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Land defenders re-occupy Caledonia residential development, say ‘trust has been broken’ with OPP

A group of Six Nation residents has re-occupied a residential development in Caledonia following arrests at the site and a pair of blockades set up in solidarity on major routes.
A group of Six Nation residents has re-occupied a residential development in Caledonia following arrests at the site and a pair of blockades set up in solidarity on major routes. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

A group of ‘land defenders’ from Six Nations has returned to the site of a housing development on the edge of Caledonia, the day after OPP arrested several people as part of enforcing a court injunction.

The collective, which has dubbed the site on McKenzie Road ‘1492 Land Back Lane’, writes on a Facebook page, “Mackenzie Meadows is one of several housing developments within the area that are directly violating the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee.”

“Collectively we remain firm in our stance that action must be taken to stop the ongoing development of our lands,” the description of the group reads.

A Superior Court injunction was granted to Foxridge Developments, Inc. and delivered at the site on Friday.

On Wednesday morning, a video live-streamed from the site and posted to the groups’ Facebook page shows dozens of armed OPP officers advancing toward those gathered at the site.

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Read more: Protesters arrested at residential development in Caledonia: OPP

Myka, one of the land defenders who spoke with Global News over the phone on Thursday, said the police response on Wednesday morning has resulted in a breach of trust.

“Within the injunction that was served, we had until Friday — tomorrow — to respond to the injunction,” said Myka.

“The land defenders had met with the OPP on Monday, and they said they weren’t looking to come in and do arrests, they were looking to have a peaceful resolution, they were sort of waiting to see what was going on with the injunction process.

“And yet, they still came in on Wednesday and clearly raided the place. So I think the trust has been broken with the OPP.”

In an email to Global News, Const. Rodney Leclair wrote that officers used “appropriate, non-lethal force” in response to some of the land defenders throwing rocks at police.

He also confirmed that one rubber bullet was fired.

All nine people who were arrested were released the same day, although Leclair did not say whether charges were laid.

“Open dialogue continues today in an effort toward a peaceful resolution,” wrote Leclair.

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Wednesday morning’s arrests spurred action from demonstrators who acted in solidarity with the land defenders, including the burning of tires and blockades set up on Argyle Street South and on the Highway 6 bypass.

Myka said those blockades were set up “in solidarity” as a response from the community and are not affiliated with those occupying at McKenzie Meadows.

She said they’ve been told by those demonstrators that the blockades will remain in place until the OPP guarantees that force won’t be used against the land defenders.

Read more: High-profile Hamilton lawyer loses licence after allegedly misappropriating funds in Caledonia lawsuit

Despite comparisons drawn by some frustrated locals who confronted police at one of the blockades on Wednesday, the mayor of Haldimand County said he’s not convinced the situation with the McKenzie Road housing development is similar to what happened years ago with the Douglas Creek Estates development.

“There was a lack of communication, as we know, with the development back in ’06,” Hewitt said during an interview with Global News Radio 900 CHML’s The Bill Kelly Show.

“We’ve got a notification agreement with Six Nations to ensure that any development on land, that they are notified well in advance.

“This project has been ongoing for over five years now. And they met with Six Nations, they had public meetings with Six Nations, the agreement that they came to was agreed upon with the band council, and here we are.”

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Hewitt also said he doesn’t believe the group on the construction site represents the majority of those from Six Nations.

“I believe this protest is … it’s a group of individuals who are using social media and using the current climate that we have with minority groups, with policing, and they’re using it to their advantage. And it’s unfortunate.”

The Six Nations of the Grand River elected council said it was “accommodated” for two developments on McKenzie Road, both financially with $352,000 paid to its land banking account in 2019, and with the transfer of 42.3 acres of land across from Little Buffalo along Townline Road in 2016.

However, Myka said the elected council isn’t truly representative of the residents of Six Nations.

Rather, she said the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (HCCC) is considered to be the territory’s “actual governing body” that should be in charge of making land deals.

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“Elected council is sort of like an arm of the government that’s put in place, at most, to do administration work. And they know that very well, because both of those parties were at the table in 2006. And with Kanonhstaton (formerly known as Douglas Creek Estates), it was actually given to the HCCC to take the lead on that.

“The band council acquiesced to that. So they’re quite clear of what the political dynamics are here.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was “disappointed” by the occupation of the McKenzie Meadows site and the blockades during Thursday’s news conference.

“I have a great deal of respect for these (Indigenous) communities right across the province. We’re there to support them and help them,” Ford said.

“But it has to be a two-way street here. You know, you just can’t go in and just take over people’s future homes. It’s wrong.”

Ford added that “99.99 per cent” of those in the Indigenous community are “phenomenal people”, attributing the actions of the demonstrators to “a couple bad apples.”

Read more: Injunctions are not effective in Indigenous-led land disputes, legal experts say

Myka said the land defenders are committed to what they’re doing and will continue to occupy the land, despite the court injunction.

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“All of this development coming right to the doorstep of our reserve … especially when it’s taking all of our green space, is really concerning to us.”

She emphasized that the Haldimand tract of land remains contested and should be prioritized as space for Six Nations to grow.

“The settler population keeps growing and expanding, and taking land, and it’s extremely inequitable to keep Indigenous people stuck on static pieces of land, even though their populations are continuously growing as well.”

Click to play video 'Indigenous rally outside office of Peterborough-Kawartha MP' Indigenous rally outside office of Peterborough-Kawartha MP
Indigenous rally outside office of Peterborough-Kawartha MP