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Six Nations land defenders criminalized by court injunctions for protecting ancestral lands

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Police on Haudenosaunee territory, July 2020. Image: Skyler Williams/Facebook

Haldimand County police say: "The situation escalated as demonstrators at the site failed to comply with the injunction."

It is now day 27 for Six Nations land defenders who are protecting their territory from a housing development at a site they have renamed 1492 Land Back Lane.

The land defenders began their re-occupation of this land on July 19.

By July 31, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) escorted a court sheriff who read and delivered an injunction against the occupation. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee at the University of Windsor faculty of law has commented: "The land defenders, all of whom are Indigenous, were not represented in court."

On August 5, OPP officers raided the site and arrested nine land defenders for not complying with the court injunction. The land defenders returned shortly afterwards.

On August 7, an Ontario Supreme Court judge issued two more injunctions and extended a third injunction against the land defenders.

The legal fund for 1492 Land Back Lane comments: "These injunctions only serve as a colonial mechanism to disposes us of our lands and resources, which fundamentally violates our rights as sovereign Indigenous people."

Haudenosaunee lawyer Beverly Jacobs further explains the problematic aspect of injunctions against Indigenous land defence struggles in this APTN video clipThe Yellowhead Institute has also commented on the skewed granting of injunctions, as has Kate Gunn of First Peoples Law (who Peace Brigades International met with in Vancouver in November 2019).

On August 10, the OPP said they did not have an update on when the court injunctions would be delivered. In the meantime, the OPP continue to have a presence near the site.

On August 13, land defender Skyler Williams posted: "After being shot at, beaten and tasered, dragged off our land and criminalized we as community have never been more determined to see our way forward."

Skyler has also commented: "This is about Haudenosaunee people asserting their rights over their territory and I think the criminalization of that is the crime here."

Earlier this week, CBC reported: "Williams said he and the other [land defenders] intend to dig in at the development, despite the ongoing police presence and injunctions demanding they tear down their tents and the barricades."

For additional background on the reasons for the 1492 Land Back Lane re-occupation, you can listen to this 48-minute Warrior Life interview by Mi'kmaq lawyer Pam Palmater with Skyler Williams and Myka Burning.

APTN has also explained that this present-day situation can be traced back to 1784, when Quebec governor Frederick Haldimand granted a tract of land spanning 10 kilometres in either direction from the banks of the Grand River after the Haudenosaunee allied with the British during the American Revolution. Throughout the 1800s the Haudenosaunee were dispossessed of this territory and an unresolved court challenge over the legality of that loss of territory began in 1995.

For further updates, you can also visit the 1492 Land Back Lane Facebook page.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the PBI-Canada website. Follow them @PBIcanada @CBrentPatterson.

Image: Skyler Williams/Facebook

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