Tensions have eased in Caledonia now that roads are open and blockades are down.
Traffic is flowing and trains moving as the Haudenosaunee land reclamation of the proposed McKenzie Meadows housing development, south of Toronto, continues into its second month.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) already moved in on the camp once, where they arrested nine people on Aug. 5.
In response, community members from Six Nations of the Grand River set streets, tires, train tracks and construction equipment on fire. A large barricade of vehicles, concrete and tires was soon erected.
That’s all been removed, but another camp remains up on the site where a bitter dispute over a different housing development played out 14 years ago.
“We’re standing here on Kanonhstaton. That is the Mohawk word for ‘The Protected Place’,” Rhonda Martin explained as she described the camp and where it stands.
“That name was given to this territory back in 2006. At that time, it was known as the Douglas Creek Estates.”
The camp sits at the place locals call 6-by-6, or 6-at-6: the intersection of Highway 6 and 6th Line roads.
It was initially set up on the road not far from the main blockade and then moved to a grassy patch nearby after consulting with the chiefs and clan mothers, Martin says.
“They suggested just for the safety of the people to come off the road. We didn’t want to endanger any more of the people.”
Martin, a Wolf Clan Cayuga Nation mother and grandmother, calls the camp a “safety zone.” She describes it as a place where people can gather, share and learn about goings-on in the community.
“We couldn’t just go home. So I thought, well you know what? This is our land here and let’s create a safety zone,” she told APTN News. “We want the outside world to know that this is a safe and peaceful place to come to.
“We’re going to build up some structures here,” she added. “We’re going to learn about our language and our culture. We’re going to have people coming in from the community who are willing to teach. Also people from outside, from different territories, we want to invite them in.”
In 2006, Six Nations people occupied the proposed Douglas Creek Estates and halted construction. A few months later, OPP officers – reportedly heavily armed with M16 rifles, tear gas, pepper spray and tasers – stormed the site and violently arrested 16 people.
The province ultimately bought the land from the developer. It remains in Ontario’s name, held in trust waiting for a resolution in that dispute.
“This land is land that we once defended in 2006. We stopped the encroachment going on to our territory,” said Martin. “So 1492 [Land Back Lane] is drawing that awareness again against further encroachment.”
The 1492 Land Back Lane camp was established on July 19 in opposition to Foxgate Developments’ plan to build a new subdivision on the Meadows. The establishment of the second camp was one of several independent actions taken by community members in response to the initial police raid on the land reclamation camp.
Both the 2006 and 2020 occupations are flare-ups of a centuries-old dispute over the Haldimand Tract, which was granted to the Haudenosaunee after they sided with the British during the American Revolution.
It originally spanned 10 kilometres from either side of the banks of the Grand River from the river’s headwaters down to Lake Erie’s northern shore. It shrank significantly in the 1800s.
Six Nations of the Grand River elected chief and council launched a land claim in 1995 that remains before the courts.
The people at the camp maintain the land was never legally or legitimately ceded to the Crown. Foxgate argues the Crown had acquired and sold this land to a third-party by 1853.
As court evidence, Foxgate submitted a photo of a 1853 Crown land grant in which the Indian agent of the era authorized the sale of a parcel of Six Nations reserve land to a man named Thomas Nicholls.
Lawyers explained that the parcel in question has been possessed by third-parties since then.
Two court orders remain in place after they were extended on Aug. 25 in the hearing where that document was submitted. One restrains anyone from blockading or restricting access to any road in Haldimand County, where Caledonia is located. The other prevents anyone from occupying the McKenzie Road construction site.
The 6-by-6 camp is not technically in violation of either. It’s not on any public roads or McKenzie Meadows.
Costs and damages
1492 Land Back Lane spokesperson Skyler Williams’ name was also added to the injunction on Aug. 25, meaning he could be on the hook for costs and damages.
As the camp considers legal options, Williams points to the challenge of going into the Canadian court system to explain Haudenosaunee law and Haudenosaunee culture.
“The connection that we, as Haudenosaunee people, have to the land and to our rights over it – it’s really important to us that we translate it in a way that the folks in the courts, and the people at large, can understand,” he told APTN.
The possibility of a police raid looms like an omnipresent black cloud over the camp.
Speaking on behalf of OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, provincial government lawyer Christopher Diana explained in court that the OPP relies on its plainclothes Provincial Liaison Team to try to resolve these situations peacefully.
But at the same, police make operational preparations to enforce the injunction. If talks fail, the OPP will move in and enforce the court order.
“We hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Diana, “and of course the enforcement is subject to discretion on timing and manner of enforcement.”
OPP spokesperson Const. Rodney LeClair says these talks continue. He also says police are aware the federal government is working on arranging a meeting with the Six Nations of the Grand River community.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office confirmed that Ottawa is willing to meet.
“We look forward to meeting with the community at the earliest opportunity,” press secretary Emily Williams said in a statement.
“We believe the best way to resolve outstanding issues is through a respectful and collaborative dialogue, which is vital to building stronger relationships and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous partners for the benefit of their communities and all Canadians.”
It remains undetermined if and when this proposed meeting would take place.
In any case, construction continues at 1492 Land Back Lane, indicating the occupants have no plans to move. A wooden building slated to become a kitchen now sports a fully shingled roof.
And the “safety zone” at Kanonhstaton isn’t going anywhere either, Martin says.
“We’re going to now make this our permanent spot, so we want to also build this up,” she says.
“We just want to be able to do that, to support our people in the most positive way. We’re not about creating chaos.”