Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This Land IS My Land

And in this case, wishing it wasn’t doesn’t change the fact that it is.

I was initially going to avoid the entire issue of the Douglas Creek Estates land claim in Caledonia, bordering the territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River that’s currently the subject of so much media coverage and resistance/anger/misunderstanding/utter governmental bullshit that’s been happening for the last five years, but I simply can’t. How can I? It is an undeniable fact that this land was stolen, despite our protests, despite our formal complaints and attempts to forestall the process, practically from underneath us. And in this world, where so much of our lives as aboriginal people is dictated by the statues of the Indian Act, what is left to us but an act of defiance, of resistance, of the outright fuck-you to the white culture that stole it in the first place? Seriously. Sorry for your luck you fucktard developers and you oh-so-politely racist denizens of Squatterdonia, but it’s ours. Hate to disappoint you, to point out this irrefutable fact of history, but there it is. Even your courts are reluctantly beginning to see this fact, much to the consternation of your citizens and the upright burgermeisters of Haldimand County. Even if two levels of your government is reluctant to deal with it, has always been negligent because it’s a political hot potato, sooner or later the truth of it, the utter rightness of our claim, must be heard.

The Haldimand Proclamation of 1783 is explicit in the original land grant, given to the Mohawks and the Six Nations Indians for their fealty and alliance throughout the American War for Independence, a dry historical fact that hides the reality of what happened to us. We were driven out by the one of the first genocidal wars initiated by the fledgling American government, our towns and villages burned, our crops destroyed. Our numbers, already dwindling from over one hundred years of contact, warfare and disease, were very nearly decimated. By the time Thayendenageh, Joseph Brant, had successfully guilted the British government into providing a sanctuary for our by then refugee population, we were probably about a thousand Mohawks with a scattering of people from the other nations. We were ragged, sick, and broken, huddled at Fort Niagara, refugees in our own homelands. How can Canada forget this? Because they never knew, and it suits the colonial franchise NOT TO KNOW. But I digress...

That original land grant was six miles on either side of the Grand River from mouth to source. That’s a hell of a lot of real estate. Originally it was designed to be a buffer between that upstart American nation and the comfortable colonial franchise of Upper and Lower Canada, the idea was that the remainder of the Six Nations would provide security for the British colonies and act as a defence corps against the Americans. During the War of 1812 we proved the wisdom of that decision, effectively keeping the Americans out of Southern Ontario and creating the present border, so that Canada has this weird little dip into what looks like the American territory and securing the carving up of the Great Lakes. It is no accident that the province looks the way it does. It is because of my people and their acumen at defending territory, and the wise strategic moves made by Tecumseh the Chippewa war chief and his principal allies, the Oneida of the Thames (who, yeah, are Iroquois).

Over the years the architects of the Canadian government sought to diminish the power of the Six Nations and erode that magnificent land base that the British government had left to us. As the burgeoning British population moved into the lands of Southern Ontario that were originally forested, the valley of the Six Nations proved irresistible to them. And remember, our population had crashed and was on the verge of extinction. Plus the movement onto this restricted land base took its toll on us. Alcoholism and family breakdown was rampant, as were the loss of language and the destruction of our culture, taking place even before the residential schools were up and running. We were lucky in that we Iroquois tend to be stubborn bastards, and were the recipients of several factors that allowed us to survive this period, not the least of which is the Gai’wiio, the Good Word of Handsome Lake, and the diplomatic cunning that has always served our people well. We were able to hold on to a fraction of our land base, but it was not without tears and betrayal and outright theft.

The current area in dispute, the land known as the Douglas Creek estates, is but one parcel that remains unresolved. In 1842 the land currently running south from Caledonia was requested to be ceded for a new road to provide access from Port Dover to Hamilton. This road was called the Plank Road and is now the present day number Six highway. The chiefs of the day refused. This “ceding” had only resulted in vast tracts being wrested away from us. Some areas, like the source of the Grand had gone years before and other “leases” had taken place under dicey conditions, and they wanted to prevent the remainder of our territory from being leached away. It was only through the manipulations of the Indian Agent, a dude named Samuel Jarvis (who turns out to be a freakin’ thief, so much for his identity as a founding father of the City of Toronto) that a lease was drawn up and a swath of land where the road was located and a buffer zone between the eastern boundary of the present day reserve was established, with the understanding that the money for the lands would be held in trust. Uh – not. Jarvis gave bits of this land to his business buddies and other lackeys but did NOT provide them with leases so that there wouldn’t be any evidence of his cheating, because for all his bluster, he was not just a little bit scared of the Iroquois and their fierce reputation. And well he should have been.

To this day, none of the white people who are in possession of these land parcels in question have actual deeds to their “property.” That’s because there are none. These lands were swindled.

Fast forward to 2006, and the necessary resistance and all the ugly racist response and subsequent shit that has gone down since then. I’m not going to recount it. Suffice to say it reminded me that for all of its protestations to the contrary, Canada remains a deeply racist nation founded under false pretences and built on the backs of indigenous people without acknowledgement, justice, or thanks. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but this is the ugly reality of my people’s dealings with Canada to this point.

When I was a child my dad would drive us around the lands of our people and point out exactly when and where we had lost this or that parcel. And I know this was a common experience for a lot of my friends on Six as well, regardless if our families were traditional Longhouse people or Christianized the way mine was. That didn’t matter because we all knew the score. We all know what happened. And that gives us an edge over the people living outside of the reserve, on our land. Perhaps that is why they are so angry. They, too, have been deceived. It sucks to think that in the middle of nice Southern Ontario suburbia there’s a big honking elephant in the room, a massive land claim that will dog development and stall progress and disrupts the safe, comfortable myth that this is your home. On native land.

Someday there will be a reconciliation, an understanding. But until the government stops its posturing with regard to our land claims, recognizes our sovereignty as the Six Nations of the Grand River – and grants this to all of the Iroquoian territories – this issue is not going away.

I drive my kids around the perimeter of the reserve and tell them the same stories that my father told me. And so it goes.