Reclaiming Ancient Iroquois Burial Grounds In Toronto’s High Park

Chief Arnie General stands on what many believe are ancient Iroquian burial grounds in High Park. | Toronto Star

Chief Arnie General stands on what many believe are ancient Iroquian burial grounds in High Park. | Toronto Star

To Indigenous people, burial grounds are to be given proper respect and should never be disturbed

Much progress was achieved during the May 2011 occupation to preserve Snake Mound, one of 57 remaining ancient Haudenosaunee burial mounds in Toronto’s High Park, near the edge of Lake Ontario.

For years, BMX riders had been desecrating the area, — known to the Indigenous community as Snake (or Serpent) Mounds — by excavating the mounds to build a dirt track.

In April, Chief Arnie General, accompanied by Clan mothers and Faith keepers from Six Nations, went to Snake mound to see what they believe are ancient Iroquoian burial grounds dating back 3,000 years.

The Snake mounds were carved into rounded hills, jumps and dips. For the many who believe the site is sacred, it was the ultimate disrespect.

“I feel very disgusted with the people here in this area,” said Six Nations Chief Arnie General. “Maybe not all are of the (same) mentality, but those who don’t care about my people.”

BMX course photo Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society

BMX course photo Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society

The Haudenosaunee community and the Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society (THPS) had been lobbying the city of Toronto for over eleven years, to protect the sacred grounds and restore the area.

In April, a meeting was set up between the THPS and Toronto City Councillor Sarah Doucette where she was presented with information about the Snake Mound, and that the City of Toronto’s main archeologist Ron Williamson, was working under a suspended license. The state of his credentials had not been denied. Doucette said she would research the issue and then respond, however, there was no subsequent contact.

In early May, a group of residents local to High Park formed the Friends Of Snake Mound (FOSM) to support the work done by the THPS. The two groups hosted an information event that garnered a flurry of media attention both good and bad. The mainstream media perpetuated the lack of scientific rigor and ethical handling of the situation by the city and Toronto Parks Board by parroting the position that there is no archeological site at Snake Mound. Fortunately, there was one point of agreement: that the BMX activity was destroying the natural environment.

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While many members of the BMX community acknowledged the special environmental and historical value of the site, many others remained intransigent.

Despite concerns within the Snake Mound-support community as to whether further changes in the landscape might adversely affect the site, it became evident that taking down the jumps was the only way to stop the greater danger of cycling.

In order to see the site repaired, it was agreed that Peacekeepers from the Native rights group Red Power United would be brought in at request of the Clan mothers, Chief Arnie General and the THPS — to take on the dismantling of the bike jumps and help with reconstruction of the mounds.

While each party’s motivation were starkly different, the ends would be the same.

A camp setup amongst BMX bicycle jumps on what many believe are ancient native burial grounds in Toronto’s High Park, Monday afternoon, May 16, 2011.

Red Power United peacekeepers set up a camp in middle of the BMX track and amongst jumps made on what many Indigenous people believe are ancient Iroquois burial grounds in Toronto’s High Park, May 2011.

On May 13th, the peacekeepers with support from the FOSM and THPS started to occupy the disputed burial grounds at High Park.

Harrison Friesen, a spokesperson and Red Power United peacekeeper, told BASICS, “This has been an issue that has been going on for eleven years.” — Trying to get the jumps taken down and get the city to keep the bikers out.

“It came to a head when we had a meeting with city hall and the Toronto police. A decision was made amongst our peacekeepers that enough is enough.”

“We basically had to let them know that we don’t work for the city, we don’t work for the police. This ain’t nine to five for us, this is part of our culture, part of who we are as native people.”

Surprisingly, there was no animosity directed towards the bmx bikers.

Rastia'ta'non:ha (aka David Redwolf)

Rastia’ta’non:ha (aka David Redwolf)

“It’s a very good thing that’s happening down there,” [Snake Mound] said Rastia’ta’non:ha (aka David Redwolf), executive director of the THPS.

