Hundreds of people demonstrated outside of the office of the Ontario ministry of Indigenous affairs in Toronto on Saturday to show support for members of Six Nations of the Grand River arrested in a land dispute.
Demonstrators carried placards and a large banner that read: “Land Back.” The gathering near Bloor Street East and Church Street was in support of a group that calls itself the Six Nations Land Defenders.
The land in dispute is known as the McKenzie Meadows housing development site. It is located on the outskirts of Caledonia, Ont., southwest of Hamilton. Foxgate Developments Inc., a developer, plans to build 218 homes on the land, a parcel that is about 10 hectares.
Six Nations Land Defenders have occupied the proposed housing development site since July 19. They call the parcel of land “1492 Land Back Lane” and have set up a camp.
On Aug. 5, the group says the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) raided the camp and made arrests, but community members returned to the site.
The parcel of land was part of the Haldimand Tract, which was granted to the Haudenosaunee of Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution.
According to Six Nations Land Defenders, the Canadian government unlawfully sold the land to a developer after an Indian agent sold the reserve land in question to a private party in 1853.
The Six Nations Land Defenders say development of the land would violate the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee people.
The Haudenosaunee — a group that includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora First Nations — are also known as the Iroquois or the Six Nations, and were involved in a similar land dispute in 2006.
Supporters want arrests by OPP to stop
According to the Six Nations Land Defenders, the OPP have arrested 26 people in all this summer in connection with an injunction granted to Foxgate Developments. According to the OPP, 20 people have been arrested.
Of the 26 people, the group said 15 were arrested at their homes and workplaces. People arrested include residents of Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, London and Six Nations.
Last week, Karl Dockstader, a journalist from Oneida Nation of the Thames, was arrested and charged, along with Courtney Skye, a researcher with Ryerson University’s Yellowhead Institute.
Subhanya Sivajothy, a demonstrator at the rally, said in a news release that the purpose of the rally on Saturday was to show support.
“The main demand of this protest is for the OPP to stop arresting land defenders who are supporting the camp at 1492 Land Back Lane,” Sivajothy said.
“Community members are engaged in a traditional decision making process but the threat of violent police enforcement prevents them from solving this as a community.”