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Interview: Six Nations Land Dispute in Ontario

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 2, 2006

Six Nations Land Dispute in Ontario Focus of Struggle for Native Sovereignty

Interview with John Kahionhes Fadden, historian and director of the Six Nations Indian Museum, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

In late February, a group of native people from the Six Nations, or Iroquois Confederacy, began an occupation of land in Caledonia, Ontario, Canada, where a construction company had started building a residential development. The native people claim the land is theirs, while the company insists it has legal claim to the property. The occupation has attracted native and non-native supporters from other parts of Canada and become a focal point of the struggle for native sovereignty in Canada.

In mid-April, police arrested 16 of the occupiers, who had blockaded some of Caledonia's streets. According to the local newspaper, up to 500 townspeople rallied on April 24 in opposition to the eight-week occupation.

John Kahionhes Fadden, is a member of the Mohawk tribe, one of the Six Nations. He grew up on the Akwesasne Reservation, which straddles the US-Canadian border between upstate New York, Ontario and Quebec. Fadden is a historian and director of the Six Nations Indian Museum in northern New York. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Fadden about the history of the land dispute which he says dates from policies enacted by the British in Canada after the U.S. Revolutionary War. He notes that the Canadian government has now called upon the traditional chiefs and clan mothers in an effort to negotiate a settlement.

JOHN FADDEN: Going back to the Revolutionary War, there were some people within the Iroquois who supported the British, and there were some who supported the Americans. And there was a great many of them that simply wished to be neutral, and that was the policy of the Iroquois Grand Council at that time, at the beginning. But this war ranged up and down over their own territories, and they couldn’t help but be dragged into it. And as a result of that, those who supported the British, after the Revolutionary War ended, their territories were bound to be lost, and they therefore moved further west into this area of southern Ontario, beyond Niagara Falls, in what is now Ontario. And it was called the Haldeman Tract. It was a huge area ? 988,000 acres of land.

Again, those people that are there today are the descendants of the Six Nations people who went there after the Revolutionary War, following Joseph Brant. But then through time, some of this good-sized tract was eaten up by various events that occurred. And specific to this land here that is under contention right now, in that section of land what occurred is that in 1841, or in the 1800s at any rate, there was this land transaction that occurred. The Six Nations people feel that the land was leased to these non-Native people, but the non-Native people claim that the land was sold, outright. And therein lies the contention, the reason for the problem, is that these Six Nation people feel they still own the land. And why they got particularly upset, and what created this situation, is there is a company called Henco Limited, I believe ? they build houses. They got this land and have this intention of developing it ? I think it was several hundred houses. Meanwhile, the Six Nations people feel they own the land, so they want to court in the 1990s, and I really don’t know the outcome of that, or if there has been one, but it was like an injunction was put on the Indians who set up the protest camp, and then an injunction was put forth by the Canadian government that they had to leave, and then they simply refused to leave, and that’s where we are today.

BETWEEN THE LINES: John Fadden, what’s the latest information you have on the standoff?

JOHN FADDEN: Well, I keep getting reports, and some are just articles from Canada and some are from native people. They don’t all agree, but one of them claims that in the nearby city of Hamilton at the airport, that there are hangars that have contingents of Canadian armed forces there, ready to go. Now, whether that’s a fact, I don’t know. And that the police of course are still around and one number that was used is about a thousand police officers, including Ontario provincial police and RCMP ? Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

And here’s another historic fact. In the late 1800s, the Canadian government unilaterally created what called an elective system. They abrogated the traditional system of the grand council of chiefs and clan mothers, so they would only deal with the band council they created. And, of course, you create a band council that you want to work with, with people that you’re able to work with, who will be more conducive to going along with what you say and want, and that’s what happened on just about every reservation in Canada and a good number in the United States. They’re like colonial governments that were created. But anyway, the traditional form of government based on clan mothers and the chiefs, is still existent, as it is at Akwesasne and other places. But the ones who do most of the administering of various things that need to be administered is done by the band council. But my understanding is that with the band council, they’ve been dealing with this issue of this land protest, they’re not able to follow through very well, so they’ve turned it over to the traditional government, so the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee or Six Nations traditional government is the one speaking with the officials who are there on the other side. And I think that’s an interesting thing to have occur, is that they’ve gone back to the traditional government that the Canadian government tried to eradicate over a century ago.

For more information, email John Kahionhes Fadden at


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending May 5, 2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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