Community frustrated over standoff: mayor

By Michael-Allan Marion, Brantford Expositor

CALEDONIA – An Indigenous group supporting the claims of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in a bitter land dispute is asking for the public’s patience as a standoff continues with no resolution in sight at a barricade they set up more than two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt says “patience is at an end” for residents and the business community in Caledonia whose economic interests he says are being hurt ever more severely by the roadblock.

And Hewitt maintains the roadblock is not about land claims but the competing interests of two groups that have nothing to with Caledonia, over at the Burtch Lands.

Members of the Indigenous group came out to the barricade on Tuesday from Kanonhstaton – the Mohawk name for the site of the former Douglas Creek Estates subdivision on Argyle Street South – where spokeswoman Rhonda Martin read a written statement to the media but declined to answer questions.

“We the Ogwehoweh people of Kanonhstaton are still standing strong and we are asking for the public’s patience while we are working on some very complicated issues,” Martin said.

She said as part of their attempt to find resolution of issues, the group met the Six Nations elected council on Aug. 22, and then met the Onondaga Grand Council in New York on Aug. 26. The group plans to have a third meeting, this time with the Grand River Grand Council on Saturday, she said.

“We continue to pressure the Canadian government to have respect for our treaties and jurisdiction of our sovereign lands and water,” Martin concluded.

She took no questions, saying only that the group may consent to hold a question-and-answer session with the media at a later date.

The reading of the statement is the latest action in a standoff that began on Aug. 10 when the group set up a barricade at the same location as in February 2006.

The group said this roadblock was to support the HCCC, which wants to get Canada to return to the negotiating table over land claims.

They particularly want to reverse a move by the Ontario government earlier this year to transfer the controversial Burtch Lands to a corporation run by the Six Nations elected council, rather than the HCCC, as they maintain was promised during the occupation.

The group says it will keep the barricade in place until its demands are met.

That standoff has angered Hewitt, who believes authorities should take steps to remove the barricade.

On Monday evening, Haldimand council held a meeting with OPP officers led by Insp. Phil Carter, the detachment commander. Hewitt later said councillors “grilled” them about the force’s stance concerning the barricade.

Const. Rod Leclair, the detachment’s community relations officer, said Tuesday he had no update to report.

“We’re there to preserve the peace and to maintain public safety,” he said.

“It’s been peaceful. There haven’t been any issues.”

Hewitt said Caledonia residents have a different perception.

“The sense of the community is one of frustration and its patience is at an end,” he said.

When the barricade went up again, Hewitt said he and council were prepared to listen at first to the OPP’s process of stationing cruisers in roadblocks on either side, monitoring the situation and keeping the public away.

“We were given some indication that this was not going to be a long, drawn-out process, but it hasn’t been the case,” Hewitt said.

“We’re in Day 19 now. The community’s patience is at an end.”

He said the economic interests of residents and the business community are being drained again.

“When you see students working at summer jobs and being laid off and businesses suffering losses of 30 per cent to 40 per cent, it’s clear that this can’t go on.”

He said council will be meeting with the Caledonia Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders to strategize on how to seek compensation, and how much there should be.

“There needs to be a way to give restitution to those who are suffering losses,” he said. “They deserve better.”

Hewitt also contended that the OPP’s policy of focusing on maintaining the peace and not protecting the community’s infrastructure – roads – can’t help but erode morale.

“When an officer has a uniform and a badge, how can you expect that officer to do anything else but enforce the law?” he said.

“There is a straight line to be drawn between the economic losses and one or two individuals at the top who make decisions not to enforce the law.”