Six Nations, Brantford: 'I'm here until it's all resolved'
Native protesters have erected a tent on the Hampton Inn site on Fen Ridge Court to give notice that construction must stop. So far, work is continuing on the hotel project.
It can be a solitary existence watching over Six Nations protest sites on Fen Ridge Court in the city's northwest business park.
For a native man known as Runs Through the Fire, it was that way on Monday morning. Sitting under a small tent in front of a silent construction site -- where Kingspan Insulation has been attempting to build a new headquarters and warehouse -- Runs Through the Fire was the lone native activist watching over the property.
He said he plans to stay until the current land claims dispute between Six Nations and government comes to a resolution.
"I'm here until it's all resolved," he said. "Either that or until they kill me or put me in jail. I'm fully aware of what repercussions could come my way. But, if they do put me in jail, I will be a political prisoner.
"I'll go with my head held high with no shame in what I'm doing."
Runs Through the Fire -- given his native name as a child on Six Nations -- has been at Fen Ridge Court since native protesters established a full-time presence there in mid-July, arguing developments are taking place on Six Nations land.
Two protest sites have been set up on the dead-end street, one near the Kingspan site, the other in front of a nearby Hampton Inn hotel development. The sites are marked by the presence of Six Nations flags, scattered tents, as well as a teepee.
No work was taking place at the Kingspan site Monday morning, but construction the hotel property. Runs Through the Fire said that from two to 10 native supporters usually monitor the sites but, for a time on Monday, there was only one.
Native activists have been a constant fixture on Fen Ridge Court despite Brantford's attempt to stop Six Nations protests through a court injunction, which the city was granted in early June. Runs Through the Fire said the city's legal action was ill considered.
"The injunction was put in place to scare us out of here," he said. "They should have learned the lesson of Caledonia -- it just infuriated our people."
He said he liked a proposal recently put forward by city Coun. James Calnan to stop development on sites in the city under claim by Six Nations. Such a move could help ease tensions between the native and non-native communities, he said.
"It would be enough for now. That's all we're asking -- for everything to stop until these claims are resolved."
Still, most Six Nations supporters don't see a resolution to their land claims dispute with government happening anytime soon.
"They keep dragging it on and finding new stall tactics," he said. "They're hoping to stall until my generation forgets about it. We're not going to forget.
"I know myself, I might not see the outcome of it, but we're fighting for the next seven generations."
While Runs Through the Fire said he is fighting for a better future by taking part in Six Nations protests, he's also honouring his past. His father -- now deceased -- attended Brantford's native residential school on Mohawk Street and was left with haunting memories of the experience.
"I want to make him proud," he said. "I want to make my ancestors proud."
City police officers are never far from Fen Ridge Court, and Runs Through the Fire sees the role of local law enforcement in the land claims dispute as similar to that of protesters. Relations between natives and city police were fine, he said, until the July 14 arrest of protester Dwayne Scott Maracle, who blocked two cement trucks attempting to enter the Kingspan site.
"Their role is similar to ours -- to keep the peace," he said. "Up until (the arrest), they were keeping the peace, but I understand they have a job to do and they have to do it."
While a Six Nations protest at a former housing development in Caledonia has led to clashes between police, natives and Caledonia residents, Runs Through the Fire feels there is a "world of difference" between what's happening in Brantford and what happened in Caledonia.
"A lot of people here in Brantford don't want the development," he said.
But he feels growing tension between the local native and non-native communities as a result of Six Nations ongoing protests in the Brantford area. He's had racial slurs directed toward him and even been told to "get a job."
"It's getting painful to hear," he said. "Me, as an Indian person, this is my job. What I'd say to Brantford is try not to make it a racial issue. It's a land issue for all people. Once it's a racial issue, you'll get what happened in Oka, in Ipperwash and Caledonia.
"We don't want violence here any more than anyone else does. We want to settle this peacefully."
Runs Through the Fire said Six Nations' fight to stop environmental destruction by protecting its land base isn't only being undertaken for the native community.
"It's not just our problem. It's everybody in Canada's problem, everybody in North America's problem."
He said people shouldn't be afraid of the Six Nations protest on Fen Ridge Court, which is partly set up alongside the Brantford to Paris rail trail. Local residents are welcome in the area, he said.
"Anybody who wants to use these nature trails -- ride their bike or walk their dog -- they're welcome to. I know seeing the (Six Nations) flags can be intimidating, but we want people to enjoy the trails and nature."