Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Linda McQuaig, "Caledonia dispute," Straight Goods, August 15, 2006.

Odd that judge wants to stop the promising negotiations already taking place.

It may not seem like much now, but back in the 1770s, the Six Nations native band was a big help to British forces fighting in the American Revolution. That's why, in 1784, the British Crown expressed its gratitude by awarding the Six Nations a strip of land along the Grand River.

This bit of history is a key element in the highly contentious 5-month-old Caledonia land occupation by natives who lay claim to this tiny piece of the original British grant.

How should this occupation be handled? It's a difficult question.

Last March, an Ontario judge ordered the protestors to stop their occupation. He reinforced that order last week, calling for a halt to negotiations between the protestors and government officials until the occupation ends.

So, yes, the natives are defying the courts. But there's more than a legal issue at stake. It comes down to what kind of relationship we want to have with the people who lived here for centuries before any of our ancestors arrived, and whose rights are recognized in our Constitution Act of 1982. The Six Nations played a historic role helping the British, thereby contributing to the survival in North America of a British entity, which became Canada.

The British established dominion over this land, so British-style courts are the law here today.

There are also native courts, but we don't recognize them. The natives are forced to accept the decision of our courts.

So, in the case of Caledonia, we can flex our muscle and treat their occupation as simple law-breaking. We can send in the police and forcibly remove them.

Or we can recognize the unique historic relationship we have with native people, and try to resolve this standoff peacefully, through negotiation, in the hopes of engendering a feeling of fairness.

Let's at least admit that historically we've contributed to the breakdown of once-thriving native communities. We took over their land and made their children attend abusive residential schools where they were separated from their families and forced to adapt to non-native culture.

After decades of mistrust, there was a breakthrough last fall when the federal government signed the Kelowna Accords, in an attempt to address the plight of natives today. Tragically, Stephen Harper's government seems unwilling to follow through with this historic deal.

And in the Caledonia dispute, there were also promising negotiations underway between the protestors and both the provincial and federal governments. It is those negotiations that the judge, oddly, wants stopped.

So why can't the native protestors just do what the judge has ordered them to do — vacate the disputed land until the legitimate owner is determined?

They respond with an intriguing counter-question: Why don't we Canadians do the same — vacate the land we occupy until the legitimate owner is determined?

Something wrong with that idea?

Linda McQuaig is an award-winning journalist and a columnist with the Toronto Star in which this column originally appeared. She is the author of All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust and the New Capitalism (Penguin paperback, $22) and her newest book, It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil, and the Fight for the Planet, now available in paperback for $22, is published by Doubleday, Canada.


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