Blockade remains, talks resume as Haudenosaunee deliberate next moves

“The government does not understand us. I don’t think they ever will,” says Six Nations community member

CALEDONIA

(A small group of people face the police line after a blockade stayed up in Caledonia late on Aug. 21. Photo: Brett Forester/APTN)

Concrete barricades and a demolished trailer blocked half of Argyle St. in Caledonia on Saturday morning after people from Six Nations of the Grand River reversed a decision to dismantle the remainder of the blockade following lengthy internal community deliberations.

The excavator that removed tires, debris, wood and vehicles from the site a day earlier rumbled down the hill Friday evening and started towing away concrete blocks, which community members put in place after removing flammable material.

Sources told APTN News that the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) gave Haudenosaunee an ultimatum to remove what remained of the barricade or police would do it themselves, continuing a hard push to open roads that have been closed since Aug. 5 when police raided the 1492 Land Back Lane occupation camp on McKenzie Meadows.

The community rushed to have a meeting. Camp spokesperson Skyler Williams explained they didn’t have time to reach proper consensus through internal decision-making protocols because of police pressure.

“That didn’t happen,” he said, as the excavator idled in the twilight behind him.

“There’s just a lot of pushback from the OPP, again not respecting the process that needs to happen after their violent action against the Haudenosaunee people.”

Const. Rodney LeClair would not confirm whether police issued an ultimatum. He said the OPP plain-clothes liaisons resumed talks Saturday to get the roads opened.

CALEDONIA
(1492 Land Back Lane camp spokesperson Skyler Williams walks toward the main blockade on Argyle in Caledonia as barricades begin to come down. Brett Forester/APTN)

Kahehti:io (Beautiful Garden) watched the excavator drag the blocks back behind the gates of Kanonhstaton (also known as ‘The Protected Place’), where conflict over the proposed Douglas Creek Estates housing development erupted in 2006.

The lifelong community member and Turtle Clan Mohawk woman told APTN why she thought tearing down the blockade was the right move.

“I’m happy this is happening tonight. Now we can proceed with the land claim,” she said. “But we can’t do it and we can’t move ahead if we don’t do this.”

But not everyone agreed, offering a glimpse of some of the positions being staked out in community meetings.

As Kahehti:io interviewed with APTN, another community member brought up what happened in Caledonia in 2006 – wondering if police wouldn’t move in and raid the camp once the barricades were down.

“What about in 2006? When the OPP said they weren’t coming in, and they came in right the next morning?” she asked.

That raid happened on April 20, 2006 when Haudenosaunee occupied the proposed Douglas Creek Estates housing development site, now known as Kanonhstaton. On that morning OPP officers reportedly heavily armed with M16 rifles, tear gas, pepper spray and tasers violently arrested 16 people.

Kahehti:io took a second to think.

“No, that shouldn’t have happened,” she replied calmly, remembering 2006 as well. “But I think the key thing is with Haudenosaunee people, with any First Nations people — the government does not understand us. I don’t think they ever will. We’ve been fighting for 500 years to protect our lands,” she said.

“I’m ready as an elder, as an old person, to come to the table and settle these (land claims),” Kahehti:io added. “And that’s what we’re told. I trust Carolyn Bennett. We have the letter in our hands. I guess I feel confident that maybe it’s time. It’s time to settle our land claims.”

CALEDONIA
(Kahehti:io explains why she supported bringing down the barricades. But not everyone agreed. APTN)

But trusting the police and federal authorities isn’t easy.

“When Haudenosaunee people need to stand up and assert our rights over our land, this is the force that we’re met with,” said Williams.

Soon people sat on the concrete blocks, opposing their removal. One man drummed and sang as police looked on from their line up the road. The rattle of the excavator quieted and another community meeting got underway to discuss again whether to remove the blockade or not.

Dusk turned to darkness and the crickets chirped in the long grass of Kanonhstaton as the meeting went on. The community has frequently called for patience as Six Nations people work through their internal democratic decision-making process.

But just about everywhere in Caledonia someone grumbles about roads. The pressure to get them open has mounted every day.

“These matters are very complex politically, historically, and socially. It takes time for true democracy in these contexts,” said the camp in an Aug. 18 media release.

Kahehti:io explained that a small percentage of people vote for the elected band council system, while a small percentage belong to the traditional Confederacy.

“Ninety per cent are community people, and they want the best for the community. They want the best for their children, their grandchildren,” she said. “And I’ve always been reminded by the elders that the foundation of Haudenosaunee is peace.”

CALEDONIA
(The Haudenosaunee flag flies in the wind after the checkpoint that stood beside it was moved off the road. Brett Forester/APTN)

The excavator soon left. Past midnight, a small group of people stood at a little fire beside the barricade, where half the concrete blocks remained.

They faced the police calmly, shining in the glow of an OPP cruiser’s headlights. A low-flying aircraft buzzed overhead. Officers huddled at their road-block.

Meanwhile, things remained uneventful at the camp. A concert, open mic night, lacrosse game and potluck are slated for Saturday night.

The camp is occupied by an eclectic mix of people – Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabeg, women, children, supporters and allies.

Two separate injunctions loom over both the remnants of the final blockade, where the road is already half open, and the land back camp on McKenzie Rd.

The conflict erupted into a complex and often tense situation after, police say, officers fired a single rubber bullet when Meadows occupiers threw rocks at them. That’s when tires, construction equipment and train tracks were set on fire.

On Friday morning, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) started clearing debris and re-paving part of a fire-damaged road on Highway 6, not far from where the barricade with “OPP go home” spray-painted on it and piles of rocks were removed on Thursday.

On Saturday morning, a train rolled through the tracks which cross through Six Nations of the Grand River territory. Workers set about repairing damaged equipment.

Peace officers cruised regularly through Caledonia with several vehicles stationed at the community centre and in the surrounding region, often convoying out of Hamilton for evening and morning shift changes.

As of this posting, police had not yet moved in to remove the concrete blocks or the smashed trailer on Argyle.

Fear of vigilantism and violence came out of the camp on Thursday, after Premier Doug Ford said he’ll “come out swinging” on anyone who attacks police.

On Aug. 7 Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt also said he would “push for the OPP to apply the injunctions on those breaking the judge’s orders.”

A week later, the Hamilton Spectator ran an opinion article calling the barricades and fires “domestic terrorism.”

Despite it all, a small group of Haudenosaunee sat round a roaring orange fire under the stars on a grassy corner of Kanonhstaton, laughing and sharing stories into the night.

They moved the camp off the road on Wednesday.

But among the orange and black pylons they left one other thing – a purple and white Haudenosaunee flag, faintly visible in the darkness, waving in the wind.

Caledonia residents wait to see when the road will open and who will remove the blockage, while Haudenosaunee wonder what will happen with the camp if the barricades protecting it go down.

Online Reporter - Ottawa

Brett is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in Ontario. He grew up in Ottawa where he obtained an English degree from Carleton University. Brett is a creative writer, poet, and journalist. He joined the Ottawa bureau for APTN News in December 2019 as a digital reporter.