Onkwehon:we and Brantford residents unite and #landback Arrowdale

A vehicle blocks the entrance to Arrowdale Golf Course. October 10 2021 (Real People’s Media)

Encompassed by the Haldimand Tract, Arrowdale has been a greenspace and golf course open to the public since 1927. Now it’s being #landbacked by the Onkwehon:we with the support of Brantford residents.

BRANTFORD – On October 9, residents of Brantford Ontario belonging to the Save Arrowdale movement held a protest at Arrowdale Municipal Golf Course. They wore bright yellow shirts with their logo on the front and a summary of their key points on the back. Having gathered a petition with 7,871 signatures in favour of preserving the greenspace and won a unanimous city council vote to save Arrowdale in 2016, they questioned why in 2019 Brantford City Council voted to sell the land to developers. The city’s new deal would preserve only three (later 17) out of the 49 acres as greenspace. 

Ron Heaslip and Veronica Martisius led opposition to the City’s plans by applying for a judicial review of the city decision in November of 2019 as directors of Know Your City Inc. Heaslip explained to Rhonda Martin of the podcast Got Something to Say? that after exhausting all of their legal appeals “our process isn’t over, but now we’ve joined forces with the yellow shirt movement, Save Arrowdale group, Friends of Arrowdale to raise visibility that the people of Brantford aren’t happy with what’s happening to this property.” Save Arrowdale has acquired over 9,000 signatures opposing development, while Friends of Arrowdale boasts 3000 members.

Martisius has done extensive research on the property and Heaslip relayed the history of its development. In the early 1900s, local industrialists built a 4-hole golf course as recreation for their employees. In 1927 it was expanded into a 9-hole golf course and has continuously been open to the public since. As Heaslip put it, much of the land was acquired through “handshake deals” as the golf course grew into what it is today.

Brantford tries to break Haudenosaunee moratorium on development

In preparation for the protest, the City of Brantford hired a private security company called Active Security to physically monitor the site, a company called 4XEM to install hardened security cameras and rented hundreds of meters of Modu-Loc fencing to ring the entire property.

The entire city of Brantford lies within the Haldimand Tract which was deeded to the Mohawks and such other of the Six Nations by the British in recompense for territories lost during the American Revolution. Through centuries of genocide and land theft the Onkwehon:we only occupy a tiny parcel of their once massive holdings.

With this in mind Trevor Bomberry, Oneida Bear Clan decided he would go to the protest and support the efforts of Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) to put a moratorium on development on the Haldimand Tract. “This land is part of the Haldimand Tract and it’s under land claim. It’s my duty to make sure it stays that way.” he said.

Once there he broke the padlock on the gate and entered the property. Finding the clubhouse unlocked he decided to make use of it as well. He made his intent clear: this land is part of a land claim under the Haldimand Tract and the HCCC has called a moratorium on all development. He and his supporters have decided to physically occupy the site to prevent any development and preserve the land for the enjoyment of the public. “I saw this couple having a picnic on the grass, and I realized that if the City of Brantford had their way they wouldn’t be able to do that.” he said. “I want people to be able to enjoy this space, I’m not stopping anyone from coming in here.”

A sign displayed at the front gate of Arrowdale Golf Course reading “No Consent? No Development? #MoratoriumInPlace #HaldimandTract #OrderToHalt” October 10 2021 (Real Peoples Media)

The only interaction between Bomberry and the City occurred when the Brantford Police arrived to question him. The cops immediately invoked the spectre of violence by asking “Is this going to be another Caledonia?” referencing the repeated clashes at Kanonhstaton and 1492 Landback Lane. Bomberry responded that there would only be violence if the police tried to remove the people from the land with violence. When the police asked how long they would be there Bomberry replied “As long as the grass grows and the sky is blue.”

Bomberry says he was straightforward with the Police. “The police officer turned around and said “Who broke the lock?” I said “I did.” When the police cautioned him that he committed a crime, Bomberry said “This is theft” pointing at the fence. “This is preventing me from coming home.” He suggested the police charge the City of Brantford for stealing Indigenous land. The police were clearly not prepared to deal with Indigenous land claims, but Bomberry assured them that “if you come in here with a good mind and peace and understanding and instead of using violence using open dialogue and communication. If we can resolve things that way then that’s how we’re going to resolve it.”

