by Rick Gunderman
On Saturday, April 28, approximately 400 people marched through the small town of Caledonia, Ontario to demand justice for the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
Many of those marching came from other parts of the province, with a significant presence from Toronto and Hamilton. Many were also members of the Six Nations or non-Native residents of Caledonia and the surrounding area.
The demonstration was peaceful, positive and vibrant. A grand coalition of people from all backgrounds and walks of life came to express solidarity with Six Nations.
The demonstrators gathered in Edinburgh Square, on the north side of the Grand River. While gathering there, several officers from the Ontario Provincial Police skulked through the crowd with video cameras, recording participants from the pro-Six Nations side. When one officer came across two comrades from Hamilton’s Communist Party and Young Communist League, he stopped and stood recording for several minutes.
Afterward, a fellow demonstrator confronted the officer. A small crowd had gathered around the man, who put his hand in front of the officer’s video camera, and most started taking pictures or recording. The situation was defused and no further problems resulted.
Shortly after, a few youth from the Six Nations used a megaphone to recite a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) prayer. Following this, the demonstration proceeded down Sutherland Street to Argyle Street. From there, it moved down Argyle, over the iconic Caledonia Bridge, and through the south side of the town.
At the intersection of Caithness and Argyle Streets, before going over the bridge, several townspeople had gathered. While most were simply watching the demonstration with curiosity, a handful had come out to oppose the solidarity demonstration. In the face of this instigation, the demonstrators either politely acknowledged or simply ignored the hecklers.
For some time, everything proceeded smoothly, with the minor exception of a storeowner having slung a baseball bat over his shoulder as he watched the demonstration pass by his business. Many demonstrators understood this to be an intimidation tactic.
As we drew nearer to the land occupied by Six Nations, or as they have rechristened it “Kanonhstaton” (“the Protected Place”), a small crowd of opponents of Six Nations had gathered. Several of them were recognized as supporters of Gary McHale, Mark Vandermaas, CANACE and other racist instigators. They had been waiting at the Tim Hortons and Canadian Tire parking lots where Celtic Drive and Braemar Avenue meet Argyle Street.
This group screeched and shouted at the demonstrators for coming from out of the town, accusing them of not knowing what life has been like for residents of Caledonia. However, among the solidarity marchers were non-Native residents of Caledonia and the surrounding area, and many marchers testified that they had connections in Caledonia through family or friends.
It is difficult to describe the vile hate spewing from the counter-demonstrators. As they cursed and belittled the marchers, the marchers flashed peace signs, raised fists or simply waved. As the march passed the counter-demonstrators, not wanting to dignify their hate, they shouted, “Keep walking!”
Along the way, the comrades of the YCL and CPC encountered a handful of slurs directed at them, none of which they were unfamiliar with.
“Communist Canada? Yeah, that works.”
“Last I checked, communism wasn’t about peace!” (check again -RG)
“This is Canada, not communism, you morons!”
This, however, was a very small part of the demonstration. After passing by the hateful non-Native counter-demonstrators, we proceeded to Kanonhstaton. There, four Six Nations members stood upon a steel structure at the entrance, holding up flags and welcoming their supporters.
One Six Nations youth greeting us, who had joined the CPC/YCL contingent in the demonstration, even help up one of our signs. The sign read, on the one side, “Turtle Island will be free” – an homage to the Palestine liberation movement. The other side read “End Colonialism! Honour the Treaties!” and had “YCL Hamilton” emblazoned on the bottom.
Even a band of non-Native Caledonia teens came out to perform, including songs by Rise Against and Sublime.
Mark Vandermaas has spewed his usual brand of ignorance to the media, accusing demonstrators of “terrorizing” the town and taking no responsibility for his part in reopening old wounds. He still refuses to acknowledge what the solidarity demonstration was about – unity between Six Nations and non-Native residents of the area.
In particular, he acknowledged the communist presence: “Just seeing the communist flag and banner fly was a great victory for us.”
In fact, no flag was present. Most participants in the demonstration warmly welcomed the banner, and nobody but a handful of town residents outwardly opposed the communist presence.
Townspeople talked to the media that day, and several locals said they are supportive of Six Nations. Schools in Caledonia and in most towns in the area adjacent to the Grand River Territory have both Native and non-Native students. Six Nations members regularly shop in the surrounding towns, and many non-Native Canadians make regular visits to the reserve.
Like any town, Caledonia is not ideologically homogeneous. There are those who believe in harmony, peace and respect among all people, and on the other hand there are those who wish to deny Canada’s colonial past and present and hold onto racist, backward, completely uninformed views of First Nations people.
The lines have been drawn in Caledonia. Not on April 28 – rather, they have existed since the area was settled. The abuses that the federal and provincial governments have inflicted upon the Six Nations only led to a sharpening of the lines. It led to a radicalization of the racists, and to the mobilization of all those who believe in justice and equality.
The communists know which side they are on, and few other than the extreme right seem to have a problem with it.