Six Nations community members have occupied land near their reserve that’s slated to become a housing development since July 19.
Since then, dozens of supporters have been arrested as community members have turned it into a camp that has symbolize to represent generations of frustration over territorial dispossession. Protesters claim the land – dubbed “1492 Land Back Lane” by occupiers – belongs to the community.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Affairs September 12 to demand an end to police violence and criminalization of community members and supporters. Part of that disputed land is where Foxgate Developments is planning to build 218 homes on 25 acres of land in Caledonia, next to the Six Nations community about an hour southwest of Toronto.
“The main demand of this protest is for the OPP [Ontario Provincial Police] to stop arresting land defenders who are supporting the camp at 1492 Land Back Lane,” said one supporter, Subhanya Sivajothy, in a press release. “Community members are engaged in a traditional decision-making process, but the threat of violent police enforcement prevents them from solving this as a community.”
The dispute goes back to 1784, when British colonial authorities granted a large tract of land known as the Haldimand Tract to the Six Nations as compensation for allying with Britain during the American War of Independence.
Since then, the Canadian government is alleged to have sold the land illegally to private parties starting in 1853.
In an August 20 social-media post, camp spokesperson Skyler Williams said that individuals at the camp “are here because we are committed to upholding our sacred responsibility to the land and future generations. Every day our community makes progress in our discussions and our healing from the generations of oppression we have experienced.”
The camp also received the support of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs, a group that is distinct from the elected chief and council of the community.
“The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council is opposed to this development and as the holder of collective rights for the Haudenosaunee people has not granted any type of consent which would allow this development to proceed,” a statement from the chiefs read.
Court documents have since revealed that the chief and council of Six Nations had originally agreed to the land development in return for 42 acres of land and $325,000.
Since then, however, the elected chief, Mark Hill, released a video posted to the community’s website expressing a desire for unity while rejecting violence.
“I encourage everyone in Ontario and across Canada to listen to the concerns of the land defenders and learn why the land in dispute holds so much cultural and emotional significance for many people in our community,” Hill stated.
“The issues underpinning this crisis go much deeper and much further than this plot of land. It’s the result of a colonial history that has silenced and oppressed generations of our peoples.”
In response to the occupation, the company behind the development obtained a court injunction July 30 that led to nine arrests August 5.
Since then, further injunctions have been issued and extended by courts, declaring it illegal for anyone to block or impede access to the disputed site. More recently, journalist Karl Dockstader and a research analyst with the Yellowhead Institute, Courtney Skye, were also arrested. The Canadian Association of Journalists condemned the arrest of Dockstader.
Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt has been outspoken against the land camp, calling for the federal government to ignore calls for talks from protestors while the area is occupied.
Nonetheless, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett both have indicated that they’re open to discussions.
“We look forward to meeting with the community at the earliest opportunity,” a spokesperson for Minister Bennett said in a written statement to the Nation.
“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.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford initially adopted a strict law-and-order approach. “I don’t care who you are, you start attacking our police, I’ll come out swinging – simple as that,” Ford said August 6. He later tempered his remarks to say he believes in communicating and sitting down with the parties involved.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs told the Nation that Ontario is willing to participate in a federal-led dialogue involving Six Nations and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council.
“Ontario values dialogue with the leaders of Six Nations as we work together to address priorities and opportunities,” said the spokesperson.
A similar dispute occurred in 2006, when another housing development, the Douglas Creek Estates, was stopped by members of the Six Nations community. Known as Kahnonhstaton (The Protected Place), the land was eventually purchased by the Ontario government and is being held to this day until the parties involved can come to a resolution.