Update: A few people have reported difficulty in viewing these video’s at 720p (HD) so I have changed the embedded video’s to play at a lower resolution.
By Jeff Parkinson
In my early days with CANACE in late 2006 and early 2007, I was on a very regular basis told stories that saddened and repulsed me. I sat and listened to each and every resident who was willing to share with me what they had endured and over the course of 4 years; I thought I had heard the worst of if not all of them.
One exceptionally disturbing story unfolded in the summer of 2009, and managed to fly under the radar of many including myself. Many of us heard that a smoke shack had gone up at the farm of Caledonia resident Ernie Palmer, but I didn’t know too much about it at the time. We had a particularly busy year, and by the time we slowed down to catch our breath, the shack was gone.
I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Palmer on October 13 2010 and he generously allowed me to record that meeting. The only things I knew for sure when I arrived were that the facts were largely unclear to me, and that an interview with him would be interesting. The media reports that I had read in 2009 painted him as a collaborator, and the County had charged him with bylaw infractions for hosting the smoke shack.
I explained a bit about myself to Mr. Palmer and made clear to him that my objective was simple. I wanted to leave that day with the necessary information to tell his story in his words. I wound up spending a day with him, and the things I learned were absolutely shocking even to a 4 year veteran of the Caledonia crisis.
Mr. Palmer is a 75 year old, old fashioned gentleman with values that are not seen often enough in our society anymore. His principles guided him in an astounding effort to remain calm and polite to the criminals who occupied his land, set up a smoke shack on it, and berated him on a regular basis for being “white”. The police were unwilling to assist him, the media portrayed him as a collaborator, and the County targeted him for bylaw charges for hosting the illegal shack that he didn’t want and could not get rid of.
As he explained it to me “I was raised by a noble woman to respect others and to respect myself. I never called him any names (occupier Steve Powless) I was humiliated, degraded in my home, by an Indian, a rapist. It was difficult to control myself and endure what I was subjected to by these Indians.”
Left to fend for himself for 6 months, Mr. Palmer maintained peace by treating the criminals in a civilized manner, and by finding a common bond with which they could relate to him. Coffee.
The situation changed from day to day and Palmer never knew what he could expect next. On one occasion he was visited by Ron George, head of the Aboriginal Relations Team for the OPP, and Dudley George’s cousin.
As Mr. Palmer explained it: “When he arrived with 2 or 3 ART team members, he walked to boots and they embraced each other for a long time, patting each others back and talking for a few minutes.” Not exactly a case of objective policing.
The video of our meeting is presented here from my youtube channel, CanaceHD in 720p High Definition. The story is told in an 8 part series because of the time limitations for Youtube. In total it’s over 90 minutes long and nearly 15Gb of video.
If you are short on time and can only squeeze in a couple of these at the moment, I strongly recommend parts 6 & 7. As some who have recently watched this have said to me “it (this interview) gets progressively better with each video”
If you have a Youtube account, comments and ratings on the Youtube page for each video are always appreciated, and it perhaps goes without saying that sharing it with your friends / family / coworkers is much appreciated 🙂
My brief description of each video does no justice to the depth of the story as told by Mr. Palmer. You really must watch the story for yourself to appreciate what Palmer was forced to endure.
Part 1, Introduction:
We begin with Mr. Palmer discussing the events at DCE in 2006. His farm is a short hop down the road from the occupied site, so he witnessed much of what took place. Also of note is that Steven “boots” Powless tried without success to rent a slice of Mr. Palmer’s land to build a smoke shack on in the months before he illegally occupied it. This clearly demonstrates that Powless understood he did not own the land as he would later assert.
Part 2, the occupation:
When he fails to convince Palmer to rent him some land to build a smoke shack on, Powless who has a criminal record including a conviction for rape in 1991 begins spewing rhetoric about land claims and how it belongs to him, and launches a 6 month occupation of Ernie Palmer’s front yard. This is also where a campaign of rumours that Palmer was a willing host began.
Part 3, Bylaws and the OPP:
Powless has settled in and is bringing in reinforcements. The OPP is doing nothing to stop the Natives, and Palmer who is surrounded by them and on his own is doing his best to maintain peace. The media are portraying Palmer as a collaborator, and Haldimand County is targeting him for bylaw infractions.
