Tag Archives: 1492 Land Back Lane

No reconciliation without land: Six Nations fight for truth for 200 years

Six Nations members set up barricades in the town of Caledonia, Ont. in a dispute over land that has been going on for 200 years. (Naheed Mustafa/CBC)

‘The truth is we have a long way to go,’ says Anishnaabe writer who advocates for a re-education project

Six Nations of the Grand River in southwest Ontario is the largest most populous reserve in Canada. They have been stuck in a land dispute for 200 years — one that continues to this day.

At the heart of the current dispute is a housing development in the town of Caledonia called Mackenzie Meadows. The developer says it bought the land legally from Haldimand County. But members of Six Nations say it was never the county’s to sell in the first place.

In July of 2020, members of Six Nations took over the development’s construction site and renamed it 1492 Land Back Lane. Since then, people from Six Nations, along with supporters, have erected a series of tiny homes and tents on the housing site and are living there. For at least one man, it’s the first time he’s ever had a place of his own.

Eight new tiny homes have been built on Six Nations of the Grand River to provide affordable housing to its members. (Six Nations of the Grand River)

Courtney Skye is a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson University and a member of Six Nations. She’s also part of the effort at 1492 Land Back Lane. Skye says the Mackenzie Meadows issue dates back to the late 1800s when a squatter settled on Haudenosaunee land. He stayed about five years, cleared some trees, and did some farming.

The man then sold the land, illegally, to a family for 500 £. That family farmed the land for the next several generations and, ultimately, sold it to a developer in 2003 for $4 million. The developer, Foxgate Development, now wants to put up more than 200 homes as part of a larger housing project.

The people of Six Nations reject that proposal.

The land is ‘part of who we are’

Skyler Williams is the spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane. He says the part that gets lost in all the technical details of the dispute and the legal back-and-forth is that for the Haudenosounee, this land is not just any land.

“That connection to the land for us is one that is part of who we are. Like this is part of our creation story. You know, that the Creator used this clay to build us,” Williams says.

Some Six Nations residents set up a blockade on Argyle Street in Caledonia after OPP officers enforced an injunction on demonstrators, Aug 5, 2020. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

“That connection to us is one that’s real, is something that you can feel. And certainly when you come onto these lands this is that feeling of liberation, that connectedness to the land, knowing what our people are willing to sacrifice in order to maintain that connection is something that’s magnetic and it’s part of who we are.”

When it comes to land claim disputes, the focus of media coverage and legal wrangling is often on a specific piece of land at a particular time. But Skyler Williams says it’s about a much bigger question than just one housing development or one farmer.

He says land dispossession is about the larger systemic destruction — genocide — of Indigenous people. And that while there’s constant talk about reconciliation, there’s very little talk about land.

“Governments and police, the RCMP before the OPP, and the British before that, have committed these acts of genocide against our people for the last, 300 years, 400 years around here and continue to push that agenda to see us hemmed in at least, if not gone away. They completely like to see us left to overpopulate our area in a way that leaves us no choice but to cover those lands in concrete and pour asphalt in every spot of green that there is,” says Williams.

Skyler Williams is a member of Six Nations of the Grand River and a spokesperson for the 1492 Land Back Lane camp. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

“And so for us to be able to say, like, all we want is the time and space for our community, because that’s the thing is all of those governments and police agencies have done over the last, say, 150 years is trying to divide our community. We look for every crack possible to drive wedges and make sure that we were unable to come together.”

Williams says Haldimand (County) and colonies surrounding the Grand River have taken advantage of and created divisions that continue to harm people. He points to elected council, over-incarceration of Indigenous people, and the murdered, missing, Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) as examples of the way harm continues.

“And so when it comes to the dispossession of lands like this for us it’s something that is part of who we are. You know, it’s easy to look the other way when racism is something that is systemic, you know, something that’s built into the system. But when racism comes in the form of, you know, 100 OPP [officers] coming to arrest 12 people in a field singing Kumbaya by the fire, like this is what racism looks like in this country.”

Reconciliation is impossible without land

The question of the connection between truth and reconciliation and genocide is an ongoing one in Canada.

Indigenous people will point out that while there may have been some attempts to move forward by delving into the sordid history of residential schools or holding an inquiry into MMIWG, the key question around land and Indigenous nationhood remains very much on the table — and that while reconciliation may seem like an active project in Canada, Indigenous peoples often say it’s devoid of justice.

Justice is tightly wrapped up in the question of land — and without land, reconciliation is impossible.

