Muskoka Good Friday caravan off to Six Nations to support land defenders

·3 min read

A caravan of community members is set to leave Gravenhurst on Good Friday morning on their way to the First Nations territory of Six Nations near Brantford to show support for Indigenous people involved in a land claim dispute. The caravan is being organized by Muskoka resident Lane Patriquin, who said that it will be made up of “settlers” — non-Indigenous people who support the Indigenous protest.

The caravan is to make its way to the 1492 Land Back Lane site, located on the Caledonia side of Six Nations territory. The caravan is set to bring much-needed supplies to protesters, some of whom have been at the site since last summer.

“We are doing this in solidarity (with) the land defenders. This is a land dispute that’s been going on in different ways for a very long time, but more recently since July 2020,” Patriquin said.

Patriquin is a supporter of Indigenous land reclamation and spent four days at the protest site last year.

That defence of the Six Nations protesters was brought back home to Muskoka last summer when a banner drop happened on the Rainbow Circle overpass over Highway 11 south of Gravenhurst.

Two banners were dropped over the bridge facing northbound traffic, with one banner stating “Muskoka Supports Six Nations Land Defenders.”

The construction of 218 detached homes and townhouses on the disputed land is at the heart of the action by Six Nations protesters, who have occupied the site since July 19 of last year.

Patriquin said it is a complicated issue because the housing developer purchased the disputed land from the Six Nations band council. That land is part of the Haldimand Tract, which was awarded to the local Indigenous people back in the 1800s. The land was ten kilometres deep on either side of the Grand River. Patriquin said that over the past 150 years, that land has been chipped away at by the federal and provincial governments as well as private developers. That has happened, Patriquin said, without consultation with the Six Nations people. Patriquin said that Six Nations only occupies about five per cent of the land it was initially given.

“There’s also a dispute over the legitimacy of the band council because in reality it is acting as a wing of the federal government. They are not actually acting in the best interest of the Nation in a sovereign way,” Patriquin said. “There has been a huge amount of protest against the band council. People have been abstaining from participating in (band) elections. They disagree with the institute of band councils and the last election only had (a) four per cent voter turnout (amid) 27,000 people. They are saying the band council had no authority to sell that plot of land.”

Patriquin said the people of the First Nation want to return the now clear-cut, flattened plot of land to a more natural space and perhaps use part of it for a garden. The Muskoka contingent is not expected to go onto the disputed land.

“We are not going on the site when we go down there. We don’t want to put anyone in any legal risk. I can’t go back there because I have family in the U.S. and taking a charge on this would make it much more difficult to cross the border,” Patriquin said. “We have maybe six cars that are coming down with us. Other than that, people are fundraising and collecting donations.”

Patriquin said that although the caravan will be made up of non-Indigenous settlers, they have reached out to Indigenous people in Muskoka to help support the Six Nations cause.

John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orillia Today