A two-time Juno award-winning Six Nations musician says he plans to play this Saturday at the 1492 Land Back Lane camp in Caledonia, Ont., despite harassment from the Ontario Provincial Police over his past performances at the occupied housing development site.
Derek Miller, who twice won Junos for Indigenous album of the year, said he recently received a call from an OPP officer on his cell phone asking about his presence at the land reclamation camp.
The camp, named 1492 Land Back Lane, halted a proposed housing development called McKenzie Meadows in Caledonia, about 20 kilometres south of Hamilton and next to the Haudenosaunee community of Six Nations.
“They asked me if I was in a band and then I asked how they got my number,” said Miller.
“They are starting to target me and trying to intimidate me.”
Miller said he told the officer he wouldn’t talk until they told him how they obtained his cell phone number. He said he has since received near-daily calls from the OPP, but has refused to answer them.
The OPP has arrested over two dozen people in connection with the reclamation of the housing development site, which is currently under a court injunction extended by an Ontario judge in August that prohibits continued occupation of the territory.
Miller and several other musicians plan to hold a concert on Saturday afternoon at the camp despite the threat of possible arrest.
“What I am more worried about is being at the site and helping support my people,” said Miller.
“All I know is I see my people struggling and I have the ability to go there and maybe lift some spirits and try to be peaceful and keep people motivated to stay there and keep doing what they’re doing.”
‘Where did the money go?’
Six Nations members occupied the property in July in a move to retake land that was once part of the Haldimand Tract granted to the Haudenosaunee of Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution.
The Haldimand Tract was originally meant to encompass 10 kilometres on either side of the 280 km Grand River from its source in the region around Waterhen, Ont., to Lake Erie.
The portion of the tract under reclamation was sold by a squatter to a settler in the mid-1800s and colonial authorities later authorized the settler’s ownership. The land is also part of a 25-year-old court case between Six Nations and the federal and provincial governments over the illegal dispossession of lands and trust monies.
Six Nations has also filed 29 specific claims with the federal government and so far only one has been resolved. The federal Liberal government has been accused of doing little to overhaul the specific claims process —which are based on historic grievances over loss of land and owed trust monies — since coming into power.
“Where did that money go for whatever sales that were going on from the Haldimand Tract? It was supposed to be in trust,” said Miller.
Miller said this is the first land battle he’s been involved with. He said family members were involved in previous land rights struggles, like in 2006 over a separate piece of the Haldimand Tract that was going to be turned into a housing development known as the Douglas Creek Estates. The provincial government bought the land and the conflict subsided.
“This has been going on for so long you hope that you are fighting now so the kids and grandkids don’t have to deal with it,” said Miller.
‘History is a one-sided story’
The OPP said in a statement it couldn’t speak directly to Miller’s claims of harassment.
“Engaging in criminal activities or those activities prohibited by provincial law may result in arrests and-or charges,” said the statement.
The statement said that “dependent upon an individual’s actions” the OPP may charge “anyone” for disobeying a court order — the injunction.
Miller will be joined onstage by four-time Juno winner Tom Wilson, who is also a visual artist and author.
“These are things we are standing up for, what has been wrong in this country since its inception. Since contact, land has been continuously taken away. It has to stop somewhere doesn’t it?” said Wilson.
“I don’t think that on Saturday some guys playing guitars are going to change that. But I do think it gives an element of hope that people are paying attention.”
Wilson, 61, who was adopted, discovered at age 53 he was Mohawk from Kahnawake. He said he’s not worried about the possibility of arrest.
“We’re in a country where honesty is rewarded with arrest and history is a one-sided story,” said Wilson.
“I have no fear of the enforcers who are just hired guns by corporations and governments…. In this instance, you are either on one side or the other.”