Ryan McMahon is an Anishnaabe comedian and writer. He says maybe the problem is that Indigenous people and Canada have different ways of understanding the truth.

Ryan McMahon is an Anishinaabe comedian, writer and activist. He also hosts a podcast about the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous youth in the northwest Ontario city. (Jane Adams/Canadian Press)

“When you look at the word truth, in my language you say debwewin and when you pull that word apart, the word debwewin actually means to speak only to the extent of the life you have lived or the experiences you have through good spirit. And so that’s the truth,” McMahon says.

“What is Canada even talking about in terms of the truth? We continue to discover new truths through this moment we’re in that we’re calling reconciliation. You know, a couple of years ago, we discovered an electric chair at a residential school. In the same year, we discover food experiments at other schools in the prairies.”

McMahon points to truths that continue to be discovered. From The Sixties Scoop; to MMIWG; to Indigenous people “experiencing catastrophic levels of systemic racism inside of the healthcare system. These are all truths.”

The writer says he’s hesitant to use the word debwewin because he says it makes a promise that “we’ve had the truth and now reconciliation,  that we’re going somewhere good. That’s not true. I can’t say that in good faith.”

“And the fact that we throw a party when the federal government, the prime minister mentions decolonizing the government, we give out eagle feathers and buckskin beaded jackets to politicians that lie to our faces or continue to to give us the bare minimum under their legal and fiduciary responsibilities, that’s the truth.

“The truth is we have a long way to go.”

Meaningful re-education for the future

Ryan McMahon believes there is a very basic level of work that needs to be done.

Canadians are not educated in any meaningful way about the impact of colonialism on Indigenous people and how it’s still reflected in their daily lives. The only way Canadians can truly understand is to listen to what Indigenous people are saying.

“This re-education project in Canada is an emergency. And to me, we go further, faster by centering the voices that were most negatively impacted by the colonial project here in Canada, and that’s Indigenous voices,” he says.

“I’ve always contended this place is worth fighting for. It’s a beautiful place to live. The sunsets are incredible, the walleye is delicious, you can drink the water right out of the lake. And the people that live there are mostly good people. They’re just not informed.”

By: CBC Radio · Posted: Dec 29, 2020.


Indigenous land defenders at Caledonia site recall bitter 2006 dispute

A bus blocking Argyle Street South in Caledonia, Ont., as a group of labour councils and unions delivered food and support to land defenders at a land reclamation camp known as 1492 Land Back Lane on Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio

CALEDONIA, Ont. — The more things change in Caledonia, Ont., the more one group of long-standing land defenders says things stay the same.

Tense tableaus played out for months in the southwestern Ontario town in 2006 as Indigenous protesters clashed repeatedly with provincial police over the rights to land located near Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Fourteen years later, some of the same protesters are experiencing deja-vu as they take up similar positions to continue the same fight.

“It was very, very similar,” Skyler Williams, 38, recalls, standing by the intersection that divides the scenes of past and present protest sites. “I was much younger (in 2006), and so my back hurts a little bit more some days.”

The present-day dispute is playing out across the road from the scene of the 2006 protests at a proposed housing development known as McKenzie Meadows.

Williams has been acting as a spokesperson for the land reclamation camp known as 1492 Land Back Lane at the site of the project being led by Foxgate Developments Inc.

The 2006 occupation dragged on for months, prompting political mudslinging between the provincial and federal governments. The 2020 iteration passed the 100-day mark last month, with protesters showing no signs of heading home.

Work was underway last Thursday on a wooden shelter at the demonstrators’ tent camp that’s also home to lively pets, works of art in progress, small gardens and a campfire. Funds are being raised to build tiny homes as winter weather approaches.

Central to the Haudenosaunee land defenders’ fight is a 1784 agreement with the British known as the Haldimand Proclamation, promising lands along the Grand River they maintain were never surrendered.

Over his lifetime, Williams has watched housing developments pop up across the farm town of Caledonia, encroaching on the territory he and others are fighting to protect.

“We have to be able to say no,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to push into Six Nations territory and hem us in, you can expect resistance.”

Thirty-three people, including Williams, have been arrested since the protests began in the summer. Most have been charged with violating a court order.

Tensions flared again briefly in recent weeks when an Ontario judge issued a permanent injunction ordering people off the land indefinitely.

Hours after the Oct. 22 ruling, the demonstrators accused police of firing rubber bullets and using a stun gun, injuring two. Police, in turn, alleged protesters damaged a cruiser.