Part 4, Arrests & death threats:
An exhausted and frustrated Ernie Palmer asks the OPP for help. He authorizes them to use force to remove the occupiers and their smoke shack from his property. He arrives home to find the Natives holding a press conference on his front lawn. On July 9, 2009 the OPP arrest Powless & 2 of his sons leaving behind other Native occupiers who had come to support Powless.
The next day, Powless was released on bail with conditions that he stay 300’ away from the property and not communicate with Mr. Palmer. He ignores the court order and returns that same day to continue his occupation while living in a Tepee he erected near the shack. The OPP watch him violate his bail conditions for months to come without doing anything to intervene.
On July 10 2009 when he was released on bail, Powless told the media that it was Ernie Palmer who came up with the idea for the smoke shack and that he was trying to get the government to buy his property. This fuels the confusion of the general public about what’s happening and Palmer can do little to stop the rumour from spreading.
Meanwhile an angry Powless threatens to serve Palmer with official papers from Six Nations proving that they are the ones who own the land. In what I consider a brilliant move, Palmer calls his bluff. He tells Powless to get him the papers and offers to pack up and move if Powless can show him proof of the non existent land claim. At this point Powless threatens the 75 year old retiree with death, and begins a campaign of racist tirades and harassment against Palmer.
Part 5, Gunshots and tirades:
Powless, his sons, his girlfriends, and his supporters begin a campaign of harassment against Palmer that includes gun shots, loud music, and racist tirades about the “white man”. Mr. Palmer does not respond and continues under incredible pressure to try to maintain peace with his tormentors while making it clear to them that they are not welcome on his land.
Part 6, Racist tirades and negotiators:
If you are short on time and can only watch a couple of these clips, I strongly suggest part 6 & part 7.
The news of Powless being arrested spread to the negotiating table and some in attendance left to congregate at Palmer’s to see what was happening. Included in that group were a couple of Native elders who Mr. Palmer believes were clan mothers. They suggested that he come and speak with the Federal & Provincial negotiators about his problem.
Here begins one of my personal favourite parts of the story. A group of Natives took Mr. Palmer into the negotiations where Allen McNaughton gave Palmer his seat across from Provincial & Federal negotiators. By this time, Palmer had obtained a copy of the deed to his property which he brought with him. To say that this is a place that very few people have visited would be an understatement.
Palmer has a private meeting with the negotiators. He gets to tell them his story and ask them if he is in fact the legal owner of his property. Who would know the answer better than the Federal & Provincial governments?
Part 7, negotiators & death threats:
Having done his best to politely ask Federal & Provincial negotiators if he owns his own land, Palmer is given the run around. He changes his tone and demands answers. This is one of the best told and most fascinating stories I’ve heard in the years that I’ve been involved in Caledonia.
Palmer then tells us about his attempt to have Steve Powless charged for threatening to kill him. The OPP are not receptive and refuse to lay the charge saying at one point that Powless “didn’t mean that” when he uttered the death threat.
I found it particularly difficult to sit quietly listening to this, but this is not my story to tell. It’s shocking and for anyone who has not experienced the race based law enforcement that takes place in Caledonia first hand, it would be hard to believe.
Part 8, conclusion:
One day (the day that Ron George came to visit) Mr. Palmer encounters some folks from Oka who had come to support Powless, and explains why he tried so hard to remain on friendly terms with those illegally occupying his land. He also tells us how the smoke shack eventually came to be removed after a judge threatened Powless with jail time.
Ernie Palmer was systematically abandoned by the institutions that are supposed to protect us all from these kinds of things. The events that took place at his home are sad evidence that the relative quiet on the ground right now can not be confused with resolution. Some like to argue that the worst of the events that we’re all commonly aware of took place in 2006 and should therefore be forgotten.
The heinous abuse of Mr. Palmer took place more than 3 years after the height of the occupation of DCE at a time when things appeared otherwise quiet, and still the OPP did at best the bare minimum that they could to help.
As a society we would like to believe that these things don’t happen in our Country to our neighbours let alone to us, but they do and will continue to until the OPP recognize that being an ethnic minority is not an excuse for breaking the law.
My thanks to Ernie Palmer for inviting me into his home and sharing his story with me. It’s one I will never forget.