Rastia’ta’non:ha, whose name means “Protector of the Ancestors,” had been assigned by Clan Mothers, the task of protecting the mounds and to get Toronto officials to designate snake mound and other historically significant sites, off limits, so that they could be restored and protected.

Rastia’ta’non:ha and the peacekeepers used what’s known as the 1792 ‘Gun Shot Treaty,’ which allowed Native people the right to camp and hunt within sixty-six feet of any lake or river.

Within days, the City of Toronto provided permits to have fires to keep warm, a port-o-potty and a shed to store tools. While the City rejected any idea of a native burial ground it appeared they had given into the occupiers.

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City of Toronto. Parks, Forestry & Recreation staff, stand beside a Unity /Warrior Flag.

While much of Manitoba was fighting back epic floodwaters and Albertans were witnessing raging wildfires in Slave Lake, the Battle of Snake Mound was making headlines in Toronto.

“The Natives are revolting!” cried the people.

“Yes they are!” agreed the press.

Toronto’s public High Park had been torn apart —literally limb by limb— by BMXers using their off-road mountain bikes as a destructive force against a piece of inner-city nature.

But, instead of condemning these miscreants, the media had instead turned on a small group of Native rights activists who, with the city’s invitation and permission, had put up an encampment and had begun repairing the damage caused by a youthful gang of cyclists with little or no respect for public property.

It even made the front page of the National Post.

Toronto Sun columnist, Joe Warmington, even cited the Natives’ “illegal campsite” — a pejorative slightly less provocative than “occupation” — as a land claim grab (it wasn’t), and then he wondered where the protesters would find their next bogus traditional burial ground within Toronto’s urban plain.

Several News crews arrive the High Park occupation.

Several news crews arrive at the High Park occupation.

As the media questioned both the validity of the Natives claim to the site being a burial ground and the city of Toronto’s testing, Friesen said that he wasn’t concerned with the media or the city’s tests, as “we follow our traditions and oral history, the things that are passed down from generation to generation, tell us that this is a sacred burial site.”

Amongst Native people oral history is as important as scientific proof.

Friesen also put into question the legitimacy of the tests, “we don’t agree that they’ve tested in this area. They say they’ve done 40 tests in here, but it wasn’t in here. It was around various parts outside of the area. And the guy that did the testing wasn’t licensed. He didn’t have a license to do the testing.”

William Chief of Red Power United is one of the native men and women who have begun to dig to rehabilitate an area in the south end of Toronto?s High Park that they call Snake Mounds. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

William Chief of Red Power United is one of the native men and women who have begun to dig to rehabilitate an area in the south end of Toronto?s High Park that they call Snake Mounds. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

To bring an end to the dispute the city negotiated with the group, who said they would leave once a temporary fence was put in place to protect the area and provided they could return each day to help with restoration, they believe resembles the original burial ground.

Finally, after eleven years, the city of Toronto employees were at the site, putting up the requested fence.

One of the Native rights activists remarked, that he had never seen a fence go up so quickly. “Apparently, the city won’t listen to you unless you act.”

The self-described First Nation’s occupiers of High Park have promised to tear down their illegal campsite wrote Warmington in Sun News.

“If they are true to their word, it very well may have been the fastest Native land claim settlement in Canadian history.”

The next day, the Natives, to their credit, packed up their tents, extinguished their ceremonial fire just as they had promised at the outset and ended their five-day occupation.

Red Power United Peacekeepers take down flags after the reclaiming of the Snake Mounds in Toronto’s High Park. May 2011

Red Power United Peacekeepers take down flags after the reclaiming of the Snake Mounds in Toronto’s High Park. May 2011

In the end, Margaret Dougherty a city of Toronto spokeswoman said “We do not recognize it [Snake Mound] as burial ground nor is it recognized by authoritative experts as such.” She said the province also accepted the city’s conclusions.

“The space is ecologically significant, and we’ve reminded bikers that off road biking isn’t allowed and we intend to enforce our bylaw.”

