Housing development on Six Nations disputed land being halted

Developer to build 1400 homes adjacent to reserve while Six Nations in housing crisis

By Jonathan and Nahnda Garlow

SIX NATIONS — “I’m not a protestor,” says Skylar Williams. He says he sees himself as a defender of the land — not a protestor.

“We come from a community that is divided. Divisions between the Band, the Confederacy, the Men’s Fire, the other Men’s Fire, the Mohawk Workers — everybody wants their say. All of that division was perpetuated by the government. If we play into that, all of these lands will be developed.”

McKenzie Road runs parallel with Argyle Street in Caledonia at the southern stretch of town. There, an encampment of Six Nations members along with Williams have put up tents and flags in an attempt to stop the McKenzie Meadows housing development that has been culminating since 2003.

McKenzie Meadows is located directly across the street from the former Douglas Creek Estates — the site where the years long land reclamation in 2006 took place. Phase 1 of the development will be at the McKenzie Road side of the farm lot with another housing development project, Beattie Estates, set for the other side of McKenzie Road. A total of 1400 homes are proposed between the two projects.

The development of thousands of homes right on Six Nations doorstep has been described as an insult to Williams. Six Nations membership is in the midst of a generational housing crisis — less than half of the community’s band membership have access to housing on the reserve in approximately 2,000 households.

Craig Rohe with Upper Canada Consultants was at a community information session at the Six Nations Tourism building in April 2019 to explain the project.

Rohe said archaeological studies were done on both properties and shared plans for a possible extension of Sixth Line across Argyle Street though to McKenzie Road are also being proposed for the future.

According to Lonny Bomberry, Lands and Resources Director at Six Nations, the community previously considered an accommodation deal in 2015 that would have given nearly $1.25 million dollars in funding for the Kaweni:io/Gaweniyo Immersion School to go through. That proposed accommodation was rejected by the Elected Council.

“They viewed it as selling our land rights,” said Bomberry. “What they wanted was land back. So that’s the process we’ve been embarking on and working out with developers.”

According to Bomberry a formula for compensation was made with the McClung Road development in the northern end of Caledonia, seeing Six Nations receive payment in the form of property that is half the value of the developable land in the proposed project.

From that arrangement, Bomberry says Six Nations received 200 acres on the outskirts of Hagersville — 75 of which has been transferred to Six Nations and another 100 acres that is in the adding to reserve process.

Ballantry Homes has compensated Six Nations even though there is no legal obligation for developers to do so.

In 2016 — 42.3 acres of land across from Little Buffalo was transferred to Six Nations and in 2019 Ballantry paid $352,000 to the Elected Council that was put into a trust fund for land acquisition.

Williams said that the community consultation process was insufficient and that the Six Nations community at large did not agree to allowing the development to continue, even if there was a minority in favour.

When asked what his goal was and whether the developer will cancel their multi-million dollar plans Williams said, “I don’t care whether the developer changes his mind, I am not changing mine. If we get arrested it will send a message to Haldimand County and the Province of Ontario that their deal with the (elected) band does not represent all 27,000 people.”

TRT asked Williams if the land defenders and protestors were commissioned by HCCC or HDI to stop the development. He said that he hasn’t been sent by any one group.

“We’ve intentionally not married ourselves to one group or faction. It’s really important for us to maintain that. We need the time and space to heal and come together as one voice again. I don’t expect people to forget the last one hundred years of division. There’s lots of work that needs to happen in our community but we can’t allow development rolling up on our door step. I spent seven months in jail for (stopping) DCE, so allowing this development to continue is a slap in the face. It was fifteen years ago but I haven’t forgotten. Our communities came together, I say communities because Six Nations is broken. Whether its Confederacy, the Band, the Workers, the Men’s fires, the Christian groups, the Great Law folks, the Gaiwihyo (Handsome Lake) folks, we need to come together in some kind of meaningful way. In the meantime we can’t allow unfettered development on our land especially when it comes to our front door.”

In an earlier interview, Bomberry told TRT the new accommodation package with Ballantry Homes does not affect Six Nations land claims on the Haldimand Tract or Plank Road.

A neighbour to the housing development drove his ATV to the site to show his support and said he didn’t want the new houses in his backyard either. “I can open my gate and drive my four wheeler right into the forest.” He says he won’t be able to after the new units are built and so for that reason he supports Williams. “This is awesome, I wish white people could do this,” he said.

At the heart of this dispute is a land claim that was started by Six Nations in 1995 that asserted the 19th century “surrender” was fradulent and that Six Nations rightfully owns land title to six miles on each side of the Grand River otherwise known as the Haldimand Tract.

There is an underlying parallel between the old surrender and the 2013 development agreement. Both agreements may have legal signatures on them but lack overwhelming support of the Six Nations people.

Bomberry explained, “All of these lands under the Haldimand Tract are under land claim no matter where it is. Douglas Creek is no different than MacKenzie Road. Oneida Township was never surrendered but it went out of our possession in 1845. It’s been in third party hands since then. All these lands were patented in the 1850s and 1860s. It became under provincial jurisdiction. The problem with trying to claim that land back is you’ll never win in court. Because the courts are saying ‘Sorry Charlie it’s been too long, you didn’t act on it sooner.’ You have the statute of limitations, the doctrine of latches, the doctrine of acquiescence would defeat your claim if you went after this land against third parties. So that’s why our lawsuit is against Canada and Ontario saying, look, even though we don’t have the lands no more it was unlawful the way you took it. You breeched your fiduciary duty. And the money that you did get you breached your duty on managing that because you went and willfully wasted all our money and now the court case is saying, ok – Crown-Canada, Crown-Ontario… account for that and if you can’t account for it make good on it. Make good on the land and if you can’t make good on the land you have to pay us the monetary value of it.”

Related Posts