'We're not going anywhere': Six Nations demonstrators have different vision for subdivision

Demonstrators handed over two bulldozers Thursday as the occupation of the McKenzie Meadows residential development stretched into its 26th day.

2 bulldozers handed over as McKenzie Meadows occupation stretches into 26th day

Skyler Williams is a member of Six Nations of the Grand River and one of the demonstrators who has been camping at McKenzie Meadows for more than three weeks. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

When Skyler Williams looks at the baked ground of 1535 McKenzie Road he doesn't see a typical subdivision.

Instead, he envisions a different type of life.

"Families, gardens, homes [and] not covered in asphalt and concrete," he said Thursday. "This is our territory and we're going to live on it. We're not going anywhere."

Six Nations demonstrators, including Williams, have been camping at the McKenzie Meadows development for 26 days and are doing so in the face of court injunctions saying they must vacate the site.

Construction is happening, but it's not the residential development that builders Ballantry and Losani Homes planned.

At the heart of the camp stands the wooden frame of a kitchen, surrounded by flags and containers spray painted with the new title the demonstrators have given the site: 1492 Land Back Lane.

Williams, along with 14 others, moved onto the development on July 19 and haven't left, except for about seven hours after he and several demonstrators were arrested by the OPP on August 5.

Police say officers were hit with rocks while enforcing a court injunction to clear the site. They responded by firing a rubber bullet. In the hours that followed, barriers went up across area roads and a rail line.

The Six Nations member said they never wanted violence to break out.

"It's not an adversarial thing with non-Native people," said Williams.

"This is about Haudenosaunee people asserting their rights over their territory so if we need to put our selves, our bodies, our lives, our livelihoods and freedoms to be able to do that that's our obligation and I think the criminalization of that is the crime here."

About 10 tents dotted the site on August 12, along with the frame of a structure demonstrators have said will be used as a kitchen. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

He pointed out demonstrators trace the root of the current confrontation to Canada's colonial history and more recently to 2006 with a different development called Douglas Creek Estates.

That project led to a months-long standoff at a site just across the road from McKenzie Meadows.

The occupation of the site is a continuation of that stand, he explained, and a message that Haudenosaunee won't sit back silently and watch as land around them continues to be developed.

Elected council was 'accommodated'

Ground was broken at McKenzie Meadows after the Six Nations of the Grand River's Elected Council was "accommodated" by the builders in two ways, first in 2016 with 42.3 acres and again in 2019 in the form of $325,000, which was put into a land banking account.

Court documents filed by Losani while seeking an injunction to remove the demonstrators also show the council agreed to publicly support the project and to help put an end to any protests that might slow it down.

Elected Chief Mark Hill has called for unity, saying the council does not support violence or destruction, while asking Canadians to understand the demonstrators' position and why the land is important.

Williams said he and the other demonstrators are open to working with the council, adding he blames the land claims process for the situation, not them for signing the agreement.

"You either take the money and take the crap deal or you get nothing and development rolls on anyway," he said.

Invitation to anyone with questions

Blockades remained in place around Caledonia Thursday, but a pair of bulldozers rumbled down Argyle Street South.

Demonstrators handed over a pair of bulldozers to OPP liaison officers Thursday, 26 days into their occupation of the nearby McKenzie Meadows residential development. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

They are two of only a few vehicles that have passed the barrier there, which has grown in recent days to include stacks of tires, cement blocks, an overturned car and what appears to be a trailer tipped on its side.

Williams was behind the controls of one of the bulldozers, which came to stop a few metres away from a group of OPP officers in civilian clothes. Police spoke with the demonstrators for a short while before driving the machines past pylons and a handful of cruisers.

The bulldozers belong to a construction company that was working on a road inside the barriers before it was blocked off, according to Const. Rod LeClair.

The equipment will be returned to its owner, said LeClair, adding the service's provincial liaison team "continues to be engaged and there is open dialogue with everyone involved."

Members of the OPP's provincial liaison team look on as the bulldozers are steered around the barricade Thursday morning. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Williams said he and the other demonstrators intend to dig in at the development, despite the ongoing police presence and injunctions demanding they tear down their tents and the barricades.

He also has a simple message for those who question their actions.

"Our people have never been going up and down the river trying to evict people," he explained, before offering an invitation to anyone who wants to learn about what they demonstrators are doing.

"Come and break bread with me. We'll sit around a fire and laugh and talk and we'll inform you about what's going on."