Just days before the 15th anniversary on Feb. 28 of the Indigenous land protest at Douglas Creeks Estates in Caledonia, barricades came down from the latest stand-off over the nearby McKenzie Meadows subdivision project that began in July 2020.
Things might go quiet for a while — a few months, maybe years — but the crisis will come again because those who might be in a position to make a difference are ignoring Caledonia, local MPP Toby Barrett says.
“Nobody’s going to stand up and take credit for this debacle … Caledonia is forgotten,” Barrett said Friday. “The word solution — it’s considered laughable. Sometimes we talk about resolution.”
For the past four months, major transportation routes into and out of Caledonia were barricaded by protesters who halted the planned construction of the McKenzie Meadows subdivision, renaming it 1492 Land Back Lane.
“We’ve seen this before although this was the worst incidences and the longest lasting in the 15-year history,” Barrett said. “The railway, the roads… were blockaded for four months. The OPP lost control of four miles of provincial highway for four months.”
A stolen excavator was used to pull up and twist CN rail lines, he said.
A new class-action lawsuit prepared by local lawyer Peter Murray on behalf of Caledonia area business owners and residents, seeking unspecified damages against Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and senior OPP management, describes theft and damages caused by protesters and “willfully ignored” by police.
According to the claim, protesters occupied private land legally owned by a developer, damaged Enbridge underground gas lines and Hydro One equipment, set aflame a hydro pole knocking out power to homes, threw a portable outhouse onto a provincial highway, and stole a backhoe, bulldozer and excavators to tear apart roads and infrastructure.
Many Six Nations residents stopped frequenting main street businesses for fear local residents would blame them for the protesters’ actions, Murray said.
“A lot of people in Caledonia wonder what would happen if three major arteries in and out of Toronto were blockaded,” Murray said. “How long would those blockades stay in place?”
Skyler Williams, spokesman for the 1492 Land Back Lane Defenders, said they have been peacefully occupying land that their ancestors were promised — six miles on each side of the Grand River from mouth to source.
Williams criticized the provincial Places to Grow Act, a planning blueprint that facilitates growth throughout much of southern Ontario, as incentivizing development of Indigenous lands.
Rows and rows of suburban-style housing would hem in Six Nations, leave Indigenous communities with no place to grow, he said.
As for Premier Doug Ford’s comment that people shouldn’t just take away other people’s land — “absolutely inflammatory,” Williams said.
Williams acknowledges the elected Six Nations band council received over $300,000 from the McKenzie Meadows developer but says there is strong support in the community and beyond for their position.
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The barricades went up to protect land defenders from police, he said.
“We’re going to stand there and be there peacefully as we have been since day one,” Williams said Thursday. “Absolutely, it’s anti-violence … The only violence that’s ever been committed here, the only weapons that have been brought here, have been brought here by the OPP.”
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique took the unusual step of releasing a video in October 2020 showing protesters smashing the windows of a cruiser with a police officer inside.
Protestors falsely blamed #OPP for escalation in #Caledonia. Extremely proud of my officers for their professional and measured response to keep the peace & preserve life while under attack. Arrests continue as members take responsible and sustained enforcement approach @WR_OPP pic.twitter.com/nhXTSRQKHs — Thomas Carrique (@OPPCommissioner) October 25, 2020
The OPP in Caledonia are hemmed in too.
Guided by an Indigenous Policing Framework developed following the police shooting of native protester Dudley George 25 years ago at Ipperwash Park that prioritizes negotiation, officers are still expected to enforce judges’ orders to clear the McKenzie Meadows land of the protesters.
Officers have made 37 arrests since Aug. 5, as the land protest draws in everyone from labour leaders to Toronto-based rental anarchists.
“Arrests have been made using the least amount of force necessary, including facilitating the opportunity for wanted parties to turn themselves in,” OPP Const. Rodney LeClair said. “Any use of force by police has been done only in response to aggressive actions taken by the individuals, which has included physically assaulting officers with rocks and thrown lumber.”
Yet that hasn’t stopped union dollars from flowing into a GoFundMe page set up to cover the legal costs for protesters charged by police.
A $5,000 donation was made in the name of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, and two donations totaling $2,992 were listed as from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) District 19 based in Peel Region.
Neither group responded to an email to confirm the donations, but the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) said it fully supports the protesters.
“In the case of 1492 Land Back Lane, the human rights of the Haudenosaunee people are being infringed upon. Land Defenders at 1492 Land Back Lane have faced excessive state violence for simply exercising their right to land protection,” the OFL statement says. “The labour movement has worked together to provide support and solidarity to Land Defenders at 1492 Land Back Lane.”
Barrett said he wonders what these donors, many never having been to Caledonia, would think about what has happened there.
“Even the militants — why they would steal a school bus from a church parking lot, drag it over with a stolen half-million-dollar excavator and crush it into a trench, obviously illegally dug across the main street of town, and feel that was an appropriate image?” the MPP asked. “A lot of people are ashamed of what went on down here regardless of which side they’re from.”
Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt questioned whether regular union members would approve of this use of their dues.
If there’s any consensus in Caledonia, it’s that any non-laughable solution would need more active participation by senior levels of government.
“First Nations people should have every right to stand for what they believe in and I totally support them with respect to a lot of the grievances they have, but when that right infringes on your’s and mine they’ve gone too far,” Hewitt said.
“I have not had one response by any email or phone call from members of the federal government,” he said. “And I find that deplorable as a Mayor of a community that’s been handcuffed for as long as it has as a result of their inability to take some ownership on what’s happened here in Caledonia.”
In a statement, the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said Six Nations has a number of historical land claims currently before the courts.
“Canada believes that the best way to address outstanding issues and advance reconciliation with Indigenous people is through respectful negotiation and dialogue,” the statement said. “Last summer, Minister (Carolyn) Bennett and Minister (Marc) Miller sent a letter to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and the Six Nations Elected Chief and Council seeking to design a process to work together on mutual priorities … Federal government officials have been in communication with representatives of Six Nations Elected Chief and Council, Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and Ontario since the summer. ”
Williams said he has not been contacted over the past 200 days.
“You know there’s a lot of happy talk, and there’s a lot of happy rhetoric that goes around with the Trudeau government, talking about this nation-to-nation process … This is not what nation-to-nation looks like for us.”