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Sign the letter: Ecumenical leaders condemn the criminalizing of Land Defenders

December 14, 2020

Since 19 July 2020, Haudenosaunee Land Defenders have reclaimed land near Six Nations, Ontario, to demand a halt to development without the Six Nations community’s consent. The site in question is part of the Haldimand Tract, land granted to the Haudenosaunee in 1784 by the British government. Since Confederation, the governments of Ontario and Canada have unlawfully seized or sold the vast majority of this land. The growing Six Nations community now holds only a tiny fraction of what was promised them. 

For over five months, Land Defenders and their allies have peaceably remained on the site, renamed 1492 Land Back Lane. Their presence aims to stop the construction of the MacKenzie Meadows housing development on land that is part of an ongoing land claims process. Foxgate Developments bought the site for $4 million from Haldimand County, without consent from the Haudenosaunee. For decades, Six Nations has sought to settle their land concerns with the Government of Canada, but the Crown has refused to engage their claims. 

In 2016, Foxgate met with the Elected Band Council to discuss the development. They did not ask consent to develop the land, and it was made clear by Foxgate that development would proceed with or without an agreement. Recognizing this impossible situation, the Band Council signed an accommodation agreement with Foxgate for $352,000 for 42 acres. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council—the traditional governance structure of the Six Nations—was not consulted by Foxgate and publicly stated on 15 August, 2020, that they had not granted consent. Despite Haudenosaunee Land Defenders’ attempts to engage in Nation to Nation dialogue with the Crown, the federal government has remained silent, giving the Land Defenders no other option than to reclaim their land and physically stop the development.

In their quest for justice, the Land Defenders at 1492 Land Back Lane have been criminalized extensively by both the Ontario Courts and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).  

  • On 31 July 2020, an interim injunction was put in place at 1492 Land Back Lane, banning Land Defenders from being on the site.
  • On 5 August 2020, the Ontario Provincial Police raided 1492 Land Back Lane using rubber-coated steel bullets and tasers against Land Defenders and arrested nine people.
  • After courts upheld multiple interim injunctions, on 22 October 2020, Justice R. John Harper of the Ontario Superior Provincial Court granted a permanent injunction covering Land Back Lane and all roads in Haldimand County, thereby making all roadblocks illegal.
  • In the course of the injunction proceedings, Justice Harper granted a motion to name Skyler Williams, a Haudenosaunee Land Defender, the main defendant and ordered him to pay over $117,000 in Foxgate’s legal fees.
  • On the evening of 22 October 2020, the Ontario Provincial Police attacked the blockades on Highway 6 and 6th Line, shooting rubber-coated steel bullets and using tasers against Land Defenders again.
  • Since 5 August 2020, the OPP arrested 33 Land Defenders and their supporters for violating the injunction. Approximately 20 additional people have warrants out for their arrest.

As people of faith committed to peace, justice and reconciliation, we strongly condemn the criminalization of Land Defenders and their supporters. Since the federal government remains silent and has avoided negotiations with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and the Land Defenders, the Land Defenders have been left with no recourse but to stop the housing development and reclaim their land. Without taking part in this “illegal” land defence, they are at risk of losing yet another piece of the land promised them in the Haldimand Proclamation.

We also express deep concern regarding the Ontario Superior Court case Foxgate Developments Inc. v. Doe et al. (2020). Under the proceedings by Justice Harper, Land Defenders were rebuked and scolded for their actions, undermining their public credibility. Additionally concerning is the permanent injunction that now exists at 1492 Land Back Lane and the roads in Haldimand County. This injunction not only furthers the criminalization of Land Defenders, but it also makes all future roadblocks—a legitimate form of public protest—illegal.

We also openly condemn the violent attacks of the OPP against the Haudenosaunee Land Defenders. People seeking justice should never have to face violence. While the OPP claims these are all non-lethal forms of ‘defence’, rubber-coated steel bullets and tasers have killed many protesters worldwide. The OPP response is not a form of defence, but an offence and assault on reconciliation.

As people of faith, we are committed to peace and, therefore, also committed to reconciliation. We call on the federal government to stop the criminalization of Land Defenders and enter into Nation to Nation dialogue with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and Land Defenders. 

Sincerely,

Clergy & Laity in Solidarity with #1492LandBackLane

Over 190 people signed the letter. Thank you for supporting the Land Defenders.

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