A looming police raid is complicating ongoing negotiations between police and community members from Six Nations of the Grand River who, in defiance of an injunction served on Friday, still occupy the site of a controversial proposed housing development on the outskirts of Caledonia, Ont.
The 1492 Land Back Lane encampment has stood for almost a month on Mackenzie Meadows, where Foxgate Developments hopes to build 218 homes on approximately 25 acres not far from the Six Nations settlement.
Land defenders claim the land was never ceded and say that the development doesn’t have the community’s consent, despite an agreement between Foxgate the Six Nations elected council.
“We have the deed for this land, and the onus is on you guys to show us that you obtained this land legally and fairly,” said Six Nations member Skyler Williams. “To date they’ve not produced anything.”
Construction continued at the camp for most of the day Monday, but not by Foxgate. Some involved in the Haudenosaunee land reclamation worked diligently on the roofless walls of a small wooden building slated to become a kitchen before heavy rain scattered people to over a dozen tents that dot the site.
Young children played and ran across the dusty soil, which the downpour – joined soon by loud thunder and cracks of lighting – quickly turned to mud. As the sky cleared people drank coffee, traded stories and readied for an evening meal.
Community meetings discussing the situation continue as well. But camp residents say the imminent threat of a police raid makes things difficult. Williams met with plain-clothes officers in the morning across the road from the camp. He said police are eager to open up infrastructure.
“The OPP are drawing a hard line in the sand for us as a community to say whether the roads should be opened or not, or whether the railways should be opened or not,” Williams said. “Our community has a process and it needs to be one where we’re taking account of everyone in our community.”
Myka, another camp resident, felt the same way.
“As Haudenosaunee people, we’ve always been very mindful that we need to include the voice of everybody in this community, and I think it’s very unrealistic of the police to say, to call us at maybe noon and be like, ‘3 o’clock you need an answer to this very pivotal question.'”
Provincial police enforced an injunction on Aug. 5 that prohibited people from occupying McKenzie Meadows; they arrested nine individuals.
Blockades went up in response to the OPP’s actions, and people set fires, including on a CN railway, which halted train travel. The blockades remained up on Monday while the tracks remained damaged, a torched excavator sitting nearby.
“I’m not confident whatsoever in the OPP,” said Williams. “They came in that day heavy-handed, shooting rubber bullets, tasering, dragging women off our own territory.”
“The trust has been broken with the OPP to this point,” Myka added.
Police maintain an officer fired a single rubber bullet after people pelted them with rocks.
“I can tell you that our Provincial Liaison Team has been in constant communication and that continues today,” said Const. Rodney Leclair in an email. “Open lines of communication is a positive.”
On Aug. 6, the injunction barring people from occupying the site was upheld while Haldimand Country obtained its own injunction prohibiting anyone from hindering access to all public roads in the municipality.
Haldimand County argued it was “concerned for the safety of Haldimand residents” as long as the roads remain blocked.
“This injunction is necessary to protect the rights of Haldimand’s residents and visitors to safe and unimpeded access to all public Haldimand roads,” argued Cathy Case, Haldimand general manager of corporate and social services, in a sworn affidavit filed in Ontario Superior Court on Aug.6 and obtained by APTN.
“The actions of the Individual Respondents [John Doe and Jane Doe] significantly impairs those rights,” said Case, in Haldimand County’s 45-page motion.
The people at the camp maintain the land on which McKenzie Meadows sits was never collectively ceded by the Haudenosaunee, a sovereign people who were granted 10 kilometres on either side of the Grand River for a settlement after they allied with the British during the American Revolution. The settlement shrank to its present size throughout the 1800s in surrenders whose legality Six Nations disputes.
Leclair said this isn’t something police can help solve.
“The OPP have no role to play in the underlying issues of land disputes and is not in a position to solve them.”
In an update Monday, elected Chief Mark Hill again urged people to listen to the land defenders and understand the historical underpinnings of the conflict, which also flared up in 2006 over a different proposed housing development. Hill said he’s reaching out to the community’s traditional governing authority.
“This needs to be a time of unity for our community of Six Nations in order for us to move forward,” he said in a community address posted online. “In that same spirit, I am reaching out to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council in hopes of arranging a meeting to discuss many of our common concerns and strengthening our relationship moving forward.”