Sentencing underway for 1492 Land Back Lane spokesperson

Haudenosaunee land defender Skyler Williams has pleaded guilty to several criminal charges connected with the ongoing Indigenous-led occupation of a planned subdivision on McKenzie Road in Caledonia.

As the occupation’s spokesperson, Williams quickly became the public face of a movement known as 1492 Land Back Lane after a group from Six Nations took over the site in July 2020.

With a warrant out for his arrest, he turned himself in to police in May 2021.

Several of the charges he faced at that time were subsequently withdrawn, including one count of intimidation.

On Nov. 10, Williams pleaded guilty to one count of mischief under $5,000 and two counts of failure to comply with an undertaking.

The Crown is seeking a suspended sentence — which comes with a criminal conviction — while Williams’ attorney has asked the judge for a conditional discharge, which does not.

Williams told The Spectator he chose to plead guilty to put the charges behind him and be free of the release conditions he was bound to, which included not visiting the McKenzie Road site.

Last fall, charges were withdrawn against other land defenders and supporters of the Land Back movement.

During Williams’ sentencing hearing last week, Justice Gethin Edward heard expert testimony from lawyer Beverly Jacobs from the University of Windsor and McMaster professor and historian Rick Monture, both of Six Nations.

Jacobs and Monture took Edward through the Haudenosaunee legal and political systems and detailed the history of the Haldimand Tract lands along the Grand River.

Williams testified on Nov. 15.

“I talked a lot about why it is people like myself do the things that we do — why we are willing to stand for our lands,” Williams told The Spectator.

The hearing is expected to continue for one more yet-to-be-scheduled day.

Williams and Foxgate Developments also await a decision from Justice Paul Sweeny on Foxgate’s request for a court injunction barring unauthorized personnel from the Caledonia property where the since-cancelled housing development was to be located.

That two-day hearing wrapped up in mid-September.

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