsome idea that can not be allowed to take place and we should all live in a world controlled by them or die.”

Another section of the site actually states, “Native Protesters and the KKK share ideology.” Here, Parkinson rants: “Natives and KKK look the same because both have masks and wear something to cover their head while using Flags to make it look like they are being patriotic. ... Burning Crosses or Tires the message is the same.”

To conclude the linking of the KKK to the “Natives,” he envokes Martin Luther King Jr., “While Mr. King would hold peaceful marches, the KKK showed they were willing to destroy things and attack people to express their sovereign rights … The Natives have repeatedly proven they share the KKK's view that violence, not peaceful marches, is the means to force your sovereign control over land & people.”

One of the vwebsites vilified by the CWUC is the Six Nations Reclamation site. Upon searching for language representative of the supposed "Native Supremacy Movement," no text that the website carried contained the same tone as the Wake Up Call website.

Instead, on the Six Nations Reclamation Site, the group explains their concept of ownerships regarding land: “First and foremost is the concept that we are connected to the land in a spiritual way. The earth is our mother and she provides for our long-term well-being, provided that we continue to honour her and give thanks for what she has provided.”

“Second, according to our law, the land is not private property that can be owned by any individual. In our worldview, land is a collective right. It is held in common, for the benefit of all. The land is actually a sacred trust, placed in our care, for the sake of the coming generations … If an individual, family or clan has the exclusive right to use and occupy land, they also have a stewardship responsibility to respect and join in the community’s right to protect the land from abuse.”

On some level, even the notion of anyone forming a militia in Canada provokes that nervous type of humour that we as Canadians are prone to. Even considering the creation of such a group seems reactionary and hysterical if not outright paranoid. Unfortunately, the Doug Fleming’s and Gary McHale’s types exist in the world and they are dead serious about their intentions.

Using only the short history of Canada for a moment, considering the case of Dudley George, when land right disputes such as these do erupt the First Nations community ends up on the losing side of the conflict, often paying for the ignorance and paranoia of others with their own lives.

And yet, it is often ancient unresolved issues at the heart of such conflicts. In this case, the troubles of Caledonia are only a symbol of the larger, much uglier issue of unresolved land claims, a symbol of a greater problem across Canada where governments hide behind superficial skirmishes between communities rather than tackle the deeper issue of fairly resolving land claims.

 

krystalline kraus is a Toronto-based writer.

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