Recently Foxgate Developments, the company that planned to build a housing subdivision called Mackenzie Meadows on Six Nations land, has backed down from their initial plans. The decision came a year after land defenders with Six Nations took back the unceded Haudonesonee territory and set up a permanent camp. Fightback interviewed Skyler Williams, one of the land defenders, on July 6, 2021 to get his opinion on this news and how to continue the struggle.
Fightback: What does the recent news mean to you as one of the land defenders who was out there for months?
Skyler Williams: You know these kinds of wins are incremental and so this is merely a foot in the mountain in terms of the work that needs to be done. These are all generational struggles. The reason that we are able to maintain the fight today is because of the work that our fathers and grandfathers and mothers and grandmothers have done. To continue the fight of our parents and grandparents has honored a lot of us. The fact that this developer has decided to pull out the way that they have, we know that they haven’t done this from the kindness of their heart. The cost to build a house now is 50 per cent to 75 per cent more than it was a year ago, so selling for $400-$600,000 is no longer viable. Also, there is not an insurance company in the world to back them, there is no bank in the world to fund them, this isn’t a developer suddenly growing a conscience. They aren’t able to continue the work for a lot of reasons.
FB: In an article it mentioned a disgusting fact that the developer still holds the rights to the land? And there are still charges laid against land defenders?
SW: That’s right. There are 50 people that have been charged with well over 250 individual charges so far.
FB: So the fight is definitely ongoing.
SW: There is definitely no quit in us, you know. There is an incremental win here, but the fight over the land here is going to continue in the peaceful way that we’ve maintained it. For us, since day one it has been about sustainability, about being able to be there on the land, have six nations people there on the land 24/7. Whatever it takes to make that happen is what we are willing to do. The only time that violence has made its way to Land Back Lane has been the days that the OPP have shown up.
FB: I saw that the OPP had spent over $16 million surveilling you.
SW: Yeah and that was just from July (2020) to January (2021), they’re up over $20 million now. The absolute disgusting nature with which the police can wade into situations like this was just boneless—the money and time, to be able to spend those kinds of dollars on a group of 50 people singing Kumbaya is ridiculous. Especially when we are in the middle of a pandemic when we are seeing mom and pop businesses going out of business and lots of people on welfare and ODSP suffering in untold ways. And then to spend $20 million when there are communities that need just half of that to be able to have clean drinking water. The thought that these OPP officers are making well over $100,000 to police a group of Indigenous folks that have remained peaceful this entire time.
FB: Matthew Green of the NDP came out to put pressure on the Federal government to come out and take a position—how has it been going on that front?
SW: You know, it is absolutely infuriating the lack of leadership from both the Feds and the Province on this. The only bit of work that the premier of Ontario has done is to inflame the situation by making disparaging and factually incorrect statements in the press when the roads got dug up. It is an absolutely disgusting thought that this premier and the Liberal government has done absolutely nothing to see a peaceful resolution to this.
FB: Recently with the discovery of the bodies of children at residential schools, there has been a big reaction from both the Indigenous community and outrage from working class people across Canada.
SW: Absolutely, this is something that we have been talking about, us in Six Nations, for the last 50 years since the residential school in Brantford closed down. My dad has stories of friends of his that went to that school and never came back. No one ever heard what happened to them or why they just decided not to come home after however long at one of these schools.
FB: Some politicians have been coming out in support of this outcry, while at the same time saying, “This is the past.” But obviously you see all the atrocities that are happening right now today, connecting the oppression that has been happening all this time. Thinking about the general support you’ve been receiving from the community inside and outside of Caledonia for 1492 Land Back Lane—what do you think needs to be done, what are the next steps ahead?
SW: Yeah, like I said it’s mostly about sustainability for us, getting solar power and running water to the tiny homes, the communal buildings. It’s about creating that bit of community around the folks that are maintaining that space in the land. Whatever I can do to push that as much as I can is exactly what I am going to be doing. And just to tie those two things together, the residential schools and Land Back: if you can colonize or Christianize the next generations then that takes care of their Indian problem. They settled the land as they saw fit and all of the land was stolen from us. So when we talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, when we talk about residential school survivors and the 60’s scoop, now into the millennium scoop survivors, we want to be able to invite these brothers and sisters that have been stolen from our communities back to the land. We absolutely need to be able to invite them back to a place that has the ability to grow and thrive. I don’t care if you are a small town or a big city, for the last 150 years, all of them have been growing in this period, except the reserves. The reserves have been the only ones where the borders have been shrinking around them. But there are so many of us and enough is enough with that. We want to be able to invite those brothers and sisters back home to a place that has the ability to grow and thrive.
FB: In terms of broad support, a year ago with Wet’suwet’en, you had working class people involved. Blocking railways, traffic, etc. You saw examples of working class Indigenous and non-Indigenous people coming together for the same struggle. Is this a rise in class consciousness around a specific issue that expands to broader issues of Indigenous oppression?
SW: Absolutely. There is something in the air right now in the activist community. And this is where I had gotten to pre-G20, where you see working class folks, black and brown and red people coming together. The communists and anarchists not focusing on those small little things that divide us that we all bicker about. But starting to focus on that common goal and common enemy. It’s one of those things where you can feel it in the air, some changes in the air. The closer that we get, there is an opportunity to effect some real change.
FB: Last time we interviewed you, we asked about capitalism and the exploitation of working class people and Indigenous communities. More and more people are drawing radical and revolutionary conclusions. What do you think about this and what do you think about the need for a revolution and overthrowing capitalism? Do you think we need a revolution to overthrow capitalism as a system?
SW: I’ve thought that since I was 14 years old. I certainly think there is some opportunity here to be able to do that. Every time we do this stuff, we get so close. And there is always, always, always, a bunch of internal bullshit that pulls us down. You know, that compassion, that care, that bit of love for each other starts to disappear. It becomes more about everybody’s else’s personal ideas and so if we can keep the goal in sight, we have the opportunity to make some real change.
FB: So in terms of that, what do you think we need to build internally, in the movement itself?
SW: That’s the struggle right now, trying to make it so we can do all of that work. But we need to be able to find a way to do that in a way that is compassionate with other people where they are at. With the anarchist or communist communities, or the working class folks. It’s really about building that bit of community so that people don’t feel alienated. In all of those communities, everybody’s dealing with so much struggle and strife and trauma around all of the issues that we have been oppressed over for the last… ever! And so to have that bit of compassion with people, to be able to focus on the bigger goals is important. When it comes to those small things, we will continue to debate and have those discussions. But they need to be done in a way to make sure that everybody is heard. Because that little bit of love, that fierceness in which we fight, is the same way when we’ve got that love for each other. We just really need to love the fuck out of each other right now because we are going to continue to be taking a shit kicking if we can’t make these stands together.