After several arrests last week and a new court order, land defenders are digging in their heels and rebuilding 1492 Land Back Lane, a name they’ve given McKenzie Meadows, a disputed site of a proposed housing development in Caledonia, Ont. that borders Six Nations of the Grand River’s eastern border.
“We are under constant threat of OPP invasion of our unceded Haudenosaunee territory,” said community member Skyler Williams in a Facebook post on Sunday. “Despite all of this, we continue to work on and build our community here at Land Back Lane.”
Heavily armed OPP enforced an injunction at the site on August 5, arresting nine people who have since been released. The OPP allege people occupying the site pelted officers with rocks, who responded by firing a single rubber bullet.
Road blockades erupted after the arrests and people set tires on fire. Travel along Sixth Line rail was also halted. The rail line remained closed awaiting repairs on Monday morning, police said.
Roads and highways also remained blocked despite a new sweeping injunction issued by Ontario Superior Court on August 7. The latest injunction covers infrastructure across Haldimand County.
The court also amended the injunction that was obtained by Foxgate Development on July 30. This injunction only covers the McKenzie Meadows site at 1535 McKenzie Road on the outskirts of Caledonia.
With a second enforcement operation looming, the people at 1492 Land Back Lane requested meetings with numerous federal officials, including the governor general, prime minister and three cabinet ministers.
“The only confirmation that I know of to this point is that [Indigenous Services Minister] Marc Miller has agreed to sit down and talk with us and whoever needs to come to the table,” land protector Myka told APTN News at the camp.
APTN contacted Miller’s office to confirm the meeting but did not receive a response. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett was not available for an interview. Her office supplied a written statement that did not address the request for a meeting.
“With regard to the McKenzie Meadows Caledonia housing development, it is our hope that the parties involved continue to work together to find a constructive, respectful, and positive way forward,” wrote spokesperson Emily Williams.
There was speculation that another raid and more arrests were imminent, but police have not moved in as of this posting. Local news network CHCH reported on Sunday that Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt expected police would enforce the injunction Monday, but police would not confirm this.
“Court injunctions are delivered and served by the Court Sheriff. The Court Sheriff would contact the OPP if and when they would need assistance. At this time, I do not have any timeline as to when that would happen,” Cst. Rodney Leclair said in an email.
“I don’t know where Mayor Hewitt obtained that information,” he added. “Discussions between our command staff and Mayor Hewitt are ongoing.”
Foxgate Development plans on building 218 residences on approximately 25 acres at the Meadows. It acquired the land from Haldimand County on Sept. 9, 2015. But the roots of the dispute are centuries-old.
In 1784, Quebec governor Frederick Haldimand granted a swathe of land to the Haudenosaunee for helping England during the American War of Independence.
The Haudenosaunee fought as allies of the British under political and military leader Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), who selected the Grand River, roughly 100 kilometres southwest of present-day Toronto, for the settlement.
The land, which came to be known as the Haldimand Tract, initially extended 10 kilometres (six miles) from either side of the Grand River.
The settlement was reduced in size significantly in the 1800s through land surrenders whose legality and legitimacy Six Nations disputes.
“The remedy for lands and money that were unlawfully taken back in the 1800’s is against Crown Canada and Crown Ontario. Six Nations commenced an action against both Crowns in 1995 in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice,” said Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) in a detailed July 24 release.
The release adds that the claim, which accuses governments of “unlawfully dispossessing Six Nations of all it its [sic] land and money,” is being prosecuted and slated for October 2022. It notes that Ballantry Homes, which co-owns Foxgate, accommodated Six Nations despite not being obliged to do so according to Canadian law.
“But it [the developer] did anyway because it is aware of the Claims by Six Nations against Crown Canada and Crown Ontario.”
This accommodation agreement, inked in 2019, transferred 42.3 acres and $352,000 to SNEC in exchange for the council’s public support for the project, according to a copy of the agreement.
Elected Chief Mark Hill addressed the situation in a statement Monday evening. Hill urged dialogue and encouraged Canada and Ontario to listen to the land defenders.
“The issues underpinning this crisis go much deeper and much further than this specific plot of land. It is the result of a colonial history that has silenced and oppressed generations of First Peoples,” he said in a video posted online.
However, an unsigned letter to the Six Nations community dated August 7 and posted by Williams to Facebook pointed to a lack of community engagement and little support for the deal.
The letter claims three consultation meetings were held in 2013, where a combined 79 people attended. It claims the elected council held two more consultation meetings in 2018, where fewer than 20 attended.
“These numbers do not reflect any meaningful community engagement” given the community’s large population, the letter argued.
The elected council is not the only governing authority in the territory, however. There is also the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC). They have not commented publicly on the occupation.
The letter also called for unity, criticizing the government for sowing division and discord in the community.
“We don’t pretend to know what a collective voice of 20,000+ people from Six Nations will look like. What we do know is that our connection to the land is the thread that binds us all.”
A dispute over a similar set of concerns grabbed national attention over a decade ago, when conflict flared over a different proposed residential development in Caledonia in 2006.