Blockades went up later that day, with portions of road dug up with machinery and a school bus bearing the words “Land Back Tours” parked in the middle of Argyle Street.

Signs of the standoff were still visible one week later. Provincial police cars were stationed near the Argyle Street bus blockade on Thursday and by the main entrance to the camp off McKenzie Road.

Three cruisers were parked a few metres from Nancy Chalmers’ driveway.

“I’m kind of sitting in the middle of this stew,” Chalmers said from her front doorway.

The Caledonia resident of more than 20 years said she sympathizes with her neighbours’ cause, but she’s frustrated with both the predictable cycle and the disruptions to her daily life.

“I just wish this would get resolved peacefully,” she said.

Caledonia mayor Ken Hewitt has taken a harsher line with the demonstrators, calling for their arrests.

He’s also asked the federal government to take a hand in negotiations.

Kahsenniyo Williams, Skyler’s wife, spoke about the aggression her family has faced during a spoken word poetry performance from inside the blockaded area on Thursday.

She performed for a university class via Zoom, with the Grand River as her backdrop, a waterway she calls “the map of the land that we’re responsible for.”

She said online connectivity has been helpful with reaching supporters who can’t make it down to the site.

“Everyone’s been doing the best that they can to manoeuvre through COVID, and it also opens up the opportunity for more creative settings,” she said.

But in-person supporters have trickled in as well, bringing fresh perspectives on the long-time fight along with supplies and companionship.

Jace House from the Quebec Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi arrived last week. He was part of a community-led action this fall about over-hunting of moose in his area, and dealt with an injunction himself at the time.

He sees similar tactics being used against Indigenous land defenders across the country, and said he’s been welcomed by the people at the Land Back Lane camp.

“We really are in the same boat,” House said.

He said unity across Indigenous communities will be important as people continue advocating for their land, water, hunting and fishing rights.

“I think we’re all coming to the conclusion that the Canadian government’s not going to fix it for us, so we’re trying to do our best with what we have to just assert ourselves,” House said.

Haudenosaunee lawyer Beverly Jacobs said the federal government needs to get involved in resolving the dispute, starting with a moratorium on all developments.

“Canada needs to come to the table with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and they need to negotiate,” the associate dean at the University of Windsor’s law faculty said by phone.

“The deeper underlying land issues need to be addressed. Otherwise, this is going to continue to be a cycle, because our people are tired of being silent.”

A statement from the office of the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said Canada is committed to “continuing to work collaboratively to address Six Nations’ historical claims and land rights issues.”

“We are actively working with the community and look forward to meeting at the earliest opportunity,” the statement said.

Seeds planted at the McKenzie Road camp have sprouted into tomato plants and sunflowers in the months since the occupation began.

When asked what he’d like to see on the land, Williams pointed to the return of natural life at the 2006 protest site which was eventually purchased by the province to end the dispute.

“Fifteen years have passed and all the topsoil has regrown, trees have grown there, animals are coming back,” he said. “If that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what needs to happen. Just to let nature take its course.”

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press, Published November 1, 2020


Manitoba protesters stand with Six Nations, fight promised anti-blockade law

A demonstration along Highway 75 near Morris, Man., lasted roughly 2½ hours on Friday. (Patrick Foucault/Radio-Canada)

More than a dozen people protested along Highway 75 in Morris, Man., Friday afternoon

Demonstrators gathered in Morris, Man., on Friday, standing in solidarity with the 1492 Land Back Lane camp in Ontario and protesting the Manitoba government’s throne speech promise to introduce anti-blockade legislation.

“We’ve come together to protest, to show solidarity with Six Nations in Ontario and Land Back Lane camp,” said Harrison Powder, one of more than a dozen people at the protest on Highway 75 at the south end of Morris.

“Those people have been arrested there … while they’re trying to defend their treaty rights.”

Members from the Haudenosaunee community of Six Nations set up the camp in July on an area of land in Caledonia, Ont., slated to become a subdivision, but which people at the encampment say is stolen, unceded Haudenosaunee territory.

Ontario Provincial Police have arrested demonstrators at the site. On Friday, an Ontario Superior Court judge gave the camp until Oct. 22 to vacate the land before he rules on making an injunction against their presence permanent.

Powder said Friday was a national day of action for communities across Canada to stand in support of the 1492 Land Back Lane camp.

“We’re not the only community [and] we’re not the only groups who are protesting,” he said. “It’s happening across the country right now.”