According to Dougherty, cooperating with the Natives wasn’t a sign the city recognized their claims to the area. Despite, at the time city staff had no problem with Native groups — which were not sanctioned by the city as community organizations — helping dismantle the BMX ramps,  or agreeing to the condition that they be allowed to assist in the rehabilitation of the site.

Gary McHale with the Canadian flag in hand and CANACE

At the end of May, extreme right-wing anti-native activist Gary McHale arrived in High Park from Caledonia to “protest” what he called “Mohawk Warriors” who he falsely claimed were occupying the site and who, he claimed, wanted to keep everyone who is not native off the land.

In a Joint News Release by CANACE and the Caledonia Victims Project, Mchale said “We will begin with speeches and hand out literature. We will then march down towards the illegal occupation and – in keeping with the new City of Toronto policy – post signs declaring “No Whites Allowed,” “No Jews Allowed,” “No Blacks Allowed.” Literature will be handed out to local homeowners about the danger near their homes.”

The morning of May 28th, Toronto Police contacted McHaleabout his plans and also informed him that people were not allowed in the fenced off area. At the same time the Toronto Police made it clear to him that no one would be permitted to attack him personally or any member of his group.

While McHale’s distortions appear ridiculous, they result from and flourish under the attitudes of government, the Parks and police who all did their part in suppressing the Iroquoian history of Toronto, and in attempting to deny access of Indigenous people to their sites.

Snake Mound New Fence Looking east July 10, 2011

Snake Mound New Fence Looking east July 10, 2011

According to Jon Johnson, an adjunct professor at York University, High Park is one of the few places in the city that hasn’t been developed, and documented, undisturbed burial grounds have been found there.

To Indigenous people, burial grounds are to be given proper respect and should never be disturbed. It is also understood, the living have a responsibility to ensure protection of their ancestors remains. In return their ancestors continue to guide and protect present and future generations.

Despite the attack on authenticity of the Snake Mounds by national media and racist groups, the five-day occupation by First Nations forced the park and city officials to uphold their responsibilities for protection of the area surrounding the Iroquois burial mounds in high park

Sadly, David Redwolf, director of the Taiaiako’n Historical Preservation Society and keeper of the Mounds passed away Jan 22, 2012. Arnie General, Chief of the Onondaga Beaver Clan also died peacefully in Hamilton on April 10, 2016 in his 84th year.

By Red Power Media, Staff, Updated April 21, 2016

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Exclusive: The Red Power Conspiracy Theory And Burning RCMP Cars

Lastrealindians/Facebook

Conspiracy theorists spreading disinformation about torching of RCMP vehicles 

In the aftermath of the RCMP raid on the anti-fracking blockade in Mi’kmaq territory, there emerged a conspiracy theory that the six police vehicles set on fire were the act of police informants acting as agent provocateurs.

In particular, one individual has been identified and publicly labelled a police informant: Harrison Friesen. It has been implied that he, along with one or two others, were responsible for several Molotov cocktails thrown at police lines and the torching of the police vehicles in Rexton, New Brunswick.

We saw similar conspiracy theories promoted following the Toronto G20 protests during which four cop cars were burned in the downtown core. Conspiracy theorists said the burnt cruisers were “junk vehicles” planted to incite violence or distract anarchists from reaching the security fence, and that the police set their own cars on fire to justify their massive police operation and violent repression of protesters. Not a single piece of evidence ever emerged to prove these theories about the G20 protests.

More than 40 people were prosecuted for their parts in the June 26th rampage where Toronto Police Headquarters was damaged, shop windows smashed and media vehicles trashed by a breakaway Black Bloc group attacking symbols of capitalism.

Toronto G20 police car fire, photo by john hanley (flickr)

But, is it true Harrison Friesen set the RCMP car fires?

His past tells a different story

Friesen, an indigenous rights activist and land defender from Bigstone Cree Nation in northern Alberta came into prominence during the 2010 ‘No Olympics on Stolen Native Land‘ campaign and Toronto G20 as the leader of Red Power United a radical faction from the Red Power Movement.

