Smoke engulfs a minivan as it is overturned during 2006 land-claim protests near disputed Caledonia, Ont., site. Neil Dring Photo/Grand River Sachem
“Whoa! Gee, those nadways sure get violent, i’nit?” “Oh yeah. Those warriors sure mean business, cuz.”
Yes, even their fellow indigenous people think the Haudenosaunee play the occupation and resistance card a little too aggressively.
They came out, guns blazing, during the conflict at Kanesatake, the biggest indigenous flashpoint in the last 30 years. During the Oka Crisis of 1990, the Mohawk Warrior Society took up arms against police and the Canadian Forces. In 2006, they began occupation and control over a tract of residential development land in Caledonia. In 2007, they blocked Canada’s biggest freeway and passenger railway corridor during First Nations’ national day of action.
“They” are members of the Mohawk warrior society. They represent indigenous militancy in the 21 century. They have gotten far more headlines in recent years than the American Indian Movement, who immortalized indigenous resistance in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, for First Nations advocates and even the non-violent indigenous resistance, the Mohawk warrior society is a lasting example of militant truism and living up to contemporary stereotypes. First Nations activists do wave scary flags, wear masks, fatigues and balaclavas in the nice weather. We set things on fire. We beat up people. We are lawless terrorists.
I strongly object your honour! We shouldn’t be painted with the same camouflage brush.
This week, a couple from Caledonia is taking the Ontario Provincial Police to court over damages they have incurred as a result of the alleged inaction of the police during the occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates development in 2006. Through the evidence and testimony in court, we are seeing many examples of First Nations-led violence.
By all accounts it was a war zone. Cars were overturned. Property was burned. Citizens and police were brutally assaulted. A hydro sub-station was destroyed.
It’s hard to say that First Nations activists are not terrorists, when quite clearly, that’s exactly what the organizers wanted to get across.
Or was it?
As far as I know, violence was never condoned by the traditional Haudenosaunee confederacy. Sure, they are tough negotiators, tacticians and they too, mean business – but the Chiefs and Clan Mothers did not mean to hurt others.
The trouble began when the OPP went in and made arrests. There were some skirmishes but the first wave of protesters retreated. But through the wonders of technology, more than a few protesters made urgent phone calls to friends and family. Within an hour, reinforcements from Six Nations arrived and they weren’t too happy. They were ready to kick ass.
Violence erupted and the OPP where overwhelmed. The OPP retreated.
I think the OPP made the right decision. If they pressed the matter, my guess is that an all-out civil war could have taken place. Guns would have been brought in, and we’d have Kanesatake all over again.
I would hasten to argue, that the lawlessness and violence brought about during the Caledonia occupation was instigated by hooligans from the Six Nations community and elsewhere. There was a significant lack of discipline within the ranks of the organizers and the warrior society in not dealing with these rogue warriors. Believe me, the leadership did not have any control over the Caledonia occupation during this time.
It is these rogue warriors that live up to the violent stereotype.
But why would something get so out of hand? Why do the Haudenosaunee resist so aggressively?
We have to walk a mile in their moccasins, or whatever footwear the Haudenosaunee use.
The Haudenasaunee are also know as the six nations of the Iroquois confederacy. The six nations are the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga and the Tuscarora.
Traditionally and in their history, they are a powerful warrior society. So powerful and strong, that they made war upon their neighbours with great vigour, ruthlessness and lust for victory. They nearly destroyed my people, the Nipissing, during the 1700s.
However, at one time in their history, this strength and vigour was turned into itself and civil war waged amongst each other. Through their Great Peace, they literally “buried the hatchet” under the Great Tree of Peace. This led to a new era of unity and harmony and formed the basis of their Haudenosaunee Confederacy which is still in place today.
Part of their traditional territory in Ontario is known as the Haldimand Tract, which runs 6 miles on each side of the Grand River from its source to Lake Erie. Over the years, this land was systematically appropriated by the Crown, in contravention to the Haldimand Proclamation of 1794. Douglas Creek Estates was the last straw in a dispute running over a hundred years.
The Haudenasaunee were the last holdouts against colonial government. In 1924, the Six Nations hereditary council was removed, by gunpoint, and the community was forced to adhere to the Indian Act. To their credit, they have always opposed assimilation aggressively and have never agreed to be subject to Her Majesty’s laws. In fact, the traditional government in Six Nations remains intact.
None of this justifies terrorism and violence against persons and property. The Haudenosaunee and the Mohawk Warrior Society have a responsibility to clean up their act, or more people will be hurt the next time tempers flare. But the Haudenosaunee have the right to stand up aggressively against their oppressor.
Where were the police to protect the Six Nations community in 1924 when the Council was threatened at gunpoint?
They were holding the guns.