Indigenous land defenders mark 150 days at Caledonia construction site

·3 min read

It has been 150 days since Indigenous land defenders from Six Nations of the Grand River first occupied a planned housing development on McKenzie Road in Caledonia. The group claimed the 25-acre property as unceded Haudenosaunee territory and declared that no construction would take place without their community’s consent.

Summer evenings under the stars have since given way to winter nights hunkered down inside shelters that dot the windswept land. But the campfire continues to burn.

“This is it. This is where 1492 Land Back Lane was born,” said spokesperson Skyler Williams, standing by the fire on a chilly Tuesday morning.

“We’re all very proud of our being able to be here now on day 150,” Williams said.

“It’s that fire inside all of us. Every inch, every mile of every reservation across the country was paid for by the blood of our ancestors. So that fire they had burning inside of them, that made them want to make those stands for our people then, is the same fire that burns in all of us.”

Firewood is a daily need to feed the wood stoves that heat the camp’s sleeping quarters and meeting spaces. There are now seven buildings standing with three more planned, plus a few large tents available for people making shorter visits.

The stage that hosted live music in the summer became the foundation of a cabin where the land defenders gather to discuss how best to oppose what they consider the unjust sale of their traditional lands. Five pre-built “tiny homes” provide overnight accommodation.

“They are well-insulated, nice and tight. We’ve had significant windstorms and our buildings have held up quite well,” Williams said.

He added that Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies have donated building materials, food, and cash as expressions of solidarity with the land reclamation effort.

“Just a big debt of gratitude for everybody that has been coming out and supporting, and continues to support and push us along and lift us up,” Williams said. “It’s absolutely amazing for us to continue to be able to hold our ground here at Land Back Lane, despite all of the pressure from the OPP.”

Twenty to 30 people live on the site around the clock, with about the same number rotating in and out. They pass the time “cooking, cleaning, building” and sharing time around the fire, Williams said.

“It’s really a family that we are here.”

The 150-day milestone is no cause for celebration for Foxgate Developments and nearly 200 McKenzie homebuyers, some of whom had expected to move into their new homes last month.

“It is simply not fair to (homebuyers) that I say, ‘We hope that the court’s orders will be respected.’ We should all be able to rely on our courts rather than just hope,” said William Liske, vice-president and chief legal counsel for Foxgate.

A Superior Court judge ordered the land defenders to leave the site and clear street barricades put up to entrench their position. But the impasse remains, with McKenzie Road dug up at both ends of the occupied property.

Liske said he has heard from frustrated homebuyers who had chosen their house model and all the furnishings and are eager to “start the next chapter” of their lives.

“For our homeowners it is not simply a financial matter but a very personal matter,” Liske said.

The land defenders called Tuesday’s site tour a ribbon-cutting for the tiny homes. But unlike a typical real estate open house, these homes are not for sale.

“We’re not interested in seeing money out of this. Land claims need to be about more than dollars and cents,” Williams said.

“Land claims need to be about land. And for us, that means giving land back to native communities.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator