The spokesperson for a group from Six Nations that’s been occupying a Caledonia construction site says barricades on the Highway 6 bypass will be opening up by the end of the week, allowing for regular traffic to pass through.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Skyler Williams said barricades at Argyle Street and McKenzie Road will also be moved back slightly to allow access to a church, some businesses and a hydro station. However, those roads will remain closed.
Williams told Global News that the “goodwill” gesture to open and partially open the roadways was an issue of safety and accommodation for people who need to travel between Hagersville and Hamilton.
“There are two roads that surround our camp that allow us to be able to get back to Six Nations and that is still going to remain closed,” said Williams
“But the Highway 6 bypass, which is kind of a major highway that runs borders, Six Nations and Caledonia will be open.”
Ontario Provincial Police say the roadway is not likely to be accessible right away as the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) will have to deem the passage safe for travel.
“Once demonstrators have removed barricades, the Ministry of Transportation Ontario will need to attend to assess the roadway and complete all necessary repairs required to ensure the roadway is safe for all vehicles. Once the roadway is determined to be safe, it will be reopened for traffic,” OPP Constable Rod LeClair said.
The closure of the bypass is connected to the occupation of the McKenzie Meadows housing development which has been renamed ‘1492 Land Back Lane’ by a group that calls itself “land defenders.” The occupiers claim the project is on unceded territory that belongs to the Haudenosaunee.
The land defenders have been on the site since mid-July and claim the tract of land was “promised” to Six Nations in 1784 but “unlawfully” sold to a developer by the Canadian government in 1853.
Foxgate Developments Inc. was planning to sell close to 200 homes on the stretch of land at Mackenzie Meadows.
Haldimand County Council has taken the side of the developer, Foxgate, and the elected council from Six Nations of the Grand River – who approved the project.
In early August, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) began arresting demonstrators on the site after a judge issued a pair of injunctions — one that prohibits people from trespassing on the construction site and another that prohibits blockades from being set up on roads in Haldimand County.
To date, police have charged a total of 52 individuals connected to the occupation. Of those, 32 have been arrested for offences ranging from disobeying a court order to mischief to assaulting peace officers.
Courtney Skye, a policy analyst with Ryerson University and a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who was one of those arrested in September claims a lot of the people charged weren’t actually from the occupation but friends of the land defenders.
“There haven’t been many from the community that have been charged,” according to Skye, “It’s been mostly allies and people bringing supplies to the camp and dropping off water.”
In October, Williams was the sole defendant in a ruling to recoup legal fees related to the occupation in excess of $150,000, payable to Haldimand County and Foxgate.
The land defenders are seeking a dialogue with the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, as well as minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller and Ontario Indigenous affairs MPP Greg Rickford.
So far, Williams says what communication there has been with government has been at the federal level and it’s been “minimal.”
“The government keeps saying over and over again that we need to reconcile in the spirit of reconciliation and nation to nation, but no real, no substantive action is being pushed forward,” said Williams.
Global News has reached out to the office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations who said in a statement they were “encouraged” by the news that Highway 6 will be reopened and that the federal government is “working collaboratively to address Six Nations historical claims and land rights.”
“In August 2020, Minister Bennett and Minister 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,” the office said in its release.
“Canada is committed to addressing longstanding and unresolved land issues, better understanding the interests and priorities of the community and assessing how Canada can support Six Nations’ vision and right to self-determination.”