Beginning July 19, Haudenosaunee land defenders set up 1492 Landback Lane, a peaceful reclamation on the site of the planned MacKenzie Meadows housing development on Six Nations territory near Caledonia, Ont. The developer is planning to build 218 detached homes and townhouses as the first stage of a project of 1,000 units. They secured the support of the elected chief and band council; however, the occupation’s land defenders point out that with four per cent turnout for the last election, the band council does not have a mandate from the community.
The development is across the road from the site of a two-year standoff in 2006 over the planned Douglas Creek Estate which is still unresolved, but which resulted in the foundation of what is now Kanonhstaton, a Mohawk word meaning “the protected place”.
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, an estimated 100 heavily armed Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers enforcing an Ontario Superior Court injunction descended on the reclamation. Police shot at land defenders with rubber bullets while they attempted to clear everyone off the site. They were met with thrown sticks and rocks and nine people were arrested.
While the arrests were ongoing, community members got word and shut down the nearby railway, Highway 6, and Argyle Road. Fires were also lit at various places along the roadways. Within hours, the land defenders had been released. The blockade of Highway 6 has special significance since it runs over land that was agreed to be leased by Six Nations for the highway, but which has since been appropriated by the Ontario government.
Skyler Williams is a land defender who was arrested Wednesday and a spokesperson for the occupation. After being released Wednesday night to the occupation being reestablished, he was triumphant in a live Facebook video, saying, “After over a hundred cops came and pushed our people out, they got their asses kicked just like in ’06 and every other spot they’ve got their asses kicked up and down there.”
In an interview with Turtle Island News, Williams discussed the violence of the police towards the peaceful occupation: “Everybody managed to make it out without any serious injuries. When you take guns and weapons to peaceful people reclaiming their land, this is the result”, he said, continuing, “They brought violence to us and our community responded unarmed but with intent to make their voices heard.”
Premier Doug Ford’s statement on the reclamation was characteristically condescending. He stated that “you just can’t go in and take over people’s future homes, it’s wrong”, utterly missing the point that the issue at stake is that developers as well as the Ontario and Canadian governments have taken over Indigenous land and are even now refusing to respect Indigenous land rights. Ford went on to totally erase Indigenous land rights with the colonial statement, “We have one country, one rule, and that is it.” These are the words of a conqueror, but Indigenous people will not be so easily suppressed.
Turtle Island News reported that the three demands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy before roads will be reopened are as follows. First, that the Ontario and Candian governments recognize them as the only government at Six Nations; second, that they present the land deed for Highway 6; and finally, that they issue an apology for shooting at Six Nations people.
At the beginning of the year, the bankruptcy of Justin Trudeau’s supposed “reconciliation” was plain to see with RCMP squads armed to the teeth invading Wet’suwet’en land to build an oil and gas pipeline. At the time, this was met with an organic wave of solidarity from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with blockades erected across Canada, including on Highway 6 near Caledonia. The same is happening today.
In a video posted to Facebook, Chief Woos of Wet’suwet’en extended his solidarity to the reclamation: “We feel that we have to support our brothers and sisters on what they are doing and what their ultimate goal is as they have shown support to us Wet’suwet’en”. Williams spoke to The Hamilton Spectator about an “amazing wealth of support” from so many Haudenosaunee communities:
“I’d be remiss to try to name all of them,” he said. “They’ve all sent their best wishes and love and support from all of those communities saying they’re watching what’s going on and ready to take action.”
The same solidarity needs to be extended by workers’ organizations.
Right-wing politicians are showing their class solidarity with corporations. For example, see this statement by Caledonia Mayor Ken Hewitt and several Haldimand County Council Members:
I will NOT work with and or support anyone who thinks that acts of civil disobedience are an appropriate way to make their point. I will push for the OPP to apply the injunctions on those breaking the judge’s orders and I will look to our judicial system to apply the law on those that so just [sic] deserve it.
This is exactly what is said to workers when we defy back-to-work legislation or any other unjust law. Without “civil disobedience”, none of the labour moment’s historic victories such as the eight-hour day or an end to child labour laws could have been won. More recently, the militant actions of the anti-police brutality movement in the U.S. has rapidly transformed public perceptions of police brutality and represented a leap forward in consciousness. Just as the right wing unite on a class basis, so workers and oppressed groups need to unite.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers have the same enemy in the Canadian state, and we’re all stronger united. In the words of Chief Woos in the Wet’suwet’en solidarity video, “To the non-Indigenous people across Canada, silence is not an option. We have to stand together against all of this.” It is essential that working class organizations such as unions stand in solidarity with the reclamation at 1492 Landback Lane.