Onkwehon:we react to OPP escalation with Sept. 12 rally against police racism
On Saturday, Sept. 12, about 40 Onkwehon:we and their allies gathered at Sixth Line and Highway Six to demand that the OPP cease its criminalization of supporters of #1492LandBackLane.
SIX NATIONS – In recent weeks, numerous people associated with the 1492 Land Back Lane site at the proposed McKenzie Meadows development have been arrested. These people have included Onkwehon:we land defenders, allies and journalists.
Karl Dockstader, Bear Clan of the Oneida Nation, a journalist with One Dish, One Mic on CKTB 610 in St. Catherines and a CBC Indigenous Journalist Fellow was arrested on mischief charges related to his coverage of Land Back Lane.
Real Peoples Media’s own reporter assigned to 1492 Land Back Lane, Starla Myers, Turtle Clan of the Mohawk Nation, was arrested on September 12th for “Mischief” and “Disobeying a court order” relating to her media coverage of events. Myers turned herself in at the Six Nations Police Department and was released on her own recognizance after refusing to sign an undertaking to abide by unconstitutional conditions the OPP sought to impose on her.
Those arrested also include many allies and supporters who were merely visiting the site or dropping off supplies. A couple from Guelph were arrested on September 7 merely for bringing supplies to 1492 Land Back Lane. Azaadi Now, a Kashmiri Indigenous news outlet based in Guelph said in a press release that one of their core production team members turned themselves in after police came to their home unannounced.
Real People’s Media fully supports Myers and all others arrested by the OPP for their support of 1492 Land Back Lane. The OPP has no jurisdiction on the lands of the Haldimand Tract, and we condemn their treatment of journalists.
The OPP is bound by the Canadian Constitution and in arresting journalists and land defenders they are breaking not only those sections of the Constitution which protect free speech and political protest, but Sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution which protect Onkwehonwe treaty rights and the Crown’s obligation to its Indigenous allies – the true title holders to this land.
Rally at the 6×6 Safety Zone
On September 12th, a rally was organized by members of the 6×6 Safety Zone, a camp erected at the strategically important intersection of Hwy 6 and 6th line to show support for those who have been arrested in relation to 1492 Land Back Lane.
According to Rhonda Martin, a Cayuga of the Wolf Clan, “Most of those people [being arrested by the OPP] are allies. They’re arresting people in London, in Kitchener, they are trying to dissuade our supporters from coming and helping us.”
The original plan was to march from the 6×6 Safety Zone to a local hockey arena. For weeks the OPP had been using the Haldimand County Caledonia Centre arena as a staging point, and there were typically 30+ OPP vehicles in the parking lot. However as preparations for the march began word came that all of the OPP vehicles had been removed from the area. Martin told Real Peoples Media that “we were going to walk right to [where they were stationed] for well over 35 days and we were going to ask them why are you arresting our people and the allies but they were not to be found, they were gone.”
Before organizers could decide on next steps, the OPP arrived on scene with a camera operator, a police liaison and at least one other officer. They arrived in two SUVs and a minivan. An OPP sergeant wearing dark sunglasses, officer’s cap and a mask addressed those gathered and informed them that the OPP were there to “restore the orderly flow of traffic in the safest manner possible.”
Typically when demonstrations occur on or near a roadway the police will attend to escort the demonstration and ensure “public safety.” The original protest to reclaim Kanonhstaton began on February 28th, 2006, and every year since then there has been a march down the road which has closed off Hwy 6.
Similarly, a large rally in support of the principles of the Two Row Wampum was held on April 28, 2012 and the OPP blocked the roads and escorted the solidarity march from Caledonia to Kanonhstaton.
However while it is the right of all people living within Canada to peacefully demonstrate, the OPP’s position seems to have changed as they did not offer to escort the march, and instead threatened the demonstrators with arrest if they proceeded with the march.
Those who had gathered were eager to address issues of illegal land developments, systemic racism, missing and murdered women and men, police brutality and many other issues affecting people of Six Nations. However the officer who addressed the crowd informed them that “The OPP has no role to play in the underlying issues and is not in a position to resolve them.”
In the eyes of the OPP, the demonstrators actions constituted a “deliberate interference with traffic on this thoroughfare, which may result in necessary police action to clear the road.” Those present were threatened with arrest on a litany of charges: obstruct police officer in the execution of his duties, breach of peace, impeding another person, mischief, interfere with a person’s lawful use or enjoyment of their property, intimidation and block or obstruct a highway, if they held the rally.
After the uniformed officers walked away ignoring questions from demonstrators and the media, a plainclothes officer in a baseball cap and sunglasses approached to speak to the crowd. Demonstrators demanded to know why the OPP was continuing arrests even after barricades came down, why the OPP was ignoring Indigenous Rights and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The crowd dismissed the officer when he responded that the earlier statement was “just something we have to read out” and offered no response to the other questions.
Real People’s Media asked the plainclothes officer to clarify the OPP’s position on arresting those present if they continued the protest. He told us that “Everyone has the right to protest and have a demonstration, in the province of Ontario, so this is a format that they have to read out, it’s just part of the format. So if the protest goes peacefully that would be great, we would be very happy with that.”
The demonstrators then decided to march from 6×6 to Kanonhstaton which was only 500m away where they performed a round dance at the gates before marching back to 6×6. They were not arrested as threatened, but the police did nothing to ensure their safety. Without a police escort they closed the roads for their own safety. Once they returned to 6×6 they held a round dance which blocked traffic for approximately 45 minutes.