Saturday, August 19, 2006

6 Native Nations, and None Have a Word for ‘Suburbia’

CALEDONIA, Ontario, Aug. 10 — Blame it on the American Revolution.

At the time, six Indian tribes that had lived for centuries in what is now upstate New York sided with the British Crown, lost and were forced from their lands. For their troubles, however, Britain granted them a paradise rich in moose and deer, across the new border, in southern Ontario.

Today the game are largely gone. The wilderness has been transformed into suburban sprawl. The once pristine lands of the so-called Six Nations Reserve have been whittled away.

This year, one more housing development on the edge of town was one too many, and the Native Canadians decided to make a stand.

Since February, hundreds have blockaded roads, set bonfires, confronted the police with bags of rocks and lacrosse sticks, cut the maple leaf out of a Canadian flag and refused to obey court orders to vacate. During the height of tensions, a van was driven into a power station and set on fire, leaving residents in the dark for days.

The protests have become the knottiest of Canada’s many native land disputes and paralyzed the local economy.

“Some businesses are down 30, 40 percent,” said Neil Dring, who publishes a weekly newspaper here. “This has really hurt.”

For the Native Canadians, however, the dispute is a matter of mending a broken promise by the government to manage the land on their behalf. “Through the years, our people said, ‘You can come here, you can settle here,’ but that didn’t mean they could take over,” said Hazel Hill, who lives on the reserve.

Police officers brought in from all over the province now watch the occupied site around the clock, while town residents whose backyards border the land must show identification to be allowed down their street.

Confrontations have been laced with racial slurs and crude signs. Native Canadian protesters have surrounded the site with traditional flags, and many don fatigues when tensions are at their highest.