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For this instalment of In the Streets, we spoke with Skyler Williams, spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane, an ongoing land reclamation effort on Six Nations territory. We talked about the repression that people there are facing, the recent solidarity day of action, and the relationship between this struggle and the 2006 reclamation of Kanonhstaton.

If you enjoyed this interview, you can listen to more from our In the Streets series, including our interview with Jennifer Wickham about the Wet’suwet’en struggle for their territory, and our interview with an anonymous queer anarchist about repression facing queer and trans people in so-called Hamilton, Ontario.

In the Streets: 1492 Land Back Lane Show Notes

1492 Land Back Lane

Six Nations Background

The Reclamation of Kanonhstaton

Reactionary Settler Backlash (grassroots)

Reactionary Settler Backlash (politicians)

August 5th Raid


Land Back


Sam: Hello, everyone.

David: Hello, hello. Shalom bonjour, Sam.

Sam: (Laughing) Hi David, what’s up?

David: Just sitting inside my apartment on this rainy day.

Sam: Yeah, it’s very unpleasant outside.

David: But I’m glad to say that we’re here with another instalment of our In the Streets series.

Sam: Specifically an In the Streets which features an interview with Skyler Williams, the spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane.

David: And 1492 Land Back Lane is a land reclamation project that’s taking place at Six Nations right now. Folks have been occupying the site there for about 3 months, defending their territory from a planned settler housing development.

Sam: Yeah, and Six Nations is just about an hour drive west from Toronto, and while it’s the most populated reserve in so-called Canada, it’s been severely reduced in size by ongoing land theft and settlement.

David: And so on October 9th, there was a big multi-city day of action that took place in solidarity with the ongoing land defence effort going on there.

Sam: And just after this mobilization, David was able to chat with Skyler about the struggle that’s going on.

David: Yeah and just a note that the audio quality is unfortunately not great, just a limitation of the situation right now. But if you have trouble hearing any part of the conversation, we have a link to a full transcript in the show notes.

Sam: And just an update that since this conversation a few days ago, unfortunately several more people were arrested by the Ontario Provincial Police, including Tahnee Williams, who’s married to Skyler.

David: And without further ado, here’s our conversation with Skyler Williams.


David : Hey Skyler, can you hear me?

Skyler: I can!

David : Great, thanks for bearing with me with this weird technical situation.

Skyler: All good,  I am yours for at least an hour.

David : Okay, great! And usually the way that we start the conversations is that we sort of let the person we’re talking with say their name and a bit about themselves.

Skyler: Sure. Alright hi everybody, I’m Skyler Williams from Six Nations, Grand River. We’ve been hanging out at 1492 Land Back Lane now, where today is day number 87, I think. 87, yeah.

David : Well Skyler, thanks for coming on the show, it’s great to be talking with you.

Skyler: Absolutely. Pleasure to be here.

David : So I have a lot of questions! Obviously we want to talk about 1492 Land Back Lane, the land reclamation project that’s happening right now on Six Nations territory. But to start off, just for folks who aren’t familiar with the struggle, who maybe aren’t familiar with Six Nations, can you maybe give us some background on what the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve is?

Skyler: So yeah, so the Six Nations itself, as it sits today anyways, is a sort of 12 by 14 kilometre square, kind of smack dab in the middle of southern Ontario, about 20 minutes south of Hamilton. It used to be from the mouth to the source of the Grand River, which is about 200 miles long, 6 miles on either side of that