It's up to citizens of Caledonia

Letter - The Regional

February 11, 2009

Since February, 2006 I have followed the native occupation of Caledonia and have come to realize that very few people actually "get it" and are unrealistically hopeful of a negotiated settlement.

There are 5 major groups involved in this occupation: the Federal Government, the Provincial Government, the Natives, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and the Citizens of Caledonia. The ONLY group that would clearly benefit from a settlement to land claims in general and Caledonia in particular is the Citizens of Caledonia. Neither the Federal not the Provincial Government would benefit from the settlement of land claims. There is far too much political risk at  both levels to pursue settlement. In order to settle governments would be required to hand over a huge amount of land, a huge amount of money, or both. Regardless of how the settlements are structured, there would be political backlash from all sides. The natives would claim they were unfairly treated. People on the left (small "L" liberals, socialists (NDP), and groups like the United Nations) would chastise government for not  providing enough. People on the right would castigate government for providing too much.

The OPP would not benefit from a settlement. A settlement would mean the OPP would be required to enforce the law equally. They may have to arrest natives who choose to continue the protest and they would be required to shut down the illegal smoke shops. Given their reluctance to have any confrontation with natives since Ipperwash, law enforcement against natives would be the last thing the OPP wants to be faced with.

Some natives definitely do not want land claims settled. There is simply too much for some natives to lose. An example is the millions and perhaps billions of dollars that flow to native reserves, including six nations, from illegal and contraband cigarettes. Land claims and native occupations are their ticket to business expansion. Before the Caledonia occupation, illegal smoke shops were limited to the reserve. Since the occupation the natives have been free to expand their business, by opening smoke shops risk free, in the town of Caledonia; more business equals more money. The illegal businesses on reserves generate more money for natives than land claim settlements ever would. Land claim settlements would put this illegal activity at risk. Why risk losing a never ending supply of illegal money for a one-time land claim settlement payment?

There is clear evidence that some natives do not want to settle claims. For example, if a settlement was the true goal why would they send dozens of people to the negotiating table? Anyone who has ever participated in negotiations knows that the more people at the table, the less likely a settlement will result. Or, if they truly wanted a settlement would the natives make such a ridiculous counteroffer of a half billion dollars to the government's offer of 26 million to settle the Welland claim? That type of negotiation only screams "We don't want a deal." While I do not believe that all natives are organized criminals, perhaps those who are have hoodwinked the rest of their community into believing that protests and occupations are the way to go - a noble cause.

So, that leaves the citizens of Caledonia; the only group suffering in this and the only ones who would benefit from an end to the occupation and the settlement of land claims. The paradox is that the citizens of Caledonia are the very people who are least active in the process and take no definitive action to end it. Aside from the few token protests, a planned, organized, united effort to end this is completely lacking.

In the end it will only be the people of Caledonia who can end the occupation. If even half of the citizens of Caledonia united do you not think you could shut down the illegal smoke shops?

Come on Caledonia. Stand up, be leaders, set an example for those suffering illegal native occupations across the country. Take back your town. Mark your place in history as the small town that changed Canada and put an end to native occupations, government complacency, and police inaction. Do what is right.

Bob Bachman