It was April 20th 2006 the morning the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) took action against a small group of Onkwehonwehnéha people (First People) from the Six Nations Native Reserve who had in February 2006 set up a peaceful protest halting the further construction of a housing development upon disputed land. Caledonia, usually a quiet growing little town of 11,000 became the flashpoint for the eruption of conflict related to very long standing land rights disputes between the Onkwehonwehnéha of the Grand River Territory and the Crown, represented by the Canadian Federal Government.This was a very distressing time for both Six Nations and Caledonia communities as conflict overflowed to the streets and was magnified by the media. The NCP Community Document (2007) draws attention to what the conflict in less than a year had brought to the people from both communities:

Members of both communities have endured hardship financially, emotionally, physically, and personally.  It has been difficult for the community members to know how to respond, and how to cope with such circumstances. … this story of conflict is what is called the “First Story”.  It involves the tension, hurt, hatred, violence, fear, mistrust, misunderstanding, and prejudice that resulted in the conflicts that ensued.  Indeed, the first story serves to separate, segregate and discriminate community against community, neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend, and family member against family member. (p.5)

Suzie Miller, a teacher from Six Nations at the time witnessed the growing divide between the children from the respective communities.  Determined to change the imagery and stories the young people were exposed to, she began a Pen Pal Project with her class of Native students in Six Nations writing to a classroom of non-Native students in Caledonia. Throughout the year via letters, shared art, and sometimes gifts, the students shared their interests, culture, and grew friendships.  At the end of the year the students met face to face at a gathering in which they participated in joint fun and educational activities.  

The project, embraced by organizations, schools, teachers and students, has evolved encouraging all First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities and their neighbours to meet, build relationship, understanding, and share in cultural exchange as a means to a respectful thriving future.

© Pen Pal Project 2016