Protesters stand on a blockade during a confrontation with OPP officers on Thursday.
Six Nations Native protesters stand guard at a barricade on Highway 6 in Caledonia, Ontario on Thurssday, April 20, 2006. (CP / Frank Gunn)
Six Nations Native protesters stand guard at a barricade by the Douglas Creed Estates housing project in Caledonia, Ontario on Thursday, April 20, 2006. (CP / Frank Gunn)
OPP Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon speaks during a press conference in Cayuga, Ontario on Thursday.
Native protesters return after clash with police
Updated Thu. Apr. 20 2006 11:34 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
Native protesters are staking their claim to a disputed tract of land in southwestern Ontario, after a pre-dawn police raid to break up a seven-week-old occupation backfired on Thursday.
Police helicopters hovered overhead as protesters blocked roads, climbed atop buildings and set tires alight -- sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the air.
Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Maurice Pilon described the clashes as "very difficult for all involved" and confirmed that 16 protesters had been arrested.
Urging calm, Pilon insisted his officers "showed tremendous restraint," adding that two officers sustained injuries during the confrontation.
"Our focus is to try and find a peaceful resolution...violence is not the answer," he told a news briefing in Cayuga, Ont., Thursday.
Earlier, protester Hazel Hill told CTV that she had struggled with up to five police officers.
"People were pepper sprayed...another man was shot in the back with a Taser and we were told more police officers would be coming back," Hill said.
Despite the confrontation, CTV's Kathy Tomlinson said both sides could resume talks as early as Friday.
"We were told that they were actually getting quite close to a settlement, despite how long this has been going on," she said.
"They were talking as late as (Wednesday). They're saying they're gong to talk again tomorrow, and there's a lot of hope on both sides that a settlement is imminent."
As night approached, a busload of supporters from other reserves in the province arrived. More were expected through the night at a tent city resembling a makeshift refugee camp.
Truckloads of gravel and barricades blocked the main road into the disputed land, a 40-hectare tract where some 250 homes are slated for construction.
Since Feb. 28, dozens of Six Nations protesters have occupied the Douglas Creek Estates housing project in Caledonia, a quiet suburban community near Hamilton, Ont., which they say sits on native land.
The protestors argue that the site was part of a large land grant back in 1784, but the provincial and federal governments insist the land was surrendered in 1841 to help build a major highway.
An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the protesters to leave last month, but they ignored the order.
Police then staged a pre-dawn raid Thursday morning, two days after talks to end the dispute broke down.
Protester Mike Desroches told reporters at the scene that police arrived "incredibly quickly with overwhelming force," just before 5 a.m.
Desroches said police were armed with guns, tear gas and Tasers and "completely swarmed the territory," but there was initially no sign of violence.
Another protester, Janie Jamieson, said the confrontation was far from over and occupiers were bracing for another visit by police.
"We're prepared . . . for however long it takes," said Jamieson.
David General, the chief elected council of Six Nations, told CTV Newsnet there was only a "couple dozen people" on the site of the occupation.
He said he believed the issue could be worked out, but there must be political will.
"We can talk all we want, but there is no political resolve to this right now," he said.
Talks to resolve the dispute are set to resume Friday between the federal and provincial government and protesters.
Meanwhile, Ontario's Provincial Liberals were criticized by opposition MPPs who demanded to know if the provincial government had played a role in the confrontation.
"Your ministers have known about this situation for a year," Conservative Opposition Leader John Tory said.
He questioned Premier Dalton McGuinty about why the situation was allowed to reach a level where tire fires have been lit by protesters and police used pepper spray and Taser guns.
Provincial New Democrats went further, suggesting McGuinty knew the OPP was going to move on the protesters.
"I have a hard time believing they took action on their own," Gilles Bisson, the NDP native affairs critic, told reporters.
"I have to think that the government had to know what was going on."
Bisson also said McGuinty must tell the public whether he had advance warning of the raid when he said during Wednesday's Question Period that the government was taking the necessary steps for a peaceful resolution.
McGuinty's office had made no comment on the situation Thursday.
Bisson said the raid suggested the provincial government had not learned the lessons of Ipperwash, which took place under former Conservative premier Mike Harris.
The aboriginal occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 resulted in the death of protester Dudley George from a police sniper's bullet.
George's death prompted accusations of police and government racism and an inquiry that is still ongoing.
With files from CTV's Kathy Tomlinson and The Canadian Press