SIX NATIONS INDIAN RESERVE, Ont. — Aboriginal protesters vowing to stop the Olympic torch from entering their southern Ontario reserve are gathering at the Six Nations boundary line.
Some 20 vehicles are parked on the side of the road leading into the reserve and protesters are flying both Mohawk Warrior and Iroquois Confederacy flags.
The protesters say the Olympic flame has no place on native land.
Six Nations leaders who support the torch run had planned to hold a relay through the reserve but switched gears today and limited the celebrations to the reserve’s bingo hall in the face of the protest.
While Six Nations parks and recreation director Cheryl Henshaw wouldn’t comment on what role the protest played in changing the plan, she did admit to some security concerns. Holding the relay in one location will make it more of a community event, she added.
“We found a better venue which is going to allow the supporters who come out for the event to basically stand in one place and see the torchbearers … carry the flame,” said Henshaw.
The band leadership says the torch will be driven directly to the reserve’s bingo hall and the relay involving some two dozen runners will take place on the hall’s property around 5 p.m.
Protester Missy Elliott said getting the band leadership to change the celebration was a huge victory for the Olympic torch protest movement.
“It’s the first time where any person who has stood up against these torch and Olympics has actually had a success in being able to move the celebration,” Elliott said.
“Different protesters have been able to hold it off for an hour or some time but it’s never been moved so this is a huge significance.”
The protesters say participating in the relay plays into what they say is Canada’s attempt to hide the negative image the country has on the world stage over its treatment of aboriginals.
A reserve official would not comment on whether RCMP or Ontario Provincial Police officers would enter the reserve with the torch.
Members of the Six Nations reserve are also involved in a land dispute over a former housing development on the outskirts of Caledonia.
The land has been occupied by Six Nations protesters since February 2006 and has been the site of a number of violent confrontations between aboriginals and town residents.
On Dec. 8, the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee agreed to drop the usual RCMP escort for the Olympic flame as it passed through a Mohawk reserve. Games organizers made the concession after a flurry of negotiations with community members who were upset by the prospect of a non-aboriginal police force patrolling their territory.
The agreement allowed the flame to pass through a community that played a role in the Oka crisis, a tense summer-long standoff between aboriginals and police in 1990.
Last Thursday, about 100 protesters who rang bells, drummed and chanted “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land,” took over one intersection in Toronto, forcing organizers to change the torch route.
There was a similar protest during Montreal’s torch run a week earlier.