“Criminalizing us is their only game.” – Haudenosaunee land defender Skyler Williams
Photo: 1492 Land Back Lane.
The land defenders at 1492 Land Back Lane are seeking to protect Haudenosaunee territory in southern Ontario from a housing development.
They have maintained a camp at that construction site since July 19. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) say they have now arrested 17 people in relation to this. Those arrested include One Dish, One Mic independent media journalist Karl Dockstader on September 2 and Yellowhead Institute research fellow Courtney Skye on September 3.
In a recent Facebook post, land defender Skyler Williams noted: “The OPP fly their helicopter low over the camp and position cruisers within 100 yards of one of our camps.”
He later comments: “Criminalizing us is their only game.”
Criminalization is an important concept in land defence struggles.
It can be understood as a negation by the state (through governments, the court system and the police) of the violence and dispossession of colonization. Mohawk lawyer Beverly Jacobs has noted in reference to 1492 Land Back Lane: “This is a historical land claim going back a couple of hundred years that has not been addressed.”
One example of criminalization is a court injunction, a tool commonly used by business interests to remove Indigenous peoples from their own lands.
Significantly, Kate Gunn, a lawyer with First Peoples Law, has pointed out that an injunction is not a determination of which party is right, rather it seeks, in principle, to preserve the status quo until the underlying dispute is resolved.
That means, for instance, that a land developer, can more easily persuade the court that the economic harm is greater to them than communities seeking to protect their culture and traditions from centuries of land dispossession.
In the media and public opinion, however, a court injunction can take on the weight of a determination of right and wrong, and the justification for police action.
This statement from Haudenosaunee women succinctly explains: “Injunctions authorize police violence against our people.”
They add: “Our sovereignty is inherent while Canada’s perceived authority is a product of violent colonialism and genocide. Injunctions seek to make this reality invisible, a tool of the court to sanction more violence and dispossession.”
The 1492 Land Back Lane now expects the OPP and sheriff’s office to present a court injunction to the camp this morning.
In response, Williams says: “For us it is a peaceful occupation of our territory, and so to them to come and threaten violence again – because I think that’s what our people are taking those injunction readings as, is as a threat of violence – because we’ve been sitting here around the fire peacefully occupying our territory for the last 47 days now and have maintained the peaceful nature in which we started it.”
The land defenders have set up this GoFundMe account to help with their legal costs associated with this criminalization. They are also asking for financial support to help them maintain their presence and build winter ready buildings through e-transfers to email@example.com.