Hamilton

Skyler Williams, spokesperson for Land Back Lane, turns himself in to police

The 37-year-old arrived at the Haldimand County OPP detachment Wednesday morning, followed by a caravan of honking supporters. He called for all charges against demonstrators to be dropped.

37-year-old said he wants to care for his kids 'without looking over my shoulder'

Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane, speaks outside the Haldimand County OPP detachment after turning himself in on May 19, 2021. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Skyler Williams, the spokesperson for a First Nations land reclamation camp in Caledonia, Ont., has turned himself in to police.

The 37-year-old arrived at the Haldimand County OPP detachment Wednesday morning, followed by a caravan of honking supporters.

Before heading into the station, Williams said the decision to hand himself over wasn't part of any deal to spark talks with the provincial and federal governments about the occupation of McKenzie Meadows, a proposed housing development.

"This is me spending 10 months with warrants over my head," he said.

"I'm a father of four. I need to be able to take care of my kids ... without looking over my shoulder." 

The Six Nations of the Grand River member has been acting as the designated spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane. That's the name demonstrators gave McKenzie Meadows when they began occupying it on July 19, 2020, saying it's unceded Haudenosaunee territory.

The months that followed saw blockades across area roads, court injunctions to remove people staying there, and dozens of arrests. The demonstrators have stayed on the land for more than 300 days.

Charged with mischief, disobeying a court order

Williams said OPP officers fingerprinted him and took his photo before releasing him roughly half an hour later, on the condition that he attend court and not return to 1535 Mackenzie Rd., the site of 1492 Land Back Lane.

A media release from provincial police confirmed there were two warrants for Williams. He's charged with two counts each of mischief and disobeying a court order as well as intimidation and failing to comply with an undertaking.

WATCH | 'Ten months with warrants over my head'

Skyler Williams turns himself in

1 month ago
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1492 Land Back Lane spokesperson Skyler Williams turned himself in to the Haldimand County OPP on Wednesday May 19, 2021. 0:59

Williams told reporters he wants to get through the criminal court process as soon as possible, adding he plans to continue advocating for the camp and Haudenosaunee land rights.

In October, Ontario Justice R.J. Harper ordered Williams to pay Foxgate Development $117,814.18 and Haldimand County $50,349 to cover legal costs both parties amassed while seeking injunctions against the camp and road blocks in the county.

Harper stated in his October ruling that Williams was the "leader" of 1492 Land Back Lane, pointing to his posts and videos shared on social media since the camp and demonstration began.

Williams repeatedly denied he was the leader during court appearances, saying the camp operates as a collective and makes decisions through meetings.

An OPP officer guides a car past the blockade on Argyle Street, south of Caledonia, last summer. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Members of the reclamation camp appealed the two court injunctions near the end of November.

"We chose to engage in a process, a process that is not our own, to try and move it forward," said Williams said at the time. "For us, the issue of the land here is still before the courts and certainly needs to come to a nation-to-nation discussion."

Williams has been calling for a nation-to-nation discussion about the development and Six Nations land since 1492 Land Back Lane began.

The site is part of the Haldimand Tract, which runs roughly 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River and was granted to Six Nations in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution.

The Haldimand Tract was granted to Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution. The land ran roughly 10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River. Six Nations now has less than five per cent of its original land base. (CBC News Graphics)

Foxgate, which is a partnership between Losani and Ballantry Homes, maintains the site where it planned to build McKenzie Meadows was legally purchased.

The company has filed a statement of claim in Ontario Superior Court seeking $200 million in damages. It names the province, the Attorney General of Canada, Ontario Provincial Police and individual Indigenous demonstrators, as well as supporters.

Williams calls for all charges to be dropped

Williams said Wednesday that he is not aware of any talks planned between Six Nations representatives and the provincial or federal government.

He called for all charges against people who have taken part in 1492 Land Back Lane to be dropped.

"These governments and courts and cops keep talking about what reconciliation looks like and what it means," he said.

"Certainly criminalizing 50 land defenders for simply occupying their lands, that are rightfully theirs … this is what reconciliation looks like, if you can let all of that stuff go."

Demonstrators have occupied the McKenzie Meadows development in Caledonia for more than 300 days, renaming it "1492 Land Back Lane." (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Williams was on hand last month when the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, the traditional government of Six Nations, announced a moratorium on development in the tract.

Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill has also signalled support for the call to halt building without the consent of the Haudenosaunee.

After leaving the police detachment on Wednesday, Williams said he planned to sit by the Grand River in Caledonia and eat lunch.

"I'm going to remember what we've been fighting for this whole time."

With files from Jorge Barrera

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