McKenzie demonstrators ready for the long-haul as 30 days pass on site

McKenzie demonstrators ready for  the long-haul as 30 days pass on site
Self-titled land defenders who have halted work on the McKenzie Meadows housing development have renamed the site 1492 Land Back Lane.

By Haldimand Press Staff

CALEDONIA—Having entered the McKenzie Meadows housing development on July 19, 2020, the self-titled land defenders have now held their position on the site for a month.

“Thirty days later and we have managed to remain. Thanks to a huge part of our community stepping forward to say police violence will not be tolerated against your people,” said land defender Skyler Williams in a Facebook update on August 18. “Today the police pressure is focused on the roads that cross our lands. Decisions need to be made that respect everybody’s ideas on a path forward. Decisions are hard with a gun pointed at your people’s head, after rubber bullets rang past their ears. We need this to be a rallying cry for unity and consensus building.”

Police read the first injunction at the site on July 31 and returned on August 5 to enforce it, arresting nine demonstrators. Police claim the demonstrators became violent and threw rocks at them, while the demonstrators claim they were peaceful when the police used force to remove them. This prompted supporters of the protest to blockade Argyle Street South, Highway 6, and a railway by Sixth Line. Police set up their own blockades to redirect traffic onto detour routes and withdrew from the McKenzie Road development, which was then swiftly reclaimed by demonstrators that same evening. While multiple further injunctions were granted against demonstrators from stopping work on the site or blockading transportation routes, the police had yet to attempt enforcement of these injunctions as of press time on August 18. Media Relations Officer Rod LeClair said there was “no update” at that time: “Communication continues between our Provincial Liaison Team and demonstrators. Road closures still in effect and I don’t have any information on when any enforcement of the court injunctions would occur.”

The group is in the process of building on the site themselves, just one sign that Williams and the other demonstrators have no intention of leaving the land, regardless of any arrests: “I am not a great philosopher or politician; I am simply a member of my community. If my community gives me direction that we need to leave the land be and let mother nature take it back over, the deer will come back and the fox will come back. If our community says let’s build some houses here, then that’s what we’ll do. As far as I’m concerned, this is Haudenosaunee territory and we’re going to continue to live and be here. We’ve been here for the last 10,000 years and I can just about guarantee that we’ll be here for 10,000 more.”

Above, demonstrators are constructing a building for use as a kitchen.
—Haldimand Press photos by Jillian Zynomirski.

As the protest surpasses a month and accusations of violence have emerged, many residents have been left wondering if McKenzie Meadows is shaping up to be the next Douglas Creek Estates (DCE).

“The tactics that have been used (by demonstrators), well, we’ve seen this film before,” said MPP Toby Barrett, who was in office for the 2006 DCE events and the following smaller protests that have been a regular occurrence along the Grand River. “In the last 14.5 years, we’ve tried just about every tactic and explored every strategy and none of those approaches worked…. We cannot keep repeating the mistakes of the past. We need new approaches.”

Barrett said that when he was first debriefed on the situation in 2006 he was told the issue generally sits with the federal government, but he believes it’s important that no one group be considered solely responsible for resolving the current situation: “Don’t leave it up to the police. Don’t leave it up to the government. Don’t leave it up to the experts. It’s up to all of us to keep talking to each other and work on resolving this … to work out a better way than relying on intimidation, chaos, and mayhem.”

Barrett admitted that provincial highways and the contract for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) sit with the provincial government, but echoed previous comments from Premier Doug Ford that they cannot take direct control over the OPP, nor would they want to. However, Barrett said that he is “pro-OPP” and believes the current legal actions taken against demonstrators are a positive step: “It’s a good sign when the government does not stand in the way of enforcing an injunction in my view…. We’ve had three or four injunctions served and one enforced, and that’s more than in the last 14.5 years, so we’re progressing.”

Williams noted that the injunction being enforced however is what triggered the blockades being set up, which he said “was never the intention of anybody here at Land Back Lane.”

“All of the different groups, band councillors included, have talked to me to say they agree with what we’re doing. They don’t agree with having the road blocks up and nor do I, but the community at large feels that planting those barricades is a necessity of us being safe,” continued Williams.

Barrett said he has had calls from constituents on both sides of the issue, some calling for OPP to be brought in and others wanting the land to remain undeveloped.

“I lean towards the law and order side of things, but there’s also the repercussions and retaliation side of things. A week and a half ago everybody is calling for the OPP to come in and get them out of there and that’s what they did, so many people got what they wanted,” said Barrett, who was in Caledonia when the injunction was enforced. “Then all hell let loose…. This is always the danger…. I continue to get calls and emails to have the OPP go in and clear them out on the highways, and that is a top priority, but we also know what could happen. That’s where it puts people in Caledonia in a position where they may have to defend their property…. That’s why the OPP is very measured in their approach.”

