Mohawk land defender Skyler Williams, criminalized for his defence of Haudenosaunee territory, returns to court in January 2023
Photo: Land defenders Layla Staats and Skyler Williams outside the Cayuga courthouse. Photo by Bobby Hristova/CBC.
The sentencing hearing for criminalized Haudenosaunee land defender Skyler Williams will continue in January 2023.
CBC reports: “Williams testified last week, answering questions from [Justice Gethin] Edward about why he has taken part in a two-year-long occupation of the site of a controversial development in Caledonia, Ont., and what ‘land back’ means to him.”
“Williams said his first introduction to the land back activism he does now was Ipperwash in 1995 [when he was 12 years old].”
Indigenous land defender Dudley George was shot and killed at Ipperwash by an Ontario Provincial Police sniper on September 6, 1995.
Photo: An OPP officer rushes toward Tina George at Ipperwash Provincial Park the day after her cousin Dudley was killed. Photo from Toronto Star/Ipperwash Inquiry.
The provincial Inquiry that followed suggested a political resolution to a land rights issue should be pursued, not an armed police response that can result in the death of a land defender.
Williams has previously commented that the state response to Land Back Lane “led to 50 people being arrested, it saw us get shot at, tasered, and beaten. Families stood by and watched their loved ones dragged from their cars and swarmed with brutality.”
The OPP spent $16.3 million on policing Land Back Lane from July 19, 2020, to January 19, 2021, an average of $90,000 a day.
Photo: An OPP officer at 1492 Land Back Lane, October 22, 2020.
In court, Williams also commented there are “200 years of colonialism, oppression, racism, over-incarceration rates, child welfare being stacked against us.”
The article adds: “Williams, 39, previously pleaded guilty to a mischief charge and two counts of failing to comply with an undertaking, all related to his actions on what is known in the area as 1492 Land Back Lane.”
The next court date has been set for January 23, 2023.
On July 19, 2020, Haudenosaunee land defenders began a reoccupation of a 25-acre area of land about near the city of Caledonia, located about an hour southwest of Toronto.
Foxgate Developments planned to build at least 218 houses on this land. That was reportedly the first phase of a 1,000 unit housing development.
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.
On July 31, 2020, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) escorted a court sheriff who delivered a first court injunction against the reoccupation.
Kate Gunn, a Vancouver-based lawyer with First Peoples Law, has also 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.
Williams has stated: “This development must be seen as being yet another instance in an ongoing history of colonial land theft and genocide, that it is people from Six Nations who are facing the greater harm if this matter is decided against their interests.”
On July 2, 2021, the developer backed down, temporarily at least.
On March 17, 2022, Williams commented: “After a year of relative peace, we have received word from what would have been the developer at Landback Lane. They intend to reapply for their injunction. We are taking this very seriously. We see it as an open threat against our people and our lands.”
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, the traditional government of the Six Nations of the Grand River, has stated that no development can proceed on their lands without the consent of the Haudenosaunee.
Cayuga Snipe Chief Deyohowe:to (Roger Silversmith) says: “It is time to end the injustice. We want the land that is ours. We are not interested in approving fraudulent dispossessions of the past. We are not interested in selling land.”
Photo by Steve Mongeau/APTN.