Six Nations land defenders have been occupying a residential development site on Haudenosaunee land since July 19, 2020, in what is currently known as Caledonia, Ontario. Their occupation intends to prevent Foxgate Development’s plans for a new commercial housing project on the land – an action that belongs to a larger call to demand the return of colonized land to Indigenous peoples. The land defenders have named their camp “1492 Land Back Lane,” in reference to the year of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, which symbolizes the start of colonial violence across Turtle Island.
The land on which the residential development stands was granted to the Six Nations of the Grand River as part of the Haldimand Tract of 1784. Canada’s refusal to honour this land title is part of a long history of settler governments – first Great Britain, and now Ottawa – failing to uphold the treaties they created, and which govern lands they violently claimed. All land in what is currently known as Canada, treaty or not, belongs to Indigenous peoples.
nehiyaw writer and researcher Emily Riddle explains that “Land Back requires we consider how we may deal with areas of shared jurisdiction and areas of spiritual significance.” While the imposed settler system is predicated on the right to privately own property, for Indigenous peoples, “land isn’t just a place, it’s also a territory, which implies political, legal, and cultural relationships of jurisdiction and care.” Indigenous peoples have a right to exercise sovereignty over their traditional lands; this sovereignty is not only about who owns the land, but “how the land is owned.”
Haldimand County Mayor, Ken Helwit, has unjustly described 1492 Land Back Lane as “an illegal occupation,” and has called on the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to enforce injunctions. The OPP have been conducting violent raids since July, in an attempt to force land defenders off the site. They have arrested at least 26 people, including journalists. Just this month, the OPP arrested three journalists: Karl Dockstader, the current recipient of the Canadian Journalism Foundation and CBC Indigenous Fellowship, Courtney Skye, a Mohawk journalist and policy analyst at Ryerson University, and a member of the independent media organization Azaadi Now. These arrests are illegal and a gross violation of journalists’ constitutional rights. By doing this, the government is attempting to censor and conceal the injustice being enacted on Six Nations land defenders.
The Six Nations Elected Council signed an accommodation agreement wherein they pledged to publicly endorse the development project, help quell any protests, and back the developer in all legal actions that might arise from the protests. The Great Law of the Haudenosaunee is intended to be participatory; however, the Council “operates with one of the lowest rates of community consent in the country,” and this accommodation agreement could also violate the protestors’ Charter Right to freedom of speech and freedom of protest.
Settlers who live in what is currently known as Canada must stand in solidarity with the land defenders at 1492 Land Back Lane. To support the land defenders, you can donate to and/or share the legal fund, and attend local actions in solidarity with the occupation. Call your federal and Ontario provincial representatives, to encourage them to respect the demands and sovereignty of the Six Nations land defenders. Land defenders are also calling for action on October 9, when Six Nations member Skyler Williams is expected to respond to a court injunction by Foxgate Development. The Land Back movement extends beyond standing in solidarity with land defenders: settlers can take action by paying rent (a form of reparations) to the Indigenous peoples whose land you occupy. Indirect but equally important ways you can take positive action include advocating for housing initiatives, harm reduction, and mental health resources for Indigenous peoples. It is also important to participate in movements to defund the police, who play an active role in the continual persecution and oppression of land defenders and Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. It is crucial to take the time to educate oneself about the history of the land that we occupy, and the people to whom it belongs.