As rain drizzles onto the old stone cobbles outside the Law Society of Upper Canada on Queen West this August 21, Six Nations activists are giving the org, to which every Ontario lawyer belongs, a back-to-school history lesson.
It's being taught by Janie Jamieson, one of the originators of the ongoing Caledonia reclamation. She charges that the venerable society, founded in 1797, was funded in part by money stolen from the Six Nations trust.
"Canada has a deep-rooted history in regards to its illegal activity and discrimination against Indians," she says, addressing 30 supporters outside the Law Society's building.
Jamieson's argument comes from Six Nations perusal of archival Indian Affairs records. These, Aboriginal legal experts say, demonstrate clearly that money raised by the Crown through selling or leasing Six Nations land in the 18th and 19th centuries and supposedly held in trust for them was siphoned off to many government projects, with no record of repayment.
Among these were cash payments made to fund budding municipalities and various public works and a mystery 1847 transfer in the amount of $1,000 to the Law Society of Upper Canada.
"Our money was used to run many projects that created this country," says Six Nations' Philip Monture, who has spent 30 years researching issues related to land rights.
"Between the 1830s and Confederation, our money was used to start running the country. There were no financial institutions per se that were creating revenues like Six Nations lands were. We built a lot of the infrastructure within the province of Ontario today, and we've got no returns for it."
At Indian and Northern Affairs , media rep Patricia Valladao responds that a lot of complex historical issues are at stake, and ongoing negotiations between Six Nations and government are a painstaking process. "The parties have to work through these challenging issues," she says, "but the use of the media in negotiations is not conducive to a peaceful and timely result."
And the Law Society itself? The organization exists, it says, to uphold the "independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession." It's made its home in Osgoode Hall, famous for its ghosts, but it seems unaware of this embarrassing skeleton rattling in its closet.
"The issue predates Confederation, and the Law Society is conducting a search of archival records,' says spokesperson Susan Tonkin. "We don't have all the necessary information available yet."
Native rights lawyer Chris Reid, attending the rally, points out, "One of the issues we've raised both in the case of Caledonia and in the case of the Ardoch Algonquins and uranium is the failure of Canada and the government of Ontario to respect their own law and the many treaties or agreements that have been made with Indian nations."
A sign carried by a tall Mohawk man puts the argument succinctly: "Break a treaty break a law."
Meanwhile on the campaign trail, Conservative John Tory steps into Mike Harris's brimstone-scented tracks in this election with a promise of zero tolerance for Aboriginal occupations.
Tory is using the oldest trick in the New World: turning legitimate native protestors into criminals in the eyes of the public. In this day and age, governments accomplish this by stalling on landclaim negotiations and then relying on the courts to grant injunctions. It's a strategy that the Ipperwash Inquiry found repugnant.
Caledonia demonstrators defying a court order faced a violent OPP raid a year ago last April, holding lands they never relinquished.
The Algonquin today face similar issue in their anti-uranium blockade at Sharbot Lake near Kingston."Every time a judge has made an injunction against indigenous people, it has led to more violence against us,' says Robert Lovelace, a former Ardoch Algonquin chief who is showing his support at the Law Society protest.
As the protest winds down, lawyer Sarah Dover offers to take demonstrators to see the Law Society's replica of the two-row wampum a document in the form of a beaded belt, one of the earliest treaties between European settlers and the Haudenosaunee, the centuries-old Iroquois confederacy.
A motley crew bearing cameras, signs and a baby, we file in past three skittish security officers. Even the baby is walked through the metal detector. We tiptoe upstairs, through a maze of marble, mahogany and tapestry.
A couple of demonstrators point upward. Glowing above our heads, embedded in a stained glass window, are images of wampum belts. Like the relationship between Canada and the Iroquois, these windows and this building are older than Canada. Like Osgoode Hall itself, the rule of law is built on earlier foundations.
In a quiet back stairwell, we find the replica wampum, presented when Mohawk Michael Mitchell of Akwesasne was called to the bar. Two parallel beaded rows represent the two sovereign nations: the canoe of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and the boat of the settler peoples from other parts of the world who came to stay. Though they travel the same river, they don't intertwine or merge. Two parallel lines move forward, side by side together.