Demonstration to fight promised anti-blockade law

The demonstration, which lasted roughly 2½ hours, was also a protest of legislation promised by Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government that would restrict future blockades.

The government announced its intention to bring forward the new law in its throne speech earlier this week, saying the legislation will prevent “illegal protests and blockades,” referring to railway blockades earlier this year.

“There’s no way that this is designed to infringe on anyone’s right to lawful protest,” Premier Brian Pallister said at the time.

But Powder said that’s exactly what the law will do.

“The Charter of Rights guarantees us these rights … in Canada, to be able to protest bills, to express ourselves, to be able to … defend our communities,” he said.

In comments prior to the throne speech Wednesday, Pallister said blockades “take away” the rights of people they impact. Powder said Friday that’s incorrect.

“The most we do is disrupt the public for a few minutes,” he said.

In the case of prolonged blockades like the railway blockades earlier this year, Powder said people fighting government action are sometimes left with no other venue to make their voices heard.

“For us, you know, that’s the only way we get attention sometimes,” he said. “The public won’t pay attention, the politicians don’t pay attention to us, until we do something like blocking the railway. And that’s unfortunate.”

With files from Radio-Canada’s Patrick Foucault

By CBC News · Posted: Oct 09, 2020


OPP arrest 25th person over Caledonia housing site dispute

A 1492 Land Back sign near Highway 6 in Caledonia. (Aug. 20, 2020)

KITCHENER — The number of people who have been arrested in relation to a demonstration at a residential development in Haldimand County has reached 25.

A 29-year-old from Toronto was arrested and charged on Thursday with disobeying a court order and mischief. They were released and are expected to appear in a Cayuga court at a later date.

The Ontario Provincial Police say this was in relation to a current court injunction in effect at the site, known as McKenzie Meadows, near Caledonia.

The first demonstration arrests were made by OPP on Aug. 5.

The court injunction prohibits anyone from being on the property at 1535 McKenzie Road, also known as 1492 Land Back Lane, or from setting up road blockades in the county.

“The OPP Provincial Liaison Team is engaged in significant collaborative and respectful dialogue aimed at bringing about a peaceful resolution, while ensuring everyone’s safety and preserving their respective rights guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” the OPP said in a news release.

Protesters have said they will remain on the Indigenous land for as long as it takes.

By Chris Thomson – CTV News Kitchener, Published Saturday, October 3, 2020

Federal ministers agree to discuss ‘Six Nations’ historical claims’ as occupation continues

Demonstrators have occupied the McKenzie Meadows development in Caledonia for more than a month, renaming it “1492 Land Back Lane.” (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Demonstrators have been at McKenzie Meadows for more than a month

The federal government has committed to engage in negotiations around unresolved land issues related to Six Nations amid a month-long occupation of a housing development outside Caledonia.

Skyler Williams, a spokesperson for demonstrators at the McKenzie Meadows site, said the Six Nations Elected Council and Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council have received a letter from Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett agreeing to sit down and discuss the situation.

“Understand that we are a nation unto ourselves, we’re not Canadian citizens. We’re Haudenosaunee people and need to be treated as such,” Williams explained Thursday.

“The peaceful occupation of our lands is what we’re about and being able to move that conversation forward is paramount for us.”

A spokesperson for Bennett confirmed the letter was sent, adding Canada “deeply values” its relationship with Six Nations and is “committed to continuing to work collaboratively to address Six Nations’ historical claims and land right issues.”

The statement stressed the importance of peaceful dialogue for building a stronger relationship.

“With regard to the McKenzie Meadows Caledonia housing development, we encourage the parties involved to continue to work together through open dialogue to find a constructive, respectful, and positive way forward,” it added.

Dialogue is something Ontario Premier Doug Ford also pointed to when asked about the land occupation Thursday, revealing he’d met with Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill.

Demonstrators set up camp at the McKenzie Meadows on July 19, saying it’s  unceded Haudenosaunee territory and renaming it 1492 Land Back Lane.

On Thursday they began dismantling barricades across area roads set up after an OPP raid on August 5 where police fired a rubber bullet and arrested several people at the site.

Demonstrators handed over a pair of bulldozers to OPP liaison officers Thursday, 26 days into their occupation of the nearby McKenzie Meadows residential development. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Demonstrators also previously returned two bulldozers that ended up behind the blockades.

Williams said both actions were aimed at deescalating the situation and ensuring the focus of discussions stays on “the real issue here and that’s the land.”

by: Dan Taekema · CBC News · Posted: Aug 21, 2020