On Wednesday, May 19, Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane, turned himself into police after 10 months with warrants hanging over his head by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The 37 year-old Haudonesonee land defender walked into the Haldimand County OPP station to be booked and was released after a short while. A caravan of cars honked outside the station while supporters gathered to show solidarity for Williams. His decision to turn himself in follows a series of brazen public arrests, harassment and intimidation by the OPP and governments on behalf of corporations.
In response to being asked why he turned himself in, Williams, a father of four children, said, “I need to be able to take care of my kids. I need to be able to see my daughter off to college and I need to be able to take my daughter to sports… without having to look over my shoulder.”
In July 2020, Haudenosaunee land defenders of the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve set up a reclamation camp, 1492 Land Back Lane, to stop the construction of a housing development on stolen land by Foxgate Development. Fightback detailed more on the history of the stolen land and other details in a statement here.
On Aug. 5, the OPP violently enforced their injunction and several arrests were made. The response from the land defenders was to justifiably block the roadways entering the land and block CN rail tracks.
On Aug. 7, Haldimand County and CN Rail were granted an injunction against the blockade. After several injunctions ordering that the reclamation camp be removed, in late October the courts granted a permanent injunction against the reclamation camp which led to a series of more charges against dozens of land defenders. With the stroke of a pen, a judge decided to violate the rights of the Indigenous people of that land in the interest of the company—thereby unleashing a violent series of attacks by the police.
Land defenders have continuously made appeals for peaceful negotiations with the federal government to no avail. They even opened the roads to the land in February 2021 and brought NDP MP Matthew Green in for a press conference, with no answer from Trudeau.
Meanwhile, the OPP spent more than $16 million in just half a year policing 1492 Land Back Lane. Figures revealed the OPP spending $2-3 million per month on salaries, round-the-clock overtime, food, hotels, travel costs, supplies, equipment, building rentals and other related expenses between July 2020 and January 2021—all for monitoring and having a presence near Indigenous land defenders.
The result from the court order has also enabled undercover OPP officers to stalk and harass Indigenous activists for the past 10 months. A 26 year-old Six Nations mother was arrested in front of her two young children while en route to get groceries. Another Six Nations member was ambushed by undercover OPP officers after being followed from her home.
It is time to put an end to this constant violation of Indigenous rights and put an end to the violent bullying by the police, courts, and government who have nothing but the interests of the corporations in mind.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has sent a few representatives to the 1492 Land Back Lane occupation over the past 10 months. This was a good first step to create relationships with Six Nations peoples. However the OFL represents 1 million workers in Ontario and has massive power to end this oppression of the Indigenous people of Six Nations. It has the authority to lead hundreds of thousands of workers.
The charges against Skyler Williams must be dropped. If the courts convict Williams and any other land defenders who have been charged, the labour movement—including the OFL, other unions and workers—need to stand up for them through mass direct action. The police, courts, and state are violently violating the rights of Indigenous peoples across the country, and violating the rights of workers with back-to-work legislation and protecting employers who lock out their workers.
We should not be afraid to strike in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We should not be afraid to amass workers to bolster the lines created by Six Nations land defenders.
The courts have made fighting for the rights of Indigenous peoples a crime on paper, but the laws do not reflect the rights and aspirations of Indigenous peoples or the working class. We cannot wait until it’s too late.
Drop all charges against Skyler Williams and all 1492 Land Back Lane defenders!
Labour must mobilize in solidarity with Six Nations land defenders!
Revolution, not reconciliation!
In addition to mobilizing for land defenders, Fightback activists have pooled together donations for their legal fund. We encourage our readers to donate to support the land defenders here: https://gofund.me/c8b34270 and email them here: firstname.lastname@example.org