“One other big change (compared to 2006), Premier Ford has made it very public, he’s saying things (2006) Premier McGuinty never did. He’s saying that we’re all one country and there’s just one law. He’s publicly stating things like he’s losing patience and enough is enough…. That this (protest) is disturbing, uncalled for, and unacceptable. You can’t just go in and take over people’s future homes,” continued Barrett, who commended Ford for being vocal, adding that he completely agrees.

Williams, however, sees the injunctions as “the criminalization of us defending our territory…. Whenever indigenous people stand up for anything, if we say ‘no’ to something we are criminalized and victimized by the judicial system.”

The demonstrators also assert that the Haudenosaunee are a sovereign people, and should be considered as a neighbouring country reclaiming its own lands and borders: “You guys have much bigger guns than we have, you have much bigger military than we have. Our stance has never been about evicting the whole Grand River, six miles on either side, that’s never been what we want. What we want is space to grow and thrive as community.”

The GoFundMe for the 1492 Land Back Lane Legal Fund had reached nearly $25,000 as of press time.

Updates

Skyler Williams announced a “community meeting” on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 “to discuss steps moving forward with the barricades”. As of August 20, demonstrators had begun removing blockades.

A summary of Douglas Creek Estates, 2006

Note: While this timeline attempts to cover significant points, space limitations make a completely comprehenzive list impossible. We encourage readers to do further research.

February 28: A group of members from Six Nations erect tents, a teepee, and a wooden building on 40 hectares of land known as the Douglas Creek Estates. Henco Industries, the developer, obtain an injunction on March 3 ordering the protesters off the land. Protesters do not accept delivery of this injunction.

April 20: The OPP arrest 21 people at the Douglas Creek Estates site. Later that day, several hundred demonstrators return to the site. OPP retreat and the demonstrators reclaim the site and set up roadblocks along the access street. Protesters put hundreds of tires across the highway, dousing them with gasoline and lighting them on fire. In addition, they set fire to a wooden bridge over railway tracks.

April 24: Caledonia residents hold a rally demanding an end to the occupation.

May 10: Edward McCarthy of McCarthy & Fowler Barristers and Solicitors calls upon the OPP, the Premier of Ontario, Haldimand County Council, and then-titled Indian Affairs Minister to intervene and restore the rule of law in Caledonia.

May 17: Two car accidents lead the Caledonia Citizens Alliance to call for the immediate removal of the barricades.

May 22: At 6 a.m. demonstrators remove the blockade on Argyle Street, but traffic remains blocked due to the presence of several dozen residents on the road blocking passage to demonstrators. Around 2 p.m. demonstrators re-establish a physical barricade across Argyle Street and the two sides face each other separated by dozens of OPP officers. In the afternoon, a fire at the nearby Hydro One substation causes a power outage throughout Haldimand and in parts of Norfolk. The fire starts when demonstrators place a burning truck in the substation. Crews fully restored power to all areas by May 27. Hydro One estimates the costs of repairing the damage at $1.5 million. A state of emergency was declared late in the evening due to the escalation of violence and the power-outage.

May 23: The barricade across Argyle Street is removed again by demonstrators, and workers fill in the trench that was dug across the road the previous day. By 3:30 p.m. the road is fully open to traffic.

May 24: Power is restored to Caledonia.

June 5: Protesters and Caledonia residents clash on Argyle Street after a police cruiser drives through an area protesters consider “restricted”.

June 9: Following an altercation with demonstrators and two Simcoe residents, more than 300 Caledonia residents gather at the Canadian Tire parking lot. Some clash with OPP officers in full riot gear. A US Border Patrol vehicle, with agents reportedly observing the OPP’s management of the crisis, is swarmed by protesters. Two occupants are immediately forced out of the vehicle and a protester climbs in. As a third officer tries to escape out the back door, he is injured. Protesters seize sensitive documents from the vehicle. Arrest warrants were issued on charges related to this incident for six demonstrators.

June 12: A class-action lawsuit is filed by 440 residents and 400 businesses alleging negligence and malfeasance for the failure of the provincial government and the OPP to properly protect citizens who lived near Douglas Creek Estates.

June 16: The provincial government buys the disputed site from Henco Industries and announces $1 million in additional compensation for businesses in the area adversely affected by the protest.

August 7: Indigenous protesters and Caledonia residents begin throwing rocks and golf balls at each other. Approximately 100 people take part in the violent event.

August 8: Justice David Marshall orders the provincial government to break off negotiations with the Six Nations community until the protesters have left the disputed land. Protesters indicate they have no intention of leaving.

August 11: The provincial government appeals Justice Marshall’s ruling to break off negotiations, which is successful.

September 26: Ontario Progressive Conservatives say the occupation in Caledonia has cost the province at least $55 million.

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