What is one person going to do about it? Well, this is what we are doing, we are taking it back.”

Trevor Bomberry, Oneida Bear Clan

The differences between Arrowdale and other Indigenous blockades are stark. “If this is such a big damn deal where are all the police, where are the government officials?” Bomberry said. “The mainstream media will always try to show the fight between Onkewon:we and the developers or Canada. What do they do? They send their law enforcement in as soon we start rising up.” Bomberry encouraged readers to do their own research “Don’t take my word for it, turn on the TV, go online, every protest you will see us on one side, cops on the other side. Take a look.” he said, gesturing towards the front gate. “Not one cop.” 

Members of Save Arrowdale distribute donations at Arrowdale Golf Course October 10 2021 (Real Peoples Media)

Bomberry told Real Peoples Media that if he were City Council he would waste no time in addressing this situation. Bomberry said that the City wasn’t getting involved immediately because, “They know they have no entitlement to this land, or else they would be here. And yet they will go ahead and they will try to sell this land to a developer on [City] letterhead saying that the City of Brantford wants them to do their due diligence in the purchase of the land.” he said “And the City of Brantford is not liable for any First Nations land claims.”

Bomberry noted a similarity between the actions of the City of Brantford and the Six Nations of the Grand River (formerly Six Nations Elected Council SNGR/SNEC) “They’re no different than even our own band council, they’re kinda one and the same; what they do is they make decisions without making policy. They never consult [anyone],” he said. “Before they used to hide that, masquerading as something to get something [else], now they don’t do that anymore, they just come out blatantly and say ‘That’s it; we’re developing it.’ What is one person going to do about it? Well, this is what we are doing, we are taking it back.”

Trevor Bomberry, Oneida Bear Clan October 10 2021 (Real Peoples Media)

Bridges being built between Onkwehon:we and Brantford Residents

When Real Peoples Media arrived the following day there were two Active Security security guards standing outside the gate, a lifted pickup truck with the words SIX NATIONS decaled on the side blocked the entrance. Tied to the gate by the City were numerous orange “Honour Every Child” signs: the irony was lost on no one. Inside the gate there were tables set out with hot food, including a whole chicken, coffee, donuts, snacks and two coolers for cold drinks and perishables. Nearby a small fire burned while Six Nations and Brantford residents sat and discussed events under a pop-up canopy.

The grounds themselves were in a moderate state of disrepair, the grass had grown long and wild, but there were few weeds. The sandtraps were still clear and the buildings were in good repair. It could quickly and easily be made functional again.

Bridges were being built between Save Arrowdale members and Onkwehon:we. One of the stated goals of the movement was to preserve the golf course; however, after learning more about the Haldimand Tract and land claims Heaslip admitted that “It might never be a golf course again.” Bomberry appreciates their assistance: “They’ve offered to do security at night and help out; but they have to understand that we have different rights, we are protected. You wanted it to stay green, you wanted it to stay a golf course, but I can’t promise that,” he said “You guys have it instilled in you that you have to fight legally and obey the laws, you guys will get justice in following this way, but now you’ve spent a lot of time, you’ve spent a lot of money to find out it’s to no avail; your legal system has let you down. Your politicians have let you down, they want development here.” 

According to Bomberry, Save Arrowdale have been good allies thus far. “They are starting to see it as more than just green space. They are starting to be educated. They are starting to look at all the injustice and land theft and they are saying, ‘This is horseshit, it looked like this but now it’s starting to look like that.’ And it’s lighting a new cycle of fire inside of them and they are starting to say, ‘You know what? We need to stand united in solidarity with our native people!’” Bomberry said, raising a fist.

Bomberry believes the next few days might see push back from the City. “After the Thanksgiving weekend I think they will hold an emergency council meeting and get an injunction and get the police to come clear us out,” he said. “Caledonia has been getting all the attention, but Brantford has been quietly stealing land and getting a pass all these years. Not anymore.”

Save Arrowdale and Trevor Bomberry are calling for more people to come down and show support if they can join the blockade or bring food, wood or supplies. All are welcome. 

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