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Both sides of the Caledonia standoff

This Magazine Staff

Krisztina Kun is a Vancouver-based writer and activist who got the chance to spend time in Caledonia on Monday while visiting her hometown of Hamilton. She wrote the following post about being on both sides of the standoff yesterday…

Within minutes of waking yesterday, I was in the backseat of a speeding Saturn, heading down the QEW towards Caledonia. The plan was to check out both sides of the blockade and film and record the events.

As we drive over the Grande River, onto Argyle Street, we notice the streetlights are out. A line of cars is backed up, inching one by one through the intersection. All the stores are closed, but the parking lots are full. People are milling about, chatting, walking their dogs; it looks like a community fair, or the aftermath of a parade. Except for all the cop cars and the black smoke rising in the middle of Highway 6. This is when we find out that a transformer has been set on fire and the entire region is without power. A portion of the transformer is lying across the highway, with Native protestors and Six Nations flags on top.

The mood on the white side is charged; the calm before the storm. Or in this case, after the storm, as the morning was full of collisions between the sides, fist fights, shouting, and shows of force. We walk among the crowd of a few hundred people. Most of them are just standing around, chatting, waiting to see if anything else was going to happen. We overhear conversations. A group of men, standing in the Canadian Tire parking lot, saying “we should just get our own weapons and go over there and settle this”; two women are wondering aloud why the O.P.P. aren’t doing their job and when the army would step in; a group of teenagers are heckling the media, saying “why are you filming them [the Native side] why aren’t you showing how many of us there are?”

An ATV adorned with Canadian flags crosses onto the Native side and the crowd cheers. It’s chased back by three Native ATVs. People yell “arrest them, they’re on our side!”

We start talking to the locals and the overwhelming opinion is that the highway needs to be reopened. The Caledonian residents are fed up with the road being closed, they want it open, then they’ll talk. When we ask them if they sympathize with Native’s land claim and their demands, they say the Natives have it easy, they don’t pay taxes, they get free education and health care. The road should be opened, they all say. It’s much like demanding the picket line outside of a supermarket be opened with no thoughts to why the workers are striking in the first place. We sidle up to a group of teenagers and ask them what it’s like to live in Caledonia right now. They say it’s brutal. Do they have any friends who are Native? No. What do they think of the media painting them as racists? “Hell yeah we’re racist!” one of them says. “We want the Natives to get out of here and stop making a mess of things.” “No matter what happens, we’re going to be called racist, because we’re up against the Natives,” another one says. “But I was born here, I’m native Canadian.” Thanks, we say. Any last thoughts? “Yeah,” one of them says, “Shoot ‘em all.”

After lunch at the home of Jan, a Caledonia resident and Native supporter who’s had her house egged a number of times, we head over to Six Nations land.

The first thing we notice is the laughter. There is so much more laughter and a feeling of calm on the Native side of the barricade. And there are more women on the front lines. And people are passing around food. David Peterson addresses the crowd with a megaphone, and everyone shushes each other and listens. Which is a stark contrast to the other side where Peterson was shouted at for about two hours, and he never once tried to address the crowd. He asks for the barricade to come down, as a sign of good faith. “We took the barricade down and they attacked us!” people shout. Someone takes the megaphone and says, “You act like you’re on our side now, but when you were premier you did nothing for us!” the crowd erupts in cheers.

The whole time we’re on the Native side of the barricade, we never once hear anything said about the Caledonians. There is anger, but none of the hatred, none of the threats.

What’s going to happen when the barricade comes down? How will the town heal from this? Jan says her daughter’s high school is half white, half Native, and the Native kids aren’t going to school anymore for safety reasons. One of the white teenagers said she works with a Native girl at Zehr’s and she’s no longer coming in to work. Caledonia is a dangerous town to be in if you’re Native, and that’s not going to change once the road opens again.

We wander to the makeshift kitchen and start to help out. The white activist kids from the cities have found their place in the struggle, and it’s in the kitchen. We make hamburgers and wash dishes and organize the pantry. We find toilet paper and restock the overflowing port-o-potties. And the Native women, instead of working in the kitchen, are on the front lines, holding down the barricade.

We leave after night falls. Lights have been set up right in the middle between both sides of the blockade, and it looks like an open air concert as we walk to the car. The power hasn’t been restored and the entire region is pitch black. There are rumours that the O.P.P. are going to gas the white side if they don’t disperse. The Caledonians are surrounded and dwindle in numbers as the night progresses. We wonder if the cops will instigate a riot so that the army will be called in; we all know what happens to Native blockades when the army’s called in. We leave hoping to hear good news in the morning.

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