OHSWEKEN — Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council called for calm on Saturday after a week that saw tensions escalate between police and demonstrators at a proposed housing development site.
Road closures are in effect on McKenzie Road, Argyle Street South and the Highway 6 bypass after demonstrators dug up the asphalt in retaliation to a violent clash between police and protesters.
On Thursday, Superior Court Justice RJ Harper ordered demonstrators to leave and issued a permanent injunction on the McKenzie Meadows site and against blockades on Haldimand County roadways — aggravating an already tense situation.
Reports of violence came from Caledonia with demonstrators saying police fired rubber bullets at protesters.
Police released video footage of two men striking an OPP cruiser with a lacrosse stick, urging police to leave the area and pelting the vehicle with rocks eventually shattering the windshield of the cruiser — alleging that the incident was what sparked OPP firing at protesters.
OPP Constable Rod LeClair said officers used “non-lethal force.”
Six Nations Elected Council issued a statement late on Friday saying the community should focus on addressing land claims with the federal and provincial governments, describing it as a goal all members share despite other differences of opinion.
“We hope in the days ahead, that we can work in unity to focus on the common goal of addressing our Six Nations Land Claims,” the statement said. “It’s time for the federal and provincial governments to right their wrongs.”
The statement said council was disturbed by the permanent injunction, calling it an example of systemic racism in Canada’s justice system.
“We do not condone the violence or destruction of property and we are calling for calm to refocus our minds,” the council’s statement said.
Harper refused Thursday to hear constitutional arguments in the case from Skyler Williams, a man named on an August temporary injunction, saying the camp occupants were in contempt of court by refusing to leave the site.
Williams has said he plans to appeal that ruling.
Premier Doug Ford said Friday that he wants dialogue with the demonstrators, while describing those who engaged in the alleged violence as “bad apples.”
“I don’t know if a few folks are going rogue, but the way you get things settled is by sitting around the table, talking about solutions,” Ford said. “You don’t go after our police.”
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Williams said Ford’s “bad apples” comment reflected ignorance about the camp and its purpose. He said the community is united in its understanding of their right to the land.
“Every family, every faction in our community understands that this is our land and it’s going to stay that way,” he said.
In a later phone interview, Williams said a meeting took place on Saturday between occupiers, Six Nations traditional government and band council.
He said the community is coming together, and will speak with “one voice.”
“This is a land claim dispute that’s been going on for 200 years,” he said. “We’ve been consistent in saying since the early 1800s that we want squatters off our lands.”
The premier had also expressed sympathy for people who paid for homes in the proposed housing development where construction has stalled during the occupation.
“They buy a home, like all of us … and all of a sudden someone comes in and says, ‘No, it’s not yours anymore, it’s ours.’ It’s unacceptable,” Ford said.
In its statement, Six Nations Elected Council also addressed tensions within the community over its controversial agreement with the developer at McKenzie Meadows to publicly support the project.
Council said it thought the agreement was good for the community at the time, but are listening to those with opposing views.