Haudenosaunee land defenders persevere through 350-day reoccupation to stop the further theft of their territory
On July 19, 2020, Haudenosaunee land defenders began a reoccupation of a 25-acre area of land about an hour southwest of Toronto.
Foxgate Developments planned to build at least 218 houses on this land. The Haudenosaunee asserted it was their territory through the Haldimand Treaty of 1784 that granted them an area of 950,000 acres in southern Ontario.
350 days after the reoccupation began, the developer backed down.
Land defender Skyler Williams says: “I’m happy and excited about the announcement. We do need to take time to celebrate these wins when we have them.”
A lot happened over those 350 days:
On July 31, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) escorted a court sheriff who read and delivered a court injunction against the reoccupation.
On August 5, police raided the camp and arrested 9 people and used tasers and rubber bullets against the land defenders.
On August 7, an Ontario Supreme Court judge issued two more injunctions and extended a third injunction against the land defenders.
The land defenders were undaunted and stayed. They commented: “These injunctions only serve as a colonial mechanism to disposes us of our lands and resources, which fundamentally violates our rights as sovereign Indigenous people.”
On October 9, an Ontario Superior Court judge gave the land defenders until October 22 to vacate the land.
Hours after that judge granted a permanent injunction against the camp on October 22, pallets and tires on the road were set on fire. The police used a Taser on one person and fired rubber bullets near Elders and women.
On October 23, the land defenders used construction equipment to dig up the paved roads to prevent the police from entering the site.
That evening, Williams posted: “Massive OPP presence. One guy hit with a rubber bullet after several shots were fired. One guy tasered. Another arrested. …There was no need for any of this. Though it comes as no surprise to any of us. Here we are again. Barricades are up. Roads are dug up. Our people will not continue to let the OPP and most certainly not a Cayuga Ontario court judge dictate what happens on unceded Haudenosaunee territory.”
By this point, the OPP had arrested at least 38 people.
By November 26, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had prepared an intelligence brief labelled “secret” that indicates the spy agency had kept a close watch on the land dispute citing “notable concerns regarding critical infrastructure.”
And by January 2021, the Ontario Provincial Police had spent $16.3 million “policing” this assertion of Indigenous sovereignty.
The land defenders preserved through all this.
Then on July 2, after 350 days, 38 arrests, and more than $16.3 million spent on policing, the land defenders stopped the development on their territory.
Williams says: “I think this is a big statement to Indigenous communities and to all of Turtle Island, these wins are attainable.”
And to governments, he added: “It is in their best interest to start a process that [finds solutions] in a peaceful way, that doesn’t include cops with guns.”
Notably, while Williams was the spokesperson for this land defence struggle, he was not the leader. That was the responsibility of a collective of women in keeping with the Haudenosaunee’s matriarchal society. Those women remained anonymous to shield them from legal ramifications and harassment. Williams faces a judge’s order making him potentially liable for $20 million in legal fees.
Between 1980 and 1995, 29 claims related to the Haldimand Tract have been filed with the Canadian government. The Six Nations council has a court case, filed in 1995, against the federal and provincial governments over the lands taken from them. It is scheduled to go to court in October 2022. If successful, it would result in monetary compensation, not a return of the territory to the Haudenosaunee.
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