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  • Conducting Haudenosaunee Historical Research from HomeIn the Shadow of the Six Nations–Caledonia Reclamation
  • Susan M. Hill (bio)

As a historian I expect that most people will not find my research very exciting. I am used to working in a comfortable obscurity that piques the interest of a few but does not draw the gaze of many. But for the last three years that has not been the case. In February 2006 a small group of people from my community of Ohswe:ken (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory) reclaimed a parcel of land that is part of our historic territory and adjacent to our contemporary settlement.1 Caledonia, the town to the southeast of our settlement, is often seen as a dormitory community of Hamilton, Ontario, and Hamilton is seen as a dormitory community of Toronto. Suburban sprawl is consuming the farmlands of southern Ontario, and what had been vacant fields are quickly becoming tracts of repetitious single-family homes. The Six Nations–Caledonia land reclamation has been the focus of national and international attention, with many people wondering why Six Nations people would feel justified in stopping construction of a housing project and refusing to leave the land. My dissertation research, completed in 2005, examined the historical land relationships of the Haudenosaunee on the Grand River Territory. Even though it is not specifically a land claims study, it is the most recent public research related to the history of Six Nations lands, and I have been inundated with phone calls, e-mails, and requests for interviews. Six Nations land history has become a very exciting topic both for the people of Six Nations and for those non-Native people who settled in communities built upon land within the Haldimand Proclamation territory (six miles on each side of the Grand River, from the mouth to the source), which the British Crown promised to forever protect for Haudenosaunee interests over two hundred years ago. And [End Page 479] the relative obscurity I once knew as a Haudenosaunee academic historian has flown right out the window.

The attention, particularly from the media, has been stressful, and this is no less so for those who are actively engaged in "insider" community research. Our relationship to and limited space within the troublesome structure and process of local and national media production in many ways exemplify some of the key issues faced by Indigenous historians working from home. Canadian media have generally ignored complex Native issues, so that when those issues do arise, the media are unfamiliar with the community and unable to distinguish between legitimate spokespeople and individuals with isolated points of view. This is compounded by a media tendency to seek speakers who express extreme opinions and by a community history that respects individual freedom, including freedom of expression. But having a PhD and an Indian status card does not make me a spokesperson for my people. Moreover, I feel that providing a summary of the issues in less than ninety seconds does a disservice to what are complex, difficult matters that deserve careful, concentrated attention. The mainstream press has portrayed a very negative image of all Six Nations people in their coverage of the reclamation. Reporters cut and edit people's statements to fit their idea of the truth, often contributing to the fear and mistrust felt by many on "both sides of the line." I have become increasingly cautious in dealing with reporters, since I have little control over what parts of an interview become public and little leverage if I am quoted out of context.

Finally, I do recognize that the PhD and community membership do make me responsible to help. And that is where I have attempted to focus my energies, primarily in the area of public education and through my work at a local university. Despite the bad press, the reclamation has created an opportunity to raise awareness of our history both inside and outside our community. Along with community leaders, traditional knowledge holders, and other community historians, my work has been focused upon that goal.

What is the Caledonia Reclamation?

On February 28, 2006, a small group of Six Nations people moved onto a...