Ohsweken to Caledonia: Journey to Kanonhstaton

I was worried about dogs today. You see, when I was at Six Nations back in December I saw a lot of dogs roaming free. I almost hit one that wandered out into the road in front of my car. But most of the dogs I saw today, or heard barking in the distance when they heard me crunching past on the gravel shoulder of the road, were tied up. Maybe it’s because I was walking on busy roads. I don’t know. Maybe I was wrong about dogs wandering around loose.  There was one angry fellow on Tuscarora Road, but he was afraid of crossing the street to get at me. And there was a nursing female who walked with me for a while. She wasn’t interested in me at all. She was just looking for something smelly to roll in. As dogs do.

And, yes, there was that pit bull. I was walking along, looking at a text from my friend Richard, not paying attention–lulled into a false sense of security, I suppose. There was a house in the woods, right next to the road. I didn’t see it. I didn’t see the four dogs outside it, either, until I was right on top of them. Three of those dogs were tied up. One wasn’t. A pit bull. A very angry pit bull. His body was muscular. His jaws were powerful. His eyes were full of rage. He was less than six feet away.

I quickly crossed the road. Not too quickly. I didn’t want him to think I was running. I made soothing noises. He wasn’t mollified at all. I was his enemy. He came closer, sizing me up. I could tell he was deciding which leg (or testicle) to tear into first.

And then I threw him a dog biscuit. It broke his concentration, just for a minute. He ate it and I increased the distance between us. He was behind me, still angry, but I was making tracks away from him. He kept barking, but I was far enough away now that I was no longer a threat to him. Or him to me.

I’m glad the other three dogs were tied up. I wonder why he was loose. It doesn’t matter. I got away. You’ll understand that I didn’t take his picture.

So in the end walking across Six Nations was just about as dangerous as walking down a grid road in Saskatchewan. I walked past the corner where I’d almost hit that dog back in December. He was nowhere to be seen.

I turned onto Sixth Line. Lisa, my host at The Bear’s Inn, had told me to go this way. It was a more direct route, she said, than Highway 54. It’s a busy road, but not as busy as the highway, I suppose. I got to a little diner and stopped for coffee. I’d discovered that The Bear’s Inn serves breakfast–I’d missed it yesterday because I was writing until 10 o’clock–but the coffee wasn’t ready when I left. I sat down. People inside had seen me walking along the road. They asked me what I was doing and I told them. “I’m walking the Haldimand Tract to raise money for the Woodland Cultural Centre,” I said. I was finally in a place where the words “Haldimand Tract” meant something, where they didn’t require a history lesson to be understood. They were impressed and encouraged me to keep going. It was a nice moment.

But, of course, what I’m doing is just a gesture towards reconciliation–and a small gesture at that. Your support of the Woodland Cultural Centre is more tangible. It shows that you know the truth about Canada’s colonialist past (and present) and that you want to do something about it: you want to help create an interpretive centre about residential schools in the former residential school building in Brantford. You can donate online here or you can send a cheque to the Woodland Cultural Centre, P.O. Box 1506, Brantford, Ontario N3T 5V6 (attention Save the Evidence). Aside from my own learning, and the pleasure I get from this walk, it really has meaning only in the gifts you make to Save the Evidence.

I started seeing gas stations and smoke shops and I knew I was close to the edge of the reserve. And then, at an intersection, I left it. The houses looked the same. The road looked the same. Only the signs now said I was in Haldimand County instead of Six Nations. I got to Highway Six–the bypass around Caledonia. Lisa said that if I walked up Highway Six, I’d get to Kanonhstaton, “the protected place,” in Mohawk. That’s the Douglas Creek Estates housing development that was the site of the big occupation ten years ago. I wanted to see it when I was in Caledonia; I wanted to understand where the place was in relation to the town, and I wanted to take photos for this blog. I followed a farm track down to the shoulder of the highway. It was incredibly busy, packed with speeding cars and trucks. I couldn’t see any housing development. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to live beside this race track. I crossed the Grand River and got to a bridge over Highway 54. My map didn’t show any other roads leading into Caledonia. I checked Google Maps. It didn’t know where Kanonhstaton was. This is nuts, I thought. I’m going to get killed on this highway. I’m clearly in the wrong place. I crossed the bridge over Highway 54, scrambled down the abutment, and walked into Caledonia.

