08/07/2020 19:04 EDT | Updated 08/10/2020 14:34 EDT

What You Need To Know About The Six Nations Blockades

Tensions previously flared on a subdivision construction site in 2006.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Six Nations land defenders previously set up baracades in Caledonia, Ont. 14 years ago. 

Six Nations demonstrators are back in Caledonia, Ont. 

Police moved in on Indigenous demonstrators occupying the McKenzie Meadows development site in Caledonia Wednesday, a town of just under 10,000 people south of Hamilton.

The protesters, who prefer to be referred to as “land defenders,” assert members of the Iroquois Six Nations have claim to the land along the Grand River, part of a centuries-long dispute between governments, developers and the Indigenous community. They oppose the subdivision development.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) moved to enforce an injunction order Wednesday to disband the encampment. Police allege rocks were thrown by demonstrators, while the land defenders allege the use of force and rubber bullets from police.

In total, nine people were arrested and later released. In response to the injunction order, land defenders erected blockades of several roads and a rail line going in and out of Caledonia. As of Friday, they’ve also regained control of the subdivision site — dubbed “1492 Land Back Lane.” 

And they say they aren’t going anywhere. 

On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford condemned the action, and while he said he could not and would not direct the police, he called the incident “disturbing.”

“I have a great deal of respect for [Indigenous] communities right across the province. We’re there to support them and help them. But it has to be a two-way street here. You just can’t go in and take over people’s future homes. It’s wrong,” said Ford.

Tara Walton/The Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement in Beamsville, Ont., on Aug. 4, 2020.

“You don’t start throwing rocks, you don’t start tossing things. This is about living together, working together.”

But this isn’t the first time Six Nations people have claimed ownership of land near Caledonia. Here’s what you need to know. 

What are the Six Nations?

Six Nations is another term for the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois people, which includes members of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora First Nations. 

Specifically, Six Nations — also known as Six Nations of the Grand River — is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada in terms of population, with close to 30,000 members. 

What is the Haldimand Tract?

The Haldimand Tract is a section of land on either side of the Grand River. It was granted to the Six Nations in 1784 in recognition of their loyalty to the British Crown during the American Revolution. 

“I do hereby in His Majesty’s name authorize and permit the said Mohawk Nation and such others of the Six Nation Indians as wish to settle in that quarter to take possession of and settle upon the Banks of the River commonly called Ours [Ouse] or Grand River, running into Lake Erie, allotting to them for that purpose six miles deep from each side of the river beginning at Lake Erie and extending in that proportion to the head of the said river, which them and their posterity are to enjoy for ever,” reads the proclamation from Frederick Haldimand, who at the time was governor of Quebec.

A Haudenosaunee flag, representing the First Nations people also known as the Iroquois or Six Nations, flies from a petroleum car during the blockade of the rail line at Macmillan Yard in Toronto on Feb. 15, 2020.

Much of it has been sold since the agreement was initially made. It and its sale have become central to ongoing land disputes between the Six Nations, surrounding communities and the government.

The current reserve covers only a small portion of the land promised in the Haldimand Proclamation. 

What is “1492 Land Back Lane”?

This is the name given to the subdivision construction site in Caledonia, Ont., occupied this summer by the Six Nations demonstrators. The McKenzie Meadows construction site in south Caledonia is slated for development into 218 detached homes and townhouses. It’s also the name of an accompanying Facebook group, where members share updates on the demonstrations. 

The “1492” refers to the year Christopher Columbus arrived in North America. 

“Land back” is a phrase often used by Indigenous land defenders and supporters to advocate against colonialism. 

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Six Nations have occupied the site since July 19, 2020. 

What happened in 2006?

In February 2006, a group of Six Nations erected tents and a blockade on a different subdivision site in Caledonia known as Douglas Creek Estates, in an attempt to halt the development. 

After refusing an injunction order in March, followed by several other orders, they remained occupying the space until April 20, when OPP moved in and arrested 21 people.

Demonstrators returned later that day and over the next few months clashed with residents and police. Eventually, the road blockades were removed and the province bought out the site from developers. Talks to resolve the impasse stalled, and only a single structure has been built on the site since. 

Have the Six Nations been compensated for the McKenzie Meadows land?

The Six Nations of the Grand River elected council says developers transferred the band 42.3 acres of the site in 2016, as well as $325,000 in 2019 which was put into a land banking account for future purchases. 

But council critics say it can’t speak for the band since few Six Nations members choose to vote.  

The divide echoes the recent Wet’suwet’en dispute in northern British Columbia, where hereditary chiefs were in opposition to elected band councils over the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. 

What happens next? 

In a statement Friday, Haldimand County mayor Ken Hewitt condemned the blockades. 

“I fully can appreciate their frustration and anger, but I do not condone the methods by which they are exercising that frustration and anger,” Hewitt said. “It is deplorable that our governments have treated our indigenous friends in this manner but wronging a wrong is not the solution and hurting your neighbours is not the path to success.”

Hewitt said there is now a blanket injunction covering roads and property in Haldimand County, an injunction for the McKenzie Meadows developers, and that CN is in the process of obtaining an injunction for the blockade of their railway line.

He’s also requested a call with Ford and his cabinet to resolve the dispute.

However, according to posts in the “1492 Land Back Lane” Facebook group, demonstrators aren’t going anywhere. 

“We are here, this is now home,” one supporter posted.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the population of Caledonia. This article also has been updated to clarify language around Six Nations.