‘You can’t forget about us’

·5 min read

The co-organizer of an upcoming protest in Caledonia said her aim is not to take sides in the McKenzie Meadows land dispute, which is now in its fifth month.

Kim Smiley Wiley is inviting residents of Caledonia and Six Nations to stand together near the Argyle Street barricade on Saturday at 3 p.m. and demand that the federal government speed up reconciliation efforts so that people in both communities can get on with their lives.

“It’s gone radio silent. We’re just sitting here,” said Wiley, a real estate broker who lives one street over from the barricade and is one of the administrators of a Facebook group called Caledonia and Six Nations Matter.

“We just want to work together,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong — what’s the issue and how’s it going to get solved? It’s going to get solved by both parties coming to the table and talking together. Our government and their government. So let’s do that.”

“We just want the government to take notice and stop leaving us alone,” she said. “Right now it feels hopeless, because they’re so quiet. Like, what is going on? We’ve heard nothing.”

The frustrated residents she does hear from are anything but quiet.

“Because of the volatile situation, there are so many people that have been hurt in the past by it that they can’t help but bring their emotions into it,” Wiley said, referring to residents who lived through the 2006 occupation of the former Douglas Creek Estates lands by Six Nations members.

Wiley doesn’t have much hope that the courts can settle the long-running land claims dispute.

“It’s supposed to go to court in 2022, but with the track record, is that going to happen?” she said. “It can’t take that long, and it shouldn’t take that long. This has been on the table for hundreds of years. When is it going to end?”

A cry for help

Rachel and Chris Whitlock have a front-row seat to the standoff. Their house on Argyle Street faces the barricade where several cars and a vandalized school bus rest atop a section of road that land defenders dug up using a stolen excavator.

“Clearly, digging up roads was a cry for ‘please pay attention to the situation,’” Rachel said. “(But) the notice sucks.”

The barricades have cut the Whitlocks off from basic services like garbage collection and school bus pickup for their children.

“Amazon won’t come. Amazon, Purolator. They won’t cross,” Rachel said.

The couple has lived in Caledonia for a decade and has not seen any improvement in relations between Six Nations and Ottawa.

“Ten years and nothing has happened between these two groups,” Rachel said. “There’s no dialogue. You have a band council, an elected council and a group of land defenders, and Caledonia in the middle. Doug Ford says his one sentence in his daily news briefing. Justin Trudeau, not a word.”

The couple say they are sympathetic to Six Nations grievances about land ownership that date back centuries.

“They do have a right to their land, and they are protesting for what they believe. And they have every right to,” Rachel said.

But that doesn’t change their daily reality in what Chris calls “the grey zone.”

“I’m growing continually frustrated with this whole thing,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen quickly. This isn’t going to get fixed soon. I have no faith now.”

“If we find a house tomorrow to move, we would leave,” Rachel added.

‘They’re not backing down’

If Rose Marie Mueller chooses to attend the protest, she’ll have to cross the barricade from the Six Nations side to do so.

Mueller’s house on Argyle Street was one of four left without power for 11 days after land defenders set a hydro pole on fire when the barricades went up on Oct. 22.

The hydro may be back on, but Mueller said she remains frustrated with the disruptions to her daily life and would like to see Ottawa take action.

“It’s a federal issue that has to be solved,” she said. “And this time I think they’re going to have it solved, because they’re not backing down.”

Smiley certainly hopes so. She worries that the blockades are becoming old hat for residents who are getting used to taking extra time to get in and out of town.

“We’ve learned to go around it,” she said. “And once you learn to go around it, it becomes your new norm, and that’s that. It’s no longer an inconvenience.”

Saturday’s protest, she said, is to push residents to advocate on their own behalf.

“This needs to be huge on Saturday. There’s 15,000 of us here, and every single one of us is being affected by this, just in the driving alone,” Wiley said.

Wiley said representatives from Six Nations told her that a group of women from the reserve will attend the protest, which she hopes will refocus Ottawa’s attention on Caledonia.

“And not just Caledonia. Six Nations needs to be heard. They have to be,” Wiley said.

“All we want is the government to take notice. We matter. You can’t forget about us.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator