I had an interesting visit yesterday with the people occupying the gravel/fossil quarry at Deseronto.
Just a few notes:
* The occupation of the quarry may, in the near term, be a mistake. Unlike at Caledonia and Ipperwash, there's little of value at the site, and local gravel quarries outside the disputed area are making up the slack. Except for the quarry owner, no one's being incovenienced by the occupation. I doubt there will be much media attention for the quarry occupation, even in the medium term. This may be a frustrating situation for the occupiers, who know that blocking the rail line a few hundred metres away causes much more disruption and gets serious, immediate media coverage.
* The people occupying the property are dedicated to staying for a while. There are a couple of trailers, a new board and batten pavilion for meals, and even a little playground for the kids.
* There doesn't seem to be much interest in the so-called stand-off from non-Native officials. There's no sign of the OPP or RCMP (not that they'd do much, anyway).
* I didn't know the property used to be an air training base in the war. Once someone starts pointing things on the property out to you -- the fire hydrants in the fields, the Quonset hut that's a neighbour's house -- it does become obvious. They may have a point that the land was, like Ipperwash, taken for war service and not given back. However, in their media coverage, this aspect has never been drawn out.
* People at the occupation make varying claims of aboriginal ownership. The "cause" of the dispute is not clear. Originally, gravel was being taken from the site for a condo development the Mohawks opposed (last fall's version). In April, the occupiers claimed the quarry land itself. Yesterday, the young, blond guy doing most of the talking said the Mohawks want the non-native village of Deseronto (population 2000) handed over soon, along with most of the adjacent township. Negotiations, he said, would soon begin between his group and the residents of the community. The long-term goal was compensation for a strip of land from Gananoque, 40 kilometres east of Kingston, to Brighton, 30 km west of Trenton, and going "way up north". This claim takes in the cities of Kingston (pop. 130,000), Belleville (40,000), Trenton (20,000, with adjacent CFB Trenton), the yuppie vineyard area of Prince Edward County, and a rural area of mixed farms.
This is a ludicrous claim, a demand for land far in excess of the 97,000 acres of the original British grant. The area, historically, was Huron land and was never settled for any extended peiod of time by the Mohawks or any other Iroquois.
* The people I talked with seemed unaware that the Mohawks at Tayindinaga came from from the U.S. after the War of Independence. The Mohawks had supported the British against the Americans. They couldn't explain anything about the size of their original land grant, and how it was reduced (from the original 97,000 acres to today's 18,000 acres. The people at the occupation should get up to speed on their own history. The band explains it all on its web site.
* The Tayindiniga Mohawk territory is one of the most prosperous reserves I've seen. It doesn't have much ugly Indian Affairs housing. There are quite a few middle-class looking houses, nice vehicles, RVs, and lots of boats, ATVs and stuff. It's one of the few Indian reserves I've seen where the Native people are about as well-off as the non-Natives around them. There is certainly an entreprenuerial side to the Mohawks of Tayindiniga, who make the best of their tax-free status. If there is a poverty issue at Tayindiniga, it could be relatively easy to fix.
* An older Mohawk man at the occupation site said there's pressure on the Tayindiniga reserve because many young people are moving back. That's an unusual state of affairs on Native reserves. Now, who has the obligation to cover the cost of resettling people and building homes for them? Most people on the reserve have built houses on small acreages, and it is possible that the reserve, which can hardly be considered by any fair person to have the land base to support more than a few hundred families, could become crowded.
Monday morning update
Maybe this new system will separate the good cases from the bad.