Indigenous land defenders say two people were injured last week after officers shot a rubber bullet and used a taser—again. Now, members of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory say they are preparing for even more police interference in the coming weeks as they continue their efforts to stop a housing development from being built on their land.
Six Nations land defender Skyler Williams said the community near Caledonia, Ontario, a town a little more than an hour southwest of Toronto, has always been ready to engage in a nation-to-nation relationship with the federal government and have “hard discussions” about the land.
“Those negotiations are quite difficult with a barrel of the gun pointed at your chest,” Williams said.
For more than 100 days, members of Six Nations have camped out at what they refer to as 1492 Land Back Lane to stop the housing development on land that was proclaimed Haudenosaunee territory via treaty with the British Crown almost 250 years ago.
According to organizers, the current land dispute represents further erosion of Six Nations sovereignty, and they say they’re ready to maintain their occupation through winter, despite injunctions that have ordered them to leave.
Last week, a local judge made the injunction permanent.
“The next couple weeks there is going to be a lot of pressure from the (Ontario Provincial Police) to clear our lands. Which we will not do!” tweeted Williams.
“I have made numerous attempts to deescalate the police and explain how their presence causes ongoing harm and stress because of their violence towards our people,” Williams told VICE News.
On Sunday, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique tweeted a video that shows two Indigenous land defenders striking a cop cruiser. OPP spokesperson Rod LeClair told VICE News the video was posted to “clarify misinformation that had been circulating on various social media sites that suggested the OPP has responded in a violent way to escalate the situation in Caledonia.”
LeClair maintains that police response has been “measured and appropriate” throughout the past 100 days. “To suggest that the actions taken by demonstrators at the site are caused by the OPP is factually incorrect,” said LeClair.
But Williams said the posted video doesn’t show what happened beforehand. Several people, including a 70-year-old clan mother, asked police to leave the scene and explained that their presence was making people uncomfortable, he said. Williams said police then attempted to arrest more Haudenosaunee land defenders and injured two, again with a rubber bullet and taser. They allegedly fired shots at Haudenosaunee women who were sitting in a spot adjacent to the camp not under an injunction, Williams said.
“The criminalization of land defenders is a real thing and that's something we've been dealing with quite heavily,” Williams said.
Ontario Provincial Police have been continuously monitoring the 1492 Land Back Lane camp as it resists development. On August 5, police raided the camp and arrested nine people and used tasers and rubber bullets against land defenders.
OPP told VICE News in a statement that they have arrested 38 people, with five arrested more than once, since the camp was first set up on July 19.
“Nobody tells anybody these are rubber bullets before they're fired, so all people are seeing is this 12 gauge pointed at you and bullets coming out,” Williams said.
The Ministry of Crown-Indigenous relations told VICE News in a statement it plans to meet with Six Nations at the “earliest opportunity.”
While the Six Nations elected council signed off on the project, community members say adequate consultation didn’t happen because elected councils are colonial; the community’s traditional leadership, Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs, supports land defenders.
The land, known as the Haldimand Tract, covers roughly 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River, and the proposed housing development sits squarely within it. A trial over the land is slated in the Ontario Superior Court for October 2022, but a win for the Haudenosaunee would only result in monetary compensation—no land back—which is why action is urgent now, land defenders say.
Courtney Skye is one of the nearly 40 people who have been arrested by OPP officers.
Skye, a member of Six Nations and a fellow with the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous think tank, had just finished delivering homemade chicken and dumpling soup to land defenders on September 3 when officers followed her off the site, eventually arresting and handcuffing her, and later charging her with mischief and disobeying a court order, she said.
“I don’t think anyone expected anything different,” Skye said. “These injustices are so normalized that average Canadians can't wrap their head around them.”
Elsewhere in Canada, other Indigenous communities are fighting for ancestral land and treaty rights as well, including Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who are trying to stop a pipeline from encroaching on their territory, and Mi'kmaw fishers who are being threatened and harassed by white commercial fishermen for catching lobster during the off-season, despite having a treaty-backed right to do so.
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