This is written from a white settler perspective. I was out on the land for about a third of the occupation. I was around for the raid and days leading up and I wanted to share my experience – to communicate with others from my community who support the reclamation and are curious about what went down.
On July 19th, a group of Haudenosaunee Land Defenders along with some allies began peacefully occupying a portion of their unceded territory that had been cleared for development in so-called Caledonia. The site was expected to become a housing development by the name of McKenzie Meadows and has now been renamed 1492 Landback Lane. A few weeks later, on August 5th, the site was violently raided by the OPP which saw many Indigneous folks forcibly removed from their territory.
The land in question was aquired by Foxgate Development in 2015 from Haldimand County. In 2019, the Six Nations Elected Council(SNEC) signed an accomodation agreement with the developers that amounted to 42.3 acres and $352,000. Less than the amount of money one home will be worth after development. Support for the Band Council as of last election was 4% of the 27,000 community members in Six Nations and a lot of people in the community don’t believe they have the authority to be making land deals. This land is very close to the current recognized reserve, but the Haldimand Tract treaty grants the Haudenosaunee people six miles(~10km) on either side of the Grand River. There have been other struggles to defend territory in the area over the years – notably, Kanonhstaton(the protected place) is right across the street from the back of the site. This is where land defenders stood up against state violence in 2006.
I was on the site near the beginning of the reclamation and could see how it had been torn up to make way for the 218 proposed houses on approximately 25 acres of the total 108 acre site. Behind the area churned to mud, there was some forest and a dry creek bed. There are a few gravel roads and it seems like water lines have been installed. The site needs care and restoration, though it was beautiful to hear people dance and sing and plan a different future for this site than what the developers and settler society had in mind. People from the community planted a garden as a first step towards the life that could exist there. Now, the frames of a bunkhouse/kitchen are in the works.
I often did a night or morning watch shift up front while I was there to make sure others could get some rest. I don’t usually have stable housing and don’t often feel safe when I’m sleeping, so it felt good to be in a place that was being protected by people I had grown to trust and care about. The experience of working together and having each others’ backs at these kinds of actions is a big part of what makes them so powerful.
On the night of August 4-5, I got up at 3am to do watch after only about three hours of sleep. After I got off watch at 9am, I went with some others to look at the cops’ position, since there had been reports of an increase in numbers. We saw 15-20 cruisers and four large trucks, with 30-40 cops standing discussing in a circle. Back at the camp, we decided to try and relax for the time being and not raise a panic. I decided to try to get a little sleep, if we were going to be dealing with a raid later.
Around 10:30am I lay down and closed my eyes. About ten minutes later I noticed everyone moving towards the road. I soon learned that police had called to say they were coming to read “additional information” regarding the injunction. I got up to walk to the road and as I approached, I could see it was blocked in both directions, four cars on each side with more down the road waiting, to prevent anyone from coming in or out of the site. People started putting out alerts by call and text. Others lit up smoke signals. A big thick black cloud of smoke rose from the site for Six Nations community members to see.
At about 10:45 am, loads of tactical trucks, SUVs, and black vans arrived and lined both sides of the road. They had about 30 vehicles on hand.
Just before 11am, cops came and re-read the injunction. About ten of them with the sherrif – all wearing masks and gloves, ready to go. They told us we needed to leave the roadway or we would be arrested for obstructing it. Most of us fell back, but one person was arrested at that point. I was standing near someone who was filming the arrest only to watch them be abruptly tackled into the mud and arrested too. It felt horrible to be so powerless, watching friends get picked off one by one. As the cops formed a line to push us further back, I was forced to join the others and leave them behind. We fell back across the mud(on rainy days, deemed Landback Lake) to where the gravel driveway was blocked by vehicles. Folks had time for one more smoke as we watched about 30 cops gather in front of us.
Around 11am, once the first two arrested had been removed, another 30+ cops arrived, bringing the total to around 70. There were just a dozen of us on site. The cops quickly moved into a rectangular formation and began advancing to push us back and arrest us. There was an attempt at lighting a line of fuel across the driveway, but it was unsuccessful. The cops started reaching for their guns and tazers as they approached which they later justified by saying that people were throwing rocks, and I won’t confirm or deny this. I could hear the cries coming from the people next to me, “put your gun away, put your f***king gun away”, “we don’t got no guns”. The feeling of having 70+ anxious people with guns approaching, that feeling doesn’t leave a person quickly.
Several larger guns came out – I thought it was teargas at first so I moved to the side. As I heard shots being fired into the group of land defenders beside me and loud thuds against the truck, I threw my hands up in fear. I didn’t even know what was being shot at that point. When I looked up, there was a rubber bullet gun pointed at my face. I was then arrested while others ran for cover behind the truck. Everyone on our side was unarmed, yet several people got shot with rubber bullets and tasered.
Nine people were arrested in total and all were released. I spent two or three hours handcuffed in an “offender transport” vehicle before being processed and released. This time was extremely painful for me, since I have a lot of old injuries that were aggravated by the position I was held in. Despite the pain, it felt inspiring to be released and immediately learn how the community at Six Nations had responded to the raid.
In the time we were processed, giant fires had been set blocking the Highway Six bypass around Caledonia all the way to 5th line and Argyle St from Hwy 6 to the Canadian Tire in Caledonia. A rail line in the area had also been blocked. Some of the people on the site had escaped out the back to Kanonhstaton(the protected place). When the police entered that area in pursuit they were pushed out by a large crowd of community members. By sunset that day, 1492 Landback Lane was once again controlled by land defenders – people even managed to get back on the site before the tow trucks had time to steal everyone’s cars.
Since then, work has started to build a bunkhouse for those who are there defending the site, and there is no sign that people will be leaving any time soon. Blockades are still up at several locations, and drop-offs and support are needed. You can find people at the blockades on 6th Line, the Hwy 6 bypass(access through 5th or 6th line) or off McKenzie Rd at 1492 Landback Lane.