Caledonia is a pretty town. It looks prosperous. The B&B where I’m staying, Heron House on the Grand, is on the east side of town. It has a nice view of the river. A reporter had called me when I was having coffee and we were going to meet there. I texted her when I got to Caledonia. “I’m here,” I wrote. She said she’d leave Brantford right away. But I wasn’t exactly at the B&B. I was still trying to find it. I walked quickly, hoping that she wouldn’t get to Caledonia before I found Heron House. (The name is accurate, by the way: I saw a heron fishing upstream.) But that didn’t happen. We sat in chairs by the river and I told her what I was doing and why. She took some photos of me. She asked me to offer tobacco to the river and took a picture of me doing it. Now I’m not sure that was a good idea. Does that photograph trivialize a spiritual practice? Did I make a mistake by agreeing to it? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.

I’m always nervous about being interviewed. I worry that I’ll be misunderstood, that I’ll say something that’s not correct, that I’ll come across like I’m half-crazy. I hope it went well. The article should go up online tonight, and I’ll find out soon enough. But the point of being interviewed is to take the opportunity to tell other settlers about the history of the Haldimand Tract and the Save the Evidence campaign. If not for those two things, I wouldn’t bother to do any interviews.

Afterwards, I asked my host where I could find Kanonhstaton. She explained. “It’s just on the edge of town on old Highway Six, past the Canadian Tire.” Oh. Old Highway Six. That was my mistake: taking the bypass. I should’ve known when there was no easy way to get from Sixth Line onto the highway. I walked back downtown, ate lunch, then headed for the edge of town on what used to be Highway Six. Caledonia is lucky that bypass was built. For one thing, the old bridge over the Grand River wouldn’t stand up to all that truck traffic. I kept walking. Finally, just past the Canadian Tire, there it was.

There’s not a lot to see. It’s a field, now, surrounded by a fence, with a gate that’s designed to look like the Haudenosaunee Confederacy flag on one side, and the Two-Row Wampum on the other. There are broken street lights and, in the distance, one single house. And a “no trespassing” sign. The gate was open but I didn’t go in. I’m told that people are still occupying the house. The province now owns the land. It compensated the developer and that was that. But nothing has been solved. Not really. I took some photographs and headed back to the B&B. Altogether, I walked 28 kilometres today–a good day’s walk.

I can see why the developer was surprised by the reaction from people at Six Nations. There’s a housing development right next door. A mall with a Canadian Tire. A lot across the street is for sale. Why would this piece of land be any different than all the rest? It’s a good question, because most of the town, as far as I can see, would fall under the Hamilton-Port Dover Plank Road land claim. That road is now Highway Six–the old Highway Six. In 1834, the government of Upper Canada expropriated the land to build the road. The following year, Six Nations agreed to lease land extending for a half mile on either side of the road to the government. Then the government turned around and sold that leased land. It decided that by leasing the land, Six Nations had surrendered it–a ridiculous conclusion to reach, but there you are. That was 150 years ago. Settlers have forgotten all about this. People at Six Nations have not.

My host says that the problem during the occupation was the division between the elected council at Six Nations and the Confederacy Chiefs. There’s something to that. The political division on the reserve doesn’t help anybody. But Canada imposed the elected council on Six Nations. In 1925, the RCMP kicked the Confederacy Chiefs out of their meeting house–with their service weapons drawn, I’m told–and installed the elected council in their place. That interference in the internal affairs of Six Nations, mandated by the Indian Act, is just another example of Canada’s continuing colonialist approach to relating to First Nations. So who’s to blame for that political division at Six Nations? Canada.

The real villain in the Douglas Creek Estates/Kanonhstaton occupation was, if we’re going to be honest, the politicians who decided in the 1850s to sell land that didn’t belong to the Crown–and our federal government, which has been dragging its heels for three decades, refusing to negotiate the Plank Road land claim, along with 28 others launched by the Six Nations elected council.

The reporter asked me what can be done about situations like this one–and Six Nations isn’t the only reserve with land claims that the federal government is refusing to address. The answer is, I don’t know. I assume that wiser heads than mine, on both sides, could find a solution–if the federal government would only sit down at the negotiating table. I’m sure it will be expensive. But Canadians owe a debt to First Nations–one we can’t possibly pay in full. After all, we were supposed to share this land. And we’ve turned out to be very bad at sharing.

I’ll be heading to Cayuga tomorrow morning, walking down Highway 54. It’s a short walk. Get in touch (there’s an e-mail link on the “About” page) if you’d like to join me.

One thought on “Ohsweken to Caledonia: Journey to Kanonhstaton

  1. Good to see that badge on the Tilley again, Ken. Some stunning scenes here. From an Aussie perspective everything looks so green in your photos – our colours are much more yellow-green or red-grey or brown ( I think you spell some of these words differently to us too). Nice work with the pit-bull – ugh, that was a moment!! Why do people have dogs like that? I guess to scar the rest of us to death. I guess, it’s all part of this significant journey. Glad you survived to tell the tale. N

    Liked by 1 person

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