In May 2010, the media reported, that Red Power activists had announced a day of action on June 24th, just as world leaders would descend on Huntsville, Ont., for the G8 and Toronto for the G20. The group said blockades were planned for either Hwy 400 or Hwy 403. An array of world leaders, including Canada’s PM Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, were to be at the G8 and G20 summits.

Indigenous leadership from reserves had also planned to block major highways on June 24th to protest the Ontario government’s plans to apply Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) towards them. But one week before the blockade, the government decided not to apply the HST to indigenous communities, and band councils cancelled the protest.

But Friesen ignored the wishes of the band councils and announced that he would still be running blockades. This, of course, was something his fellow radicals could agree with because of their dislike for the chief and council system.

G20 Toronto Protest

Harrison Friesen, from Red Power United, speaks at the G20 Toronto Protest

It was expected the blockades would interrupt the G8 motorcade, making its way from Huntsville to Toronto for the larger group of Twenty summit. The goal was to draw international media attention to First Nations issues.

Al Jazeera wrote in the article, Canada’s brewing ‘insurgency, that Friesen’s plans for the blockade “could wreak havoc on the summit and cast light on Canada’s darkest shame.”

CSIS intimidation 

Next Friesen agreed to meet with a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) agent to discuss his plans for a blockade during the G20. He wasn’t meeting as an informant, but instead brought APTN News along to secretly tape. His intention was to embarrass CSIS with the recording.

Activists were provided with a microphone, then from a distance, APTN shot a video showing a CISIS agent talking to Friesen. The female agent warned, that any blockade on Highway 400 would be a “bad idea.” She’s heard saying “I will tell you straight up, there [are] other forces from other countries that will not put up with a blockade in front of their president”. Friesen, told APTN he viewed the agent’s warning as a “threat.”

The woman on the tape also appeared to be seeking information on the anarchist group that claimed responsibility for the May 18 firebombing of a Royal Bank branch in Ottawa. Along with a statement that made reference to Indigenous rights; and the Royal Bank was targeted because it was a sponsor of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

First Nations groups spoke out publicly about the bombing to establish that it was not done in their name, including the Toronto G20 organizing group for Indigenous Solidarity actions on June 24. Red Power United also spoke out against the arson saying their group denounced such violence.

None of the men linked to the RBC firebombing were Indigenous.

However, the statement condemning the bombing had garnered backlash for Friesen from his radical comrades.

G20, Red Power United, Harrison Friesen (in the Public Enemies T-shirt) engages Toronto police officers. Photo: by Isha Thompson Windspeaker

G20, Red Power United, Harrison Friesen (in the Public Enemies T-shirt) engages Toronto police officers. Photo: Isha Thompson Windspeaker

In the end, the G20 blockades never happened. Although it was rumored Friesen’s group had lost support, sources from within the movement told Red Power Media the blockade was called off due to security concerns that another group of protesters were going to attempt to breach the G20 fence on June 24th, possibly endangering peaceful First Nations demonstrators. The blockaders were told to stand down and take on peacekeeping duties.

Intelligence reports 

The G20 summit was one of the largest domestic intelligence operations in Canadian history. An RCMP -led joint intelligence group (JIG) collaborated with provincial and local police to do threat assessments, run undercover operations and monitor activists. The surveillance was widespread. And RCMP records suggest that the reconnaissance continued. Report logs indicate at least 29 incidents of police surveillance between the end of the G20 summit and April 2011.

In Oct 2011, The Globe and Mail reported, a military intelligence unit had assembled at least eight reports on the activities of native organizations between January, 2010, and July, 2011. The documents alerted the military to events such as native plans for a protest blockade of Highway 401, and the possibility of a backlash among aboriginal groups over Ontario’s introduction of the HST. The memos also devoted a lot of space to future protests and lobbying on Parliament Hill by native groups, including Red Power United.

