Clan mothers sending message to UNProtesters conducting themselves well, visiting human rights lawyer says
By Paul Legall
The Hamilton Spectator CALEDONIA (Apr 28, 2006)
Native activists are taking their case to the United Nations as international human rights groups are paying closer attention to the eight-week occupation of Douglas Creek Estates.
Bryant Greenbaum, who works as a human rights lawyer in South Africa, visited the protest site yesterday to learn about native land issues and see how they compare with tribal issues in his own country.
After spending about half an hour behind the Argyle Street barricade, he told The Spectator that he was impressed by the way the natives were conducting their protest.
"I see a peaceful political activism that can make positive changes," he said.
While touring the site, he said he heard stories similar to those related to him by Zulu and Xhosa tribal leaders in South Africa, where land reform and reclamation is also a big issue. Tribes that lost indigenous territories during the apartheid years are seeking compensation or return of ancestral lands.
"The images I've taken, the stories I've heard and the dialogue I've engaged in today will be taken back with me to South Africa and will be totally empowering for (the tribal people trying to get their land back)," he said.
As he was visiting the site, Six Nations clan mothers were drafting a statement about the 60-day land protest for the United Nations. Although they seldom speak in public, the clan mothers are considered protectors of the land in the Six Nations Confederacy and wield influence behind the scenes.
Former Six Nations resident Doreen Silversmith, 49, who once lived as a homeless person in Toronto, will deliver the clan mothers' message to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva next week.
When Canada last appeared before the committee in 1998, the group slammed Canada for the "gross disparity between aboriginal people and the majority of Canadians." It also expressed concern about poverty rates among aboriginal women like Silversmith, who rose from a street person to an outspoken native activist.
Silversmith was still waiting for written instructions from the clan mothers last night as she prepared to board the plane for Geneva today. In view of statements made in the last two months, however, it would be fair to assume the clan mothers will relate the Caledonia dispute to other native land disputes across Canada.
When they took over the site two months ago, the protesters erected a large banner proclaiming "Six Nations Land." They claimed it was part of the original Haldimand Grant to the Six Nations people and hadn't been surrendered to non-natives. Governments say natives approved its sale in 1841.
Don and John Henning, owners of Henco Industries, say they have a clear title to the 17-hectare tract and met municipal requirements before they started building houses on the site last fall.
Apart from delivering the clan mothers' missive, Silversmith will tell her own story. After growing up on the Six Nations reserve, she ended up in Toronto where she slept on the street and in shelters. She experienced violence, racism and sexism and once woke up from a drunken brawl covered in blood. She ended up in a mental health hospital, written off as "a drunken, crazy Indian." Through the help of a nurse, she joined an alcohol treatment program and hasn't touched alcohol since 1980.
At the United Nations, she will also speak about the plight of aboriginal women across the country and the high murder rates among her peers in Vancouver and Edmonton.
Craig Foye, staff lawyer for McQuesten Legal and Community Services, said it is important for the UN committee to hear people like Silversmith.
plegall AT thespec.com
Archived: Sat Apr 29, 2006 1:17 am