April 28 2012
On the bus ride back from Kanonhstaton, after the March for Peace Respect and Friendship, a friend pointed out the window at endless rows of identical subdivisions and asked: “The people who are against the reclamation site, is this what they are in favour of?”
We are just a few of the hundreds of non-native allies who spent several hours in Kanonhstaton, the protected place, celebrating the successful march through Caledonia. It has been six years since this land was reclaimed by Haudenosaunee land defenders, protected from becoming yet another numbing expanse of sprawl. As the sun set, we watched Red-Wing Blackbirds, geese, and ducks visit the pond, and marvelled at how much health these meadows have been able to build up after being scraped bare for development six years ago.
As we collected the carapaces of Dragon Fly larvae and tried to match the dried stalks of last year’s wildflowers to this year’s spring shoots, we reflected on the march that brought us here from Caledonia. The spirit of the march was celebratory, joyful — we drew on eachothers’ enthusiasm as we walked through the streets. The day’s chant was “we are all treaty people”, an affirmation that Haudenosaunee and settler communities are bound by the Two-Row Wampum to live as neighbours, in a spirit of Peace, Respect, and Friendship, travelling downstream side by side, with neither trying to steer the other’s boat. We marched up Argyle St through downtown Caledonia and crossed the Grand River on the old stone bridge there.
The march slowed down on the bridge, and we got to spend some time watching the water and remembering how this river connects us to so many places and communities upstream. And, as we do whenever we cross this beautiful river, we remembered the Haldimand Proclamation, in which six miles on either side of the Grand River was given to the Haudenosaunee people by the British government in recognition of their support during the American war of Independence. Over time, this territory has been almost entirely stolen, through dishonesty, the Indian Act, squatting, and outright attacks.
We would later learn that the march was slowed by a group of counter-demonstrators on the far side of the bridge. We passed many of these folks, angrily waving canadian flags or brandishing baseball bats. Their main message of the day was that everyone not from Caledonia should go home, because what happens here is not our business. For them, peace means silence, which puts them firmly in support of the ongoing violence this silence conceals.
Looking out the bus window at the endless subdivisions though, the feeble arguments of those counter-demonstrators fall away. What they are really defending is the ability of rich developers and the canadian state to control all the land they lay claim to. Controlling land is a source of power over others, and so they oppose any alliance among peoples who imagine the world another way.
For the land defenders of Kanonhstaton though, land and water have a spirit and purpose of their own, a spirit that will nurture us if we can only support it in putting down roots and growing strong. As the sun set on what was once cleared ground but where only one house was built, we know that we as settlers have lots to gain from honouring the Two-Row and other treaties. It involves nothing less than taking back control over the direction of our communities from those few who currently steer our ship down a path of conflict and ruin, in order to build new kinds of relationships with the land, our Indigenous neighbours, and with eachother.
The strength and spirit of all those marching and celebrating today is an image of what these new relationships can look like, a vision of triumph over the living death of sprawl.
More information about the March for Peace, Respect, and Friendship.