A judge seeks to ‘find out the truth’ on land near Six Nations, as part of Skyler Williams’ sentencing hearing


The sentencing hearing for Haudenosaunee activist Skyler Williams was back in court on Thursday morning, after Judge Gethin Edward said he was ‘trying to find out the truth’ regarding the land that Williams said to have defended.

Williams testified last week, answering questions from Edward about why he took part in a two-year occupation of the site of a controversial development in Caledonia, Ontario, and what ‘land to return’ means to him.

“We need to hear from both sides … to help this court determine what is in the best interest of the community,” Edward said last week at a courthouse in Cayuga, Ont.

Williams, 39, had previously pleaded guilty to one count of mischief and two counts of breach of recognizance, all related to his actions on what is known in the area as 1492 Land Back Lane.

Edward’s questioning last week will help determine what he considers an appropriate sentence for Williams’ actions. On Thursday, the court set a new date for the continuation of the hearing, in January.

Protesters set up barricades in Caledonia to oppose development. (Naheed Mustafa/CBC)

Foxgate Development (a joint venture between Losani Homes and Ballantry Homes) planned to build over 200 residences at a location called McKenzie Meadows in 2020.

Protesters halted construction, claiming the land was unceded Haudenosaunee territory, renaming it and erecting several buildings on the site. Williams served as the spokesperson for the protests.

The land is on the Haldimand Tract, which was 384,451 hectares of land along the Grand River granted to the Six Nations in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution.

This led to burning barricades, a backhoe digging up a road and the OPP reportedly using a Taser and firing at least one rubber bullet.

Police arrested dozens of protesters, including Williams, in the months that followed.

As part of a legal action, the developers have sought an injunction to ban activists, also known as land defenders, from the site and to prohibit them from blocking roads in the area.

This spawned a separate legal battle that is still ongoing.

Williams also faces a charge of criminal contempt after a blockage of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on traditional Wets’uwet’en territory in northern British Columbia in 2021.

‘200 years of colonialism’ to blame: Williams

In court last week, Williams wore a green jacket and blue jeans as he spoke about his personal life and the philosophy behind the Earth protests.

He had at least a dozen people present in support, including Sarah Jama, the Ontario NDP candidate for Hamilton Centre.

He answered questions from his attorney, Joshua Frost, Crown Attorney Gabe Settimi, and Judge Gethin Edward, who is Indigenous.

Williams said his first introduction to the landback activism he does now was Ipperwash in 1995.

Frost asked Williams why he was protesting.

“I have children … who are going to need a place to build a house,” he said, adding that it is a resistance against the ongoing oppression and a fight to keep the land to which they are connected.

caledonia protest skyler williams
Skyler Williams served as the spokesperson for Camp 1492 Land Back Lane, which saw Haudenosaunee land defenders occupy the proposed McKenzie Meadows subdivision for approximately 850 days. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Williams said he recognizes consultation and obtaining consent at Six Nations of the Grand River can be a bureaucratic nightmare, but Indigenous peoples are not to blame for it.

“It’s hard because it’s 200 years of colonialism, oppression, racism, excessive incarceration rates, child welfare that is stacked against us. These are the issues that our communities still face. “, did he declare.

An example of this is the tension between the elected Six Nations council, established under the Indian Act of 1942, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, hereditary leaders who many consider community leaders.

Despite this, the elected council is usually the one to which developers and others go for consultation. In this case, the elected council of Six Nations approved the development proposed by Foxgate.

Williams said the elected council should have a voice at the table, but shouldn’t be the only voice.

For people in Haldimand County or Cayuga inconvenienced by the recovery camp, Williams said he would offer his phone number to anyone who wants to talk, to help them understand the meaning of the fight.

He later said that the reason Mackenzie Meadows was occupied as opposed to other developments was that this project was “right in front of us” and could be seen every time someone left the territory.

‘What are the options?’

Williams told Crown Attorney Settimi that if the developers returned for another land, he would support the protest against it, regardless of the law or the outcome of the pending court case.

Williams later said that if there was a nation-to-nation agreement on land, he would stick to it, no matter what the terms.

A nation-to-nation agreement would imply that all stakeholders are at the table to agree.

Judge Edward told Williams he appreciated Williams’ ‘optimism’ about nation-to-nation negotiations, but said he needed to be ‘immersed in reality’ because a deal may never be done and that is not the case. is not “politically expedient”.

He asked Williams why he wouldn’t try going through the Superior Court of Justice, to which Williams replied that the courts were a “lightweight” for Native leaders.

“What are the options?” Edward asked.

Edward said occupying the land when a development affects the community, which leads to escalating emotions and police involvement is not in line with Haudenosaunee teachings.

“We cannot continue to have a situation where the only option is continued struggle leading to individuals going to war over something that you believe can be resolved somehow” , said Edward.

Williams agreed, but pointed out that courts and colonial processes are what pit people against each other. He also mentioned how costly court battles can be.

“Show me a system where we can fully participate and feel like our voices are heard and amplified because these developers…they’re amplified by the courtrooms.”

Rather than make a decision on Williams’ accusations, Edward said the only way to find out the truth would be to hear from a representative of the elected Six Nations council.

Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council of Chiefs calls for moratorium on development

Deyohowe:to (Roger Silversmith), leader of Cayuga Snipe, and Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane, announced a moratorium on development in the Haldimand Tract on April 20, 2021.

He asked the Crown to see if Six Nations Lands and Resources Manager Lonny Bomberry could appear in court.

Settimi said he feared it would create further division, but Edward persisted.

“What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission but not an account of what happened? So in all respects what happened here is fair? Certainly not for Mr. Williams “Edward said.

“Why are we reluctant to seek the truth and does the truth only matter to those who are affected?”

A new tribunal was set up Thursday morning. Bomberry, or someone else representing the elected council, is scheduled to appear Jan. 23.

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