Above photo: Demonstrators gathered outside of the office of the Ontario ministry of Indigenous affairs near Bloor Street East and Church Street. Nicolas Haddad/CBC.
Parcel of land in dispute is McKenzie Meadows housing development in Caledonia, Ont.
Hundreds of people demonstrated outside of the office of the Ontario ministry of Indigenous affairs in Toronto on Saturday to show support for members of Six Nations of the Grand River arrested in a land dispute.
Demonstrators carried placards and a large banner that read: “Land Back.” The gathering near Bloor Street East and Church Street was in support of a group that calls itself the Six Nations Land Defenders.
“Land Back” was painted in red capital letters on the street near the office with messages in chalk surrounding the words.
The land in dispute is known as the McKenzie Meadows housing development site. It is located on the outskirts of Caledonia, Ont., southwest of Hamilton. Foxgate Developments Inc., a developer, plans to build 218 homes on the land, a parcel that is about 10 hectares.
Six Nations Land Defenders have occupied the proposed housing development site since July 19. They call the parcel of land “1492 Land Back Lane” and have set up a camp.
On Aug. 5, the group says the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) raided the camp and made arrests, but community members returned to the site.
Courtney Skye, a researcher with Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute, said she was arrested last week when she was with her aunt on the banks of the Grand River.
“I think people who are organizing and leading the land reclamation, they certainly risk arrest. What’s really concerning is that the fact people like myself, who are researchers, who are academics or journalists, have been arrested. People who are supporting the action are being criminalized. People who are making sure the land defenders are fed, that they are warm, that they are getting supplies, they are being criminalized. It’s really alarming,” she said.
“Cutting off Indigenous people’s supplies to starve them off the land, it’s genocide, it’s colonialism.”
The parcel of land was part of the Haldimand Tract, which was granted to the Haudenosaunee of Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution.
According to Six Nations Land Defenders, the Canadian government unlawfully sold the land to a developer after an Indian agent sold the reserve land in question to a private party in 1853.
The Six Nations Land Defenders say development of the land would violate the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee people.
The Haudenosaunee — a group that includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora First Nations — are also known as the Iroquois or the Six Nations, and were involved in a similar land dispute in 2006.
Even though there have been agreements that the developer, Foxgate Developments, and elected Six Nations council have signed, the Six Nations Land Defenders say the land is unceded Haudenosaunee territory.
In a Sept. 4 news release, Haldimand County Council, which covers Caledonia, said it is pushing for a resolution of the conflict but expects the OPP to enforce the law.
“Council remains adamant that illegal activities and behaviours in contravention with the law must be prosecuted accordingly, and reminds anyone attending the McKenzie Meadows site that they are at risk of being arrested and facing criminal charges as outlined in the court-issued injunction,” council said in the release.
OPP says 21 people arrested in all
According to the Six Nations Land Defenders, the OPP have arrested 26 people in all this summer in connection with an injunction granted to Foxgate Developments. Of the 26 people, the group said 15 were arrested at their homes and workplaces.
According to the OPP, 21 people have been arrested.
Const. Rodney LeClair, spokesperson for the OPP, said in an email on Sunday that the people arrested include residents of Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Greater Napanee, Guelph, London, Barrie, Ancaster, Tyendinaga and Six Nations.
“The OPP has no role to play in the land dispute issue. Our role is to maintain public safety for everyone involved including demonstrators, police and any member of the public,” LeClair said.
“Court injunctions are orders from the court. They are delivered, read and served by the Court Sheriff. The OPP is required to assist with enforcement of court injunctions/orders when requested by the courts to do so.”
Charges that have been laid include disobeying a court order, obstructing a police officer, causing a disturbance, mischief and intimidation.
Last week, Karl Dockstader, a journalist from Oneida Nation of the Thames, was arrested and charged.
LeClair said two court injunctions remain in effect, one prohibiting anyone from being on the site and the other prohibiting anyone from setting up road blockades.
“We are aware that Six Nations community members and the government are trying to arrange a meeting to discuss the issues, all in an effort toward a peaceful resolution,” he said.
Supporters want arrests by OPP to stop
Subhanya Sivajothy, a demonstrator at the rally, said in a news release that the purpose of the rally on Saturday was to show support.
“The main demand of this protest is for the OPP to stop arresting land defenders who are supporting the camp at 1492 Land Back Lane,” Sivajothy said.
“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.”
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $119,000 to cover legal costs of the Six Nations Land Defenders.
With files from Nicolas Haddad and The Canadian Press.