Mayor calls for OPP to enforce injunctions in Caledonia while demonstrators ask for time

Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt says he's "tired of hearing about stolen land" and is calling on the OPP to enforce court injunctions against demonstrators camping a residential development near Caledonia.

People at 1492 Land Back Lane asking OPP to respect decision-making process

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)

Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt says he's "tired of hearing about stolen land" and is calling on the OPP to enforce court injunctions against demonstrators camping at a residential development and blockading roads near Caledonia.

The county released a lengthy statement from Hewitt and council about the situation at McKenzie Meadows Wednesday. Demonstrators have been staying at the site for more than 30 days, saying it's unceded Haudenosaunee territory and renaming it 1492 Land Back Land.

Spokesperson Skyler Williams said they are increasingly concerned about the number of police in the area, noting demonstrators have taken steps to de-escalate the situation by returning a pair of bulldozers and partially removing a camp at a barrier near 6th Line and Argyle Street.

"We urge the OPP to grant us time to engage in traditional decision making and decrease their police presence in the area to allow for a peaceful resolution that is productive for our community and Canadians," he said.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council has also voiced its support for the demonstrators, saying it believes the development is "unlawful."

But the mayor has a different perspective, describing 1492 Land Back Lane as an "ILLEGAL occupation."

"We did not steal any land as everyone has legally bought and paid or paying for the property that they rightfully own," his statement reads.

"The Federal government is solely responsible for the mismanagement of land over the years with respect to our First Nations people across Canada and they will be the party responsible to make the appropriate amends. Not you or I."

The mayor goes on to outline nine points about the location, arguing a longstanding land claim from Six Nations does not include McKenzie Meadows, that community members in both Caledonia and Six Nations were notified about the development and that the elected council has been accommodated for the project.

That's a point the elected council does not dispute. It released a statement on July 24 saying it was "accommodated" by the developers 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 also show the council agreed to publicly support the project and to help put an end to any protests that might arise.

However, demonstrators have argued the elected council does not represent Six Nations and they're not alone.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council has shared a statement saying the situation at McKenzie Meadows will only be resolved when the federal government recognizes it governs Six Nations.

It goes on to say it has not granted consent for the project, adding McKenzie Meadows is in the council's "red zone" where there's a moratorium on development.

Stacks of tires, cement blocks and what appears to be an overturned trailer form a barricade on Argyle Street South, heading out of Caledonia. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The council "supports and thanks our people and our allies who are taking peaceful steps to protect and save the land for our future generations who will have nowhere to live and prosper if the settler population continues to unlawfully encroach upon our lands," the statement reads.

"We deeply hope to avoid repeating the events of 2006."

The year refers different development called Douglas Creek Estates, which led to a months-long standoff at a site just across the road from McKenzie Meadows.

"We know that this issue will not be resolved by the use of injunctions which escalate matters with the attempt to impose Canadian law and criminalize our people for simply asking that the Crown honour its treaty commitments," stated the council.

'I am not racist'

For his part, Hewitt says he expects the OPP to enforce the court injunctions and that they should not be lifted until the demonstrators to leave the sites and remove barriers across area roads and a rail line.

The mayor said if people object to the elected council or confederacy misrepresenting them they should work within their territory to set up a "more transparent method of governance" everyone can support.

Demonstrators have insisted their actions have been peaceful, and pointed to provincial police as the aggressors in a raid at the site that saw several people arrested. 

But Hewitt's statement bristled at that description, insisting that calling the situation peaceful is an "insult" to those with an interest in the development and distracts from a chance for change.

He expressed a desired to build on past good will between the two communities, saying that can't happen "in the face of this type of protest."

Demonstrators have occupied the McKenzie Meadows development in Caledonia for more than three weeks, renaming it "1492 Land Back Lane." (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The mayor also lamented how difficult it can be to have any "real dialogue" about the issue because people are so polarized, saying when anyone tries to discuss the situation they're labelled a racist.

"I am not racist," he wrote, before stating he believes everyone should be treated equally.

Hewitt went on to say Haldimand County and council have taken the same approach with "ALL of our ethnic friends regardless of what origin they are from."