The elected council of an Ontario First Nation at the heart of an Indigenous land dispute called for calm on Saturday following escalating tensions between police and demonstrators at a proposed housing development site.
Road closures were in effect in parts of Caledonia, Ont., on Saturday morning due to demonstrations opposing the development at McKenzie Meadows, according to provincial police.
Opponents have camped out at the site for months, contending the development is on unceded Indigenous land near Six Nations First Nation and violates the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee people. Dozens of protesters have been arrested since the occupation began.
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 issued by a judge Thursday, ordering all demonstrators off the land reclamation camp known as 1492 Land Back Lane. They described the injunction as an example of systemic racism in Canada’s judiciary.
Reports of violence came from Caledonia hours after Justice John Harper’s ruling, with demonstrators saying police fired rubber bullets and police alleging cruisers were damaged.
“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 on Friday said 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.
The Premier 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.