Why are you having a walk for “peace, respect, and friendship” on April 28th?
Our peaceful walk and rally is about achieving real and lasting peace, respect, and friendship between native and non-native communities. We believe that in order for there to be peace, there must be justice. And in order for there to be justice, the wrongs that the Canadian government and the British Crown have committed against the people of Six Nations must be redressed. Our walk will draw attention to these issues. If we can resolve these issues we believe that we can create the basis for true and lasting peace, respect, and friendship between all communities.
What are these wrongs that you are talking about?
Six Nations was granted some 950 000 acres of land along the Grand River by the British Crown in the 1784 Haldimand proclamation. The document states that Six Nations “and their posterity are to enjoy [these lands] forever.” Six Nations was cheated out of much of this land, and on other parts of it they leased the land to non-natives, but they never received the lease money or their lands back. Corrupt government officials stole from Six Nations, and money in the Six Nations trust funds held by the government was diverted for other purposes. Today, the people of Six Nations are upset to see developments taking place across their lands for which they receive no compensation or consultation.
Isn’t this peace walk just “rubbing salt on old wounds”?
These are not “old wounds.” The wounds are fresh and are reopened every time that developers build on the Haldimand tract without seeking consultation and approval for their plans with the people of Six Nations. Unless the underlying issues are dealt with, the conflict could very easily spiral out of control as it did in Caledonia in 2006. As non-native members of the April 28 coalition, we are trying to bring pressure to bear on our elected leaders to resolve the underlying issues through negotiation and consultation so that new protests and confrontations over land development can be avoided.
Why did you decide to hold the march on April 28 when things are quieting down and returning to normal?
Caledonia will remain a powder keg until the underlying issues are resolved. On February 19, 2012, Gary McHale held a protest and marched onto the reclamation site in an attempt to create a conflict situation. The next night, a young man from Caledonia tried to commit suicide by driving his car at full speed into the house on the reclamation site. He injured himself, totalled his car, damaged the house, and missed the gas line by about 6 inches. If he had hit the gas line, or if he had injured or killed somebody, the “Caledonia crisis” would have immediately escalated to 2006 levels again.
The events on the weekend of February 19th – 20th called our coalition into being and made us recognize the need to organize a peaceful and positive event on a scale that our politicians and the national media could not ignore. The root causes of the conflict need to be addressed if there is to be peace and friendship between our communities.
Why are you holding your peace walk in Caledonia?
Caledonia has been the flashpoint for these issues since 2006, and will likely remain so until the matter is resolved. The walk is very much intent on illustrating to a divided region that reconciliation and resolution are possible, and that a community united around negotiations with Six Nations is capable of holding elected officials accountable and achieving a resolution. These issues have numerous stakeholders from various locations and positions of power. However, the greatest capacity for lasting change can be only found in the community itself and as such it is important to keep our message and walk in that community.
Why don’t you have the walk start on 6th Line (by the reservation) and then have it walk around to the reclamation site?
The decision to start the walk at Edinburgh Square and end at the reclamation site rests in the symbolic importance of the route. Edinburgh Square stands on unceded Six Nations land in the middle of a non-native community, the walk over the Argyle St. bridge symbolizes the bridging of native and non-native communities, and the end point symbolizes a new beginning in native and non-native relations in the community. The route was chosen for very specific reasons and as the result of careful planning. The walk itself should only take around a half hour to complete and in working with Ontario Provincial Police we have ensured that the route – and all people and businesses on it – will be safe and secure.
What do plans on the day look like?
We begin gathering at Edinburgh square at 2 PM. There will be a speaker from Caledonia and a speaker from Six Nations who will welcome participants to the rally and explain the peaceful guidelines under which we are operating. At 2:30 PM we will leave the square and begin walking up Argyle Street. Argyle Street will be closed to regular traffic for approximately half an hour. At 3 PM the walk will approach the reclamation site. Six Nations people at the site will line both sides of Surrey Street (the entrance to the site along Highway 6) and will shake the hands and personally welcome people entering the site. From 3:15 PM to 4 PM there will be speeches from the stage. From 4 PM to 6 PM we will all enjoy live music with bands from Caledonia and Six Nations, games such as lacrosse, dingball, and volleyball, the children will play in the bouncy castles rented for the event and we will share a massive pot luck dinner together.
Why should I come out to the event on April 28th ?
April 28 will be a wonderful and historic opportunity for genuine peace, friendship, and respect amongst all people in Caledonia, Six Nations, and the surrounding area. The reclamation site will be open to all who come in the spirit of peace and friendship. You can make a real difference by coming to the event and by doing what you can to open lines of communication in friendship amongst the thousand or so native and non-native people that will be there. Bring some food, shake hands with your neighbours from Six Nations, and come together with us to demand that our government take seriously the task of negotiating a just resolution to the issue of Six Nations land rights.
But don’t you need a permit from the municipality to hold a public event like this?
Caledonia Mayor Ken Hewitt has publicly requested that organizers submit a permit for this event, even though in private conversation with organizers he indicated that there is no way that his Council would ever approve a permit for the peace walk. Canadian law, however, is very clear about the power of municipal governments. They do not have the jurisdiction to override the democratic rights of free speech and public assembly enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Anyone seeking to exercise their democratic rights does not need the approval of their municipal government. This is a constitutionally protected right, not a privilege.
Aren’t you worried that the event will spark more conflict around this issue?
Our goal is to take pro-active steps to move this issue towards resolution. Efforts have been taken to mitigate conflict and it is our belief that it would be more dangerous for us to not take a stand, especially in the context of the attempted suicide that happened when the young man drove his car into the house on the reclamation site on the night of February 20. We must take a stand and move beyond the status quo if this issue is to reach resolution and reconciliation is to occur.
How will you make sure that the event remains peaceful?
Event organizers have been liaising with Ontario Provinicial Police to ensure the safety of all stakeholders in the community – those both on the walk and those opposed. The event also has a logistics and security team schooled in conflict resolution and focused on a peaceful and respectful walk. These marshals will be wearing arm bands on the day of the march and will be in communication with each other throughout. Also, protocol for the walk and the spirit of peaceful intentions has been communicated to all participants and will be repeated on buses as they approach the walk and again during the opening of the walk. We will not respond to provocations and we will not tolerate violent or disruptive acts made by anyone walking with us.