Six Nations land defenders who have occupied a Caledonia construction site since July say they will withdraw from Argyle Street and McKenzie Road on Monday, allowing for the roads to be repaired and reopened.
Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane, said the group would remove the battered school bus that has blocked Argyle Street for more than 100 days.
There are no removable barricades on McKenzie, but Williams said Ministry of Transportation work crews will have free passage to repair trenches dug at either end of the 25-acre site, which land defenders claim as unceded Haudenosaunee territory.
This announcement comes a few weeks after land defenders left the Highway 6 bypass in an attempt to prompt negotiations with the federal government over Haudenosaunee land rights along the Grand River.
The bypass reopened to traffic on Wednesday, but Williams said talks with Ottawa have not materialized.
“This is completely community-driven,” he said of the decision to clear the remaining barricades.
A recent survey sent to each home in Six Nations and available online yielded “hundreds” of responses about how the land defence in Caledonia should proceed, Williams said.
“There was overwhelming support for the cause and for what we’re doing — almost 100 per cent supporting that path forward. There was a small minority that wanted to see the roads open,” he said.
“We do whatever we can to push these issues forward, but if we’re not listening to folks who are being negatively affected by whatever it is we’re doing, then you know what, that’s a problem. We need to listen to all of those voices.”
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt has maintained that negotiations can only proceed once all roadways are open.
“We’re excited and happy that those on these particular sites are listening to the leaders and members of Six Nations that are calling for a different approach. That being said, our position from the get-go has always been for the roads to be open,” Hewitt said.
Argyle Street and McKenzie Road have been impassable since Oct. 22, when a skirmish between police and land defenders prompted supporters to barricade and then dig up the roads.
“Those two roads are instrumental to this town. I think there’s an expectation that not only should they not be closed, but they should not be used as tools for bartering in bad-faith negotiations,” Hewitt said.
“It’s unfortunate that while these conversations are taking place behind the scenes, people have had to endure these blockades, and there are homeowners who are sitting idly, waiting for their future.”
The barricades served a strategic purpose for land defenders by restricting police access to the disputed site. Williams acknowledged the risk of withdrawing and reiterated the group’s call for political dialogue rather than confrontation.
“The roads have never been held as a bargaining chip,” he said. “The roads were (barricaded) as a way of keeping people safe. Further escalation and antagonization by the OPP is not something that’s going to be tolerated.”
Haldimand OPP Const. Rod LeClair has repeatedly said the police force takes no sides in the land dispute and strives for “open and peaceful dialogue with demonstrators.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator