It was pitch black in the early-morning hours on Wednesday when Trevor Bomberry says a pair of security guards started searching his tent at the Arrowdale Golf Course in Brantford, Ont.
Two others confronted him, he said.
“They informed us we had to leave, they were on behalf of the city,” the 48-year-old Oneida man from Six Nations of the Grand River told CBC Hamilton. “I was angry … it’s straight up intimidation.”
He said security has been watching him ever since he and others broke the lock on the gated-off area and began occupying the land on Saturday.
“This is our land. Mostly all of Brantford belongs to our people. It’s been stolen,” he said Wednesday morning, as security guards were parked outside the encampment, observing and snapping pictures.
City spokesperson Maria Visocchi said security responded to alarms triggered by the occupation, but “to the best of my knowledge, the only officials that have approached the occupants at the site were representatives of Brantford police.”
Sale not yet finalized
The occupation is the latest in a series of escalating developments following the city’s decision to try to sell a portion of the land.
Brantford city council voted to close the course and put it on the market in December 2019, saying the money would go toward creating affordable housing.
But some community members protested the decision, criticizing councillors for a lack of transparency and discourse with the local Indigenous community.
Cheryl Antoski, a Ward 4 councillor who has stated her opposition to the sale, said in an email Wednesday that the current occupation was “foreseeable and avoidable.”
“It is a very unfortunate situation for our citizens and our neighbours,” she wrote.
A citizens’ group, Know Your City Inc., petitioned to save the golf course — not just for the game, they said, but also as a green space, community space and because it is on Indigenous land. It applied for a judicial review of the sale, which the Ontario divisional court dismissed. It also sought to appeal that decision, but the court denied it.
Elite M.D Developments has made a $14-million offer for the nearly 13 hectares (32 acres) of land. The city said the other nearly seven hectares (17 acres) would be set aside for a park. But the court granted a stay, which means the sale can’t close.
Elite didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The land falls within the Haldimand Tract, which includes 10 kilometres on either side of the Grand River. It was granted to Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British in the American Revolution.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, the traditional government of the Six Nations, made the call for a moratorium on development of the area.
A recent demonstration by Six Nations land defenders that lasted a year forced the cancellation of a major housing project in Caledonia, Ont.
City says land claims not its jurisdiction
Veronica Martisius, director of Know Your City Inc,, said Wednesday the moratorium should be a signal to the city to stop trying to sell the land. Instead, it should focus on building a relationship with the Haudenosaunee community, she said.
“You don’t have the consent of the Six Nations people to sell these lands, to develop these lands, and the city should stay as it is and reconsider its decision,” Martisius said.
“I would think, especially in this day and age, if you’re a municipality located within the Haldimand Tract, you would try a little harder to be a good neighbour.”
Visocchi said Wednesday that Indigenous land claims are not within the city’s jurisdiction to solve.
“These matters require significant input from the federal and provincial governments and the Indigenous community, and often involve an accounting for profits but not the return of land,” she wrote.
The city condemned the occupation earlier this week, calling it unlawful in a news release.
“The lands at 282 Stanley Street in Brantford have been lawfully and peacefully owned and operated by the City of Brantford for approximately 100 years and remain in the sole and exclusive ownership of the City,” read the statement.
Visocchi also said the process has been transparent and the city has been working with Six Nations.
The city is working closely with police in regards to the occupation.
Robin Matthews-Osmond, spokesperson for Brantford Police Service, said in an email Wednesday the service doesn’t sanction or permit any demonstration and officers will continue to monitor the area for everyone’ safety.
“Discussions between the protesters and officers have been peaceful and respectful,” read the email. “Our approach to this demonstration will be consistent with past practices where peaceful demonstration and overall community safety is the highest goal.”
Bomberry also said his interactions with police, which have been separate from those with security guards, have been respectful.
‘Not walking away from this land’
But the city, Bomberry said, are acting like “telephone tough guys” who won’t meet with him to have a face-to-face discussion.
“If I was in a political position, I would’ve made this more of a priority than Thanksgiving dinner.”
He and his group have received support from some in the community, with people dropping off food, water and other supplies.
Bishop Johnathan, who is Tuscarora, lives nearby and said he’s been helping out since Sunday.
“They just want to see [future] generations be able to enjoy this,” he said.
“We have this beautiful [green space] in the middle of the city and city council wants to build on it … they’re not listening to people.”
Bomberry said he has no plans to leave the land, even if security and police return.
“They were warned not to come here because it’s an act of aggression and they will be met with force,” he said.
“I’m going to be here as long as the grass grows and the sky is blue. I’m not walking away from this land.”