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Six Nations chief says 'Caledonia crisis' presents opportunity to learn from colonial past

Six Nations of the Grand River's elected chief is calling on people across Canada to listen to the concerns raised by demonstrators and understand the colonial context behind the "Caledonia crisis."

Mark Hill says elected council doesn't support 'violence and destruction'

Mark Hill, elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, said he's spoken with provincial and federal officials about the situation at McKenzie Meadows. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Six Nations of the Grand River's elected chief is calling on people across Canada to listen to the concerns raised by demonstrators and understand the colonial context behind the "Caledonia crisis."

Mark Hill is also asking for dialogue among the parties involved and says the elected council doesn't support anything that will lead to violence or destruction.

The chief issued a video statement about the situation at McKenzie Meadows Monday evening, roughly three weeks after a group of Six Nations residents began occupying the residential development.

"The issues underpinning this crisis go much deeper and much further than this plot of land, It is the result of a colonial history that has silenced and oppressed generations of our peoples," he said.

Demonstrators began occupying the site, slated to become a housing development with hundreds of homes, on July 19. They renamed it "1492 Land Back Lane" and created a Facebook page by the same name where they've been sharing updates.

"Mackenzie Meadows is one of several housing developments within the area that are directly violating the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee," states the page. "We remain firm in our stance that action must be taken to stop the ongoing development of our lands."

Hill's message included a call for unity among Six Nations members.

"This is an opportunity for us to come together, to tackle our problems together and in a way that is consistent with our traditional values of compassion, cooperation, sharing, honesty and integrity," said the chief, who was elected after the development process had already begun.

However, there are disagreements between the demonstrators and elected council.

The development went ahead following community meetings and after the council was "accommodated" with 42.3 acres and $325,000.

But demonstrators say the elected council only represents a fraction of the more than 27,000 people who live on Six Nations and that not enough consultation was done.

They clashed with the OPP on August 5 when a large number of officers tried to clear the camp while helping enforce a court order. Police say officers were hit with large rocks. They arrested several people and say they responded with "non-lethal force," including firing a rubber bullet.

Following the arrests, barriers were erected across roads and a rail line, blocking access around Caledonia.

The McKenzie Meadows developers — Ballantry and Losani Homes — secured an extension to the court order for demonstrators to leave the site on Friday.

Haldimand County also obtained a court order barring anyone from blocking local streets, sparking speculation about another police raid.

OPP spokesperson Const. Rod LeClair, said Monday that he did not have any updates on when the court injunction will be delivered, but said officers will remain in the area in the meantime.

"I encourage all sides and each and every person involved to carefully consider the actions they take and the impact those actions will have on this situation," said Hill in his statement. "We do not support any actions that would lead to violence and destruction."

An OPP officer guides car past a blockade on Argyle Street, south of Caledonia on August 5, 2020. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Canada values relationship with Six Nations

The chief said he's been in contact with provincial and federal officials about the situation, including Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller.

In a statement to CBC News a spokesperson for Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said Canada "deeply values" its relationships with Six Nations and is committed to working to address its historical land claims.

"We believe the best way to resolve outstanding issues is through a respectful and collaborative dialogue while also respecting the right of individuals to engage in peaceful protests," wrote Emily Williams. 

"With regard to the McKenzie Meadows Caledonia housing development, it is our hope that the parties involved continue to work together to find a constructive, respectful, and positive way forward."

Hill said he and the rest of the elected council are spearheading an effort to create a "table" where different groups can gather to discuss what's going on in a "safe and inclusive environment."

He's encouraging open conversation guided by compassion and a willingness to listen and understand.

Demonstrators have occupied the McKenzie Meadow site for just over three weeks, dubbing it 1492 Land Back Lane. (Skyler Williams/Facebook)

In his statement, Hill said he's been down to McKenzie Meadows and found common ground with the people there.

"We both agree that the health and safety of everyone involved is the primary concern," he said, adding his goal is to keep lines of communication open.

"This is a chance for us to learn from the colonial past, to do this right and to do it together."

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