By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—Self-titled land defenders are nearing six months on site at the McKenzie Meadows housing development, renamed 1492 Land Back Lane.
The Haldimand Press spoke with Skyler Williams, spokesperson of the site, to find out what life is like inside.
“You can usually hear the sound of somebody splitting wood at one of the tiny homes. There are nine buildings on site. Generally, there are people in them with wood stoves,” said Williams.
“We’ve got a ton of support with food. Somebody brings something, someone’s family brings something, someone from the community brings something. We’ve got whatever supplies we need,” he added. “There’s a group from Caledonia that makes meals a few times a week. It’s been an amazing outpouring of support.”
Williams says the tight-knit community that has formed on site shares a desire to keep things as safe and sanitary as possible: “Upkeep work is always going on. Maintaining the site is one of the big priorities, making sure things are neat and tidy and everybody is happy, healthy, and taken care however we can.”
Williams and the other demonstrators have seen a steady stream of people descending on the site from the beginning: “The people that live on site are from Six Nations. There are lots of folks coming from the east coast to the west coast. We’ve had lots and lots of visitors. Some come for a day, some a weekend, some a week, and some a month. It’s been really good to have folks show solidarity, both from Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies and friends. It’s been really great that way.”
He noted that the colder weather has not been a deterrent to visitors: “It’s stayed constant throughout. We’ve been really fortunate to put up some buildings and heat them and insulate them.”
While the cold may not be deterring them, the pandemic has created some additional challenges.
“Six Nations closed our entire reserve to any non-member traffic when the pandemic first started. I think Six Nations takes the pandemic more seriously than most, certainly that rings true for us here. We do everything we possibly can do to maintain those guidelines. People that are coming from out of hot zones generally will quarantine for a period of time or get a test before coming to make sure that those precautions are being maintained.”
One of the ways the demonstrators have bonded has been over music.
“We’ve been really, really lucky in that regard. We’ve had everybody from Tom Wilson to Logan Staats, some of Six Nations blues greats came out, like Derek Miller … and shown solidarity and love with our people,” said Williams. “One of the big things we spend a great majority of our time doing is singing our traditional songs. Our water drums, we call them social songs.”
“Whenever there are new folks, we’ll tell the story of the last 174 days, and what that looks like. There’s lots of laughter and camaraderie that exists when 30 to 40 people live together for six months. It’s an amazing feeling to build that community and family as we have.”
Williams had strong words for the outside forces trying to put an end to their position at the site.
“It is frustrating to see the constant and consistent pressure from the OPP to settle this at the point of a gun as opposed to a peaceful dialogue and negotiation that our community has said over and over again that we have an obligation to,” he said. “There’s very little that Haldimand County is on the hook for, if you will. It’s the feds that need to be at the table here.”
Williams took a moment to reflect on the very real consequences his mission has had on his life and the lives of those around him: “My daughters go to school in Caledonia. For them to come out of their school every day and see the cops that just shot at their dad and arrested their mom, to see them every day is something that people need to understand. We are not left unaffected by all of this.”
“These are our neighbours. The sooner that the Federal government is willing to come to our table in a real way and have that Crown consultation with our community the better. It needs to happen; it should have happened 170 days ago,” summed up Williams.
He encouraged anyone looking to support him and his followers to join their social media and to contribute to the 1492 Land Back Lane Legal Fund, in support of the dozens of people who have been charged for their actions surrounding the site.
As of press time, the Land Back Lane Legal Fund on GoFundMe had raised almost $415,000 from approximately 4,900 donors making about 5,600 donations.
“Lots of people and lots of charges,” said Williams on the nearly 40 people arrested and an additional group facing charges from the OPP. “We want to make sure those people are taken care in the best way we can.”