Six Nations people block job site over land dispute

Natives block Ont. job site over land dispute

Glenn Lowson for National Post
Native protests over continuing construction in a Brantford industrial park escalated Monday morning with an arrest of a protester who allegedly blocked a truck from entering the construction site.

Craig Offman, National Post
Published: Monday, July 14, 2008

BRANTFORD, Ont. — Tensions over native land claims in Southern Ontario flared again Monday morning as a protester blocked a cement truck’s access to a building site and then allegedly assaulted a police officer.

The brief escalation of what had been a peaceful protest led officials in Brantford and Ottawa to draw analogies to Caledonia, a nearby city whose protracted land dispute has led to occasional, violent outbreaks and an economic downturn.

The disagreement in Brantford stems from plans to build an insulation factory and headquarters on land that is subject to a long-outstanding native land claim.

“I wouldn’t have thought [the comparison to Caledonia] was possible until today,” said Mayor Mike Hancock, adding that property settlement is a federal and provincial issue and that officials from both government ministries have been slow to respond. “We’re collateral damage in all of this, and we feel it.”

Ontario Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Michael Bryant Monday spoke with Mr. Hancock, and the provincial minister’s office said action is needed from his federal counterpart.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation. The underlying issue here is a 200-year-old land claim against the federal government, so the federal government needs to accelerate the negotiations leading to a resolution of this issue,” said Greg Crone, Mr. Bryant’s press secretary.

The Six Nations claim ownership of the area as part of a historical treaty that they allege was not properly honoured. The local government received a temporary injunction in May that prohibits interference with development on the site — owned by Ireland-based Kingspan — and several other nearby properties.

Ron Doering, the chief federal negotiator on land claims issues, said he is discouraged that protesters have begun occupying the Brantford site and believes the standoff echoes what occurred at Douglas Creek Estates, in Caledonia, before the housing development was sold to the province.

“The Six Nations are the people we are dealing with with the various direct actions at Caledonia and we’re starting to see direct actions in Brantford right now, actually. So, it doesn’t have the potential [to become like Caledonia]; it’s actually happening,” Mr. Doering said Monday.

“We continue to believe that the best way to resolve these long-standing claims is to do it at the table. Clearly, the direct actions are not helpful in that regard, in my experience.”

The Brantford government also awaits a decision from Ontario Superior Court on whether the city can call on Canadian Forces in the event of mass unrest. It has also asked for $110-million in damages from native groups, citing economic impact. The Kingspan project was intended to bring 200 jobs to the area.

All legal recourse seemed distant, however, Monday morning.

According to police, officers were escorting two trucks to the site to remove some cement at around 8:30 a.m., when a man stood in front of the vehicles and disobeyed an officer’s request to stand down. During the process of his arrest, the man allegedly punched the officer in the face.

Police headquarters was notified about the events at 8:49 a.m. and dispatched additional staff to negotiate. Shortly after 9 a.m., the trucks again tried to enter the site when a crowd of 20 or so natives converged on a group of policemen.

“While attempting to stop the advancement of the protesters, one officer was struck in the face by a male at a time when his attention was focused on another protester advancing in the opposite direction,” said a police statement issued Monday afternoon.

“The assailant disappeared amongst the remaining protesters and fled the area through the adjacent bush.”

Six Nations observers say that the arrested man, whose identity has not been revealed, did not provoke the officer, but was confronted when he tried to talk to one of the drivers. As he was being pulled away, native witnesses said, his hand slipped, hitting the officer.

Donal Curtin, Kingspan’s general manager, said police told him to lock the gates outside the site and remain inside.

He said in a response to e-mailed questions Monday that workers trying to enter the area received death threats.

“On multiple occasions today, contractors working on the site or delivering material to the site, had their lives threatened,” he wrote. “These events have been reported to the Brantford Police. The people who made the threats were not arrested as far as I know.”

Police spokesmanKent Pottruff said he did not have specific details of those allegations, but that potential criminal activity would be investigated.

By Monday afternoon, several pick-up trucks were parked around the mouth of the site. Six Nations flags flapped in the wind, while about six police cars lingered on the margins.

“This is war,” said Steve Powless, a spokesman for the Six Nations protesters, standing outside the fence of the Kingspan site, outside of which there were two canvas tents and a teepee where about a dozen natives had been sleeping over the weekend. “I’m a solider. I’m here to fight.”

“These people should go home and leave our land alone,” added Mr. Powless, a sculptor who lives on the nearby reserve, by some estimates the most populous in the country.

He said that the group would remain at the site indefinitely.

Another native, who refused to give his name, insisted that his people were protecting their own land, not protesting the use of it. “This is not going to stop until the federal government steps and solves these land issues,” he said. “They’re patenting deeds here they haven’t paid for.”

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