Group prays for healing in land claim dispute

Nina Burnham, an Anglican elder from the southern Ontario Six Nations reserve, initiated a healing gathering that prayed for a peaceful resolution to a disputed land claim in nearby Caledonia, Ont.
Nina Burnham, an Anglican elder from the southern Ontario Six Nations reserve, initiated a healing gathering that prayed for a peaceful resolution to a disputed land claim in nearby Caledonia, Ont.
Published October 1, 2006

Oshwegan, Ont.
Church leaders, including Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, joined native and non-native Caledonia and Six Nations residents on the banks of the historic Grand River Aug. 30 to pray for a peaceful resolution to the disputed aboriginal land claim in Caledonia.

“After all the hurt and the offence over the disputed land, there is a need for healing and reconciliation,” said Archbishop Hutchison at an inter-faith healing gathering attended by about 200 people at Chiefswood Park.

At the same time, he said, healing and reconciliation cannot happen until there’s an acknowledgement of fault. “Let us pray that as the days ahead unfold, we may be prepared to own the faults that are ours and to forgive the faults of others.”

Bishops Ralph Spence of Niagara, Bruce Howe and Bob Bennett of Huron and Rev. Christine McMaster, parish priest of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Caledonia, also attended the gathering, which was organized by Anglican native elder and prominent Six Nations activist Nina Burnham and Rev. Norman Casey, rector of the Parish of Six Nations.

“Let us come together as one people to pray for each other and for healing the hurt we have caused each other,” said a written invitation to the gathering, dubbed A:Se Tyotahsawen (A New Start).

A painting by Iroquois artist Arnold Jacobs depicting the contributions of Six Nations veterans to Canada was unveiled at the start of the program and served as stage backdrop.

“We have always considered ourselves allied to the Crown. We’ve always considered ourselves as allies, not subjects,” said Allan McNaughton, Mohawk chief. “We could never condone conflicts. We have sued for peace always.” He added that First Nations people had stood by the Crown during the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, among others.

“You have to understand the history that led to Caledonia,” he added. “There are conversations that need to happen. We have to move away from financial considerations and look at the land in relationship to the earth. It is our duty to protect it for the future.”

Arnie General, Onondaga chief, also spoke about the need to be good stewards of the land. “When we look around us, we’re losing land left and right for the sake of the dollar.”

The dispute in Caledonia began when Six Nations protesters occupied the 380,000-hectare tract of land after builders began erecting houses there last February. Six Nations protesters argue that the British Crown had granted the land on either side of the Grand River to the Six Nations in 1784.

In 1999, the Six Nations filed a land claim suit over the area. The occupation and subsequent road blockades around Caledonia had led to clashes between protesters and non-native residents.

In an attempt to end the conflict, the Ontario government bought the land from the developer last July and has put it in trust pending negotiations between the province and the protesters.

David Giuliano, who was recently elected moderator of the United Church of Canada, told the crowd that he was pleased to spend his first day on the job praying for peace. “We live in a world of brokenness – within ourselves, our families, communities and our relationship with creation,” he said.

He paid tribute to Ms. Burnham for having a vision of healing and reconciliation. “It’s important for people to voice their vision and share their dreams. If Nina hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Ms. McMaster, whose own community has been torn apart by the conflict, called on those gathered to “pray for the ability to rebuild trust, hope, peace and love for one another.”

Rev. Ray Hawkins of the Caledonia Baptist Church, whose church is near the disputed land, underscored the need to work for peace “so we do not leave a heritage of anger and injustice.”


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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