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Blockade supporters (Harrison Friesen center) confront RCMP officers. Oct 17, 2013.

On October 19, 2013,  wrote an article A Fog Of War Surrounding New Brunswick Protest which included a photo that was being shared on social media as proof that Harrison Friesen is guilty for the burning the RCMP vehicles.

“I began asking questions right away, to anyone I saw posting it” said Wilson, asking for further evidence. “I have been told about his apparent history of violence and extreme actions. Been told that people have spoken to people, who say he did it, And much more like that. But nothing that constitutes as evidence. It seems to be a lot of conjecture by people who are not there and are looking for a way to separate violent actions from the protesters and direct it to the RCMP.”

Smear campaigns

Unfortunately, not all media outlets or bloggers can be trusted either, it is well known co-ops across the country, rabble.ca, occupy, etc., have engaged in tactics of slander against many activists and journalists alike to discredit those they disagree with or eliminate any rivals within circles. Labeling First Nations radicals like Friesen, as CSIS agents, CIA or Police ‘informants’, racists, and just about anything they can come up with to demonize people. They will repeatedly throw out false claims. The Halifax media co-op is also responsible for putting out incorrect information about Friesen in Rexton.

Meanwhile some supporters of Friesen believe a possibility exists he was the target of a RCMP smear campaign to break up an alliance between the Mi’kmaq warrior society and the Red Power United faction, whose plan was to help prolong the siege of SWN fracking equipment and fortify the encampment.

State law enforcement agencies such as the RCMP have been known to spread disinformation and even tell flat out lies. In 1995, during the Gustafsen Lake Standoff, RCMP officers were caught on video planning mass media smear campaigns against the Native protesters.

To backup the claim that police would participate in burning their own vehicles again, conspiracy theorists found an actual example of the RCMP blowing up an oil installation. In 2000, a Canadian lawyer exposed in court a RCMP-big business conspiracy, when a unit of the RCMP executed a false-flag bombing on an oil site in Alberta. The oil company in question colluded with the Mounties in the staged attack, then blamed it on anti-oilpatch activist Wiebo Ludwig.

In the article Statement on Provocateurs, Informants, and the conflict in New Brunswick in Warrior Publications, Zig Zag, writes, according to those re-posting this old bit of news, if the RCMP would blow up an “oil installation” in northern Alberta, what’s to stop them from torching their own vehicles in New Brunswick?

In New Brunswick, we are told, it was to justify the acts of repression carried out by the RCMP. But those acts of repression were already in motion, long before the police cars were set on fire. In their own statements, the RCMP justify their raid on the basis of alleged threats made to SWN employees, the presence of firearms, and general concerns for public safety.

If police are going to go through the efforts of staging an attack on their own resources, it is only logical they would do this prior to a raid thereby justifying the raid itself.  It is highly unlikely they would instruct an informant to do so after the raid has begun, a raid already justified by “public safety” concerns, etc.

In fact, the burning of the six police vehicles appears to be a response to the raid. But there are those who seek to dampen the fighting spirit of our warriors by implying that any act of militant resistance is a police conspiracy. Some of these people are pacifists, ideologically committed to nonviolent acts, while some are conspiracy theorists who see the hand of the “Illuminati” behind any acts of resistance.

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RCMP vehicles burn in Rexton NB on Oct 17, 2013. Image: subMedia.tv

Documents give new insight 

Earlier in 2014, a provincial court judge granted an RCMP request to have access to videotape and photographs taken by CBC News and four other media organizations during a clash between police and anti-shale gas protesters in Rexton. A production order was granted by Judge Anne Horsman in Moncton provincial court. The documents filed with the court offer new insight into the events of Oct. 17, 2013, and what led up to it.

The names of confidential RCMP informants, those suspected of setting fire to the RCMP’s vehicles (Page 11), and witnesses are also among the information. The redacted documents include photographs taken by the RCMP’s high-altitude surveillance plane that show “two individuals who appeared to be responsible for the lighting of three of the RCMP vehicles on fire, however the three other RCMP vehicles were already burning.”

