Haudenosaunee Land Defenders Affirm Right to Be

On December 13, Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Sweeny granted a permanent injunction to Foxgate Developments, barring Haudenosaunee land defenders from reclaiming their own land near the town of Caledonia. Foxgate Developments now has the full weight of colonial justice backed by the armed force of the Crown to proceed with building 218 homes that was set to begin in November 2022.

The Haudenosaunee land defenders have fiercely defended their sovereign authority over the tract of land that they call 1492 Land Back Lane since June 2020, defying arrests, armed attacks by police and ongoing threats. The Crown, they say, has no business allowing the development as "free, prior and informed consent" a key principle of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had not been given by the Six Nations to the Crown to proceed with this development.

Furthermore, the land defenders said they were taking a stand to ensure that their territory remains available to future generations. Less than five per cent of the original 384,451 hectares of the land known as the Haldimand Tract, designated as Six Nations territory by the British in recognition of their alliance with the Crown during the American Revolutionary War, remains in Six Nations hands.

Justice Sweeny's judgement relies on the racist Indian Act which recognizes only Crown mandated elected band councils. He dismissed Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1494 Land Back Lane, and two other unnamed defendants, as not having authority to speak on behalf of the Haudenosaunee or the Six Nations. Sweeny said permission to proceed with the project had been obtained by the company from the elected band council, and therefore, Foxgate had the legal title and legal permits to build on that land.[1]

Additionally, Judge Sweeny wrote that Skyler Williams did not invoke Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution pertaining to Indigenous rights to defend himself nor did the defendants contest the legality of the permits held by Foxgate. Justice Sweeny simply ignored the fact that the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations are sovereign people with nation-to-nation relations between themselves and the Crown, historically affirmed in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and codified in the Two-Row Wampum. The Superior Court decision once again imposed colonial justice over the sovereign rights of the Six Nations.

In his decision, Judge Sweeny cited the 2019 BC Supreme Court ruling that granted an injunction to Coastal GasLink (CGL) Pipeline against Wet'suwet'en land defenders resisting the building of the pipeline being forced through their territory without their consent. He wrote that in that decision, the judge also noted that CGL has the legal permits and could not be stopped, no matter what the "honestly held beliefs" of the Wet'suwet'en land defenders were. Judge Sweeny wrote that the Wet'suwet'en land defenders' "unlawful self-help" remedies were "contrary to the rule of law" and "an abuse of process."

With zealous colonial arrogance Sweeny lectured: "Under our system of law, property rights are sacrosanct. For that reason, the rules that generally apply to injunctions do not always apply in cases such as this. The balance of convenience and other matters may have to take second place to the sacrosanctity of property rights in matters of trespass."

1492 Land Back Lane responded to this illegal, unjust decision with a statement on their Facebook page. It reads: "The Crown is relying on their assertion of title from 1853, long after the Haldimand Proclamation, without consent of the Haudenosaunee, in a time when Indigenous People had no right to defend their interests in court. Canada's colonial legal system is fundamentally designed for this purpose: to deny our inherent connection to our lands, to dispossess us in order to extract resources and develop our territory without our consent. This is exactly how land theft is made legal.

"Our camp has spent every one of the last 878 days building our home at 1492 Land Back Lane. We will continue to cultivate orchards, sing our songs, and hold space here. We will be free on our land for however long it takes Canada to realize we are never going to leave and for generations after that." Skyler Williams, spokesperson for the Haudenosaunee land defenders also noted: "Our people will continue to live peacefully at 1492 Land Back Lane. Any disruption to peace here will be brought on by the courts, developers, and police, which we will absolutely defend ourselves from."


1.The claim of Judge Sweeny that the project was approved by the Six Nations band council is without merit. First of all, the Indian Act band council was imposed by force by Canada in 1923 which outlawed the centuries-long traditional hereditary governance system of the Haudenosaunee. The aim of the band council system was to restrict the political power of Indigenous people and reduce their hereditary and historic claims, displace them from their lands and assimilate them into the Canadian body politic. The "deal" in which the band council agreed to publicly support the proposed McKenzie Meadows housing project by Foxgate Developments and "not interfere with it, help quell any protests, and support property development company" was signed in 2019. Foxgate Developments also gave the elected band council $200,000 for their "consent." The project did not have the support of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council nor the majority of the Haudenosaunee. (Aboriginal Peoples Television News)

(With files from the CBC, 1492 Land Back Lane, Ontario Superior Court)

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 2 - February 2023

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