This still image from video taken by the RCMP's high altitude surveillance plane is the best image police have of the two people allegedly responsible for burning a marked RCMP SUV and an RCMP truck on Oct. 17, 2013. (RCMP surveillance photo)

This still image from video taken by the RCMP’s high altitude surveillance plane is the best image police have of the two people allegedly responsible for burning a marked RCMP SUV and an RCMP truck on Oct. 17, 2013.

Police also said someone attempted to burn down the local RCMP station in the middle of the night after the raid. Although, 2 Mi’kmaq warriors were charged with throwing the Molotov cocktails at police during the protest that turned violent. No charges were laid in connection with the RCMP vehicles being set on fire.

A Public Statement by Harrison Friesen:

I want it to be known that I did not light any police cars on fire in Rexton NB and that I am neither a provocateur nor informant. If anything I’m a hated and targeted by law enforcement agencies just like many indigenous activists who defend our sovereignty are. What occurred on social media, was a result of conspiracy theorists,  which was then fueled by those enemies I made because of past mistakes. I was also personally targeted because of my past involvement with AIM protests and the fact that I am supporter of both the AIM Movement and Leonard Peltier. Although Elsipogtog territory is that of the late Annie Mae Aquash and I did not know this going into that action, it still would not have swayed the decision I made to help the Mi’kmaq people protect their water. I only went to Rexton NB as a direct action trainer and peacekeeper from the Red Power Movement, our presence was requested by the Mi’kmaq people from Elsipogtog to help avoid violence. As for the RCMP cars that were burned that day, my only comment is: “It was a protest and people were pissed off because of police repression, it happens.”

Harrison Friesen standing in front of burning RCMP vehicles in Rexton, NB, Oct 17, 2013

This is what one radical journalist, an eyewitness present during the conflict on Oct 17, stated about the burned cop cars and the theories of who burned them:

“To all the people spreading misinfo about provocateurs at Elsipogtog, listen up. RCMP cars were not burned by provocateurs. It was an expression of rage by an angry crowd sick of being trampled by the government. People put their cameras away as the cars were being lit, as to not incriminate comrades and cheered every time one went up in flames. Hundreds of people witnessed this, so drop all the propaganda and snitch jacketing and raise your glass to all the brave peeps who risked life and limb to protect your fuckin water.” – The Stimulator, Oct 18, 2013.

From Warrior Publications:

“In the past, it was common sense that you did not label a person a police informant without substantial evidence. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Informants and police infiltrators have been exposed in the past based on real evidence, through court transcripts or intercepted communications with their handlers, for example. At this point, Harrison is being made a scapegoat by those pacifists and conspiracy theorists who are either opposed to militant resistance on principle, or who see a government conspiracy behind any spectacular event.”

“So far, we have no evidence that Harrison Friesen is an informant or that any agents provocateurs set the cop cars on fire in New Brunswick. And until such evidence is produced, those circulating unsubstantiated claims should cease doing so.” – Zig Zag, Oct 18, 2013.

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It is well known there are ongoing efforts by law enforcement agencies to infiltrate, disorganize and destroy Indigenous resistance movements ― such as the one led by Friesen, which the State considers a threat.

The police have also been known to create fake social media accounts used to obtain information and interfere with activists activities. As it turns out, a Twitter user who goes by the handle @BigPicGuy, Mark McCaw was the original source who attempted to label Friesen as an agent provocateur.

Despite social media speculation about police provocateurs torching their own cars, an eyewitness said the vandalism was carried out by known anti-fracking warriors from Mi’kmaq territory.

There is no proof that Friesen or any member of Red Power United were responsible for the throwing of molotovs or the burning of the RCMP vehicles in Rexton. To date, not a single piece of evidence has surfaced to justify the allegation.

This blog is a collaborative writing with research done by Red Power Media, Staff, including interviews with eyewitnesses and independent journalist present in Elsipogtog on October 17, 2013. Updated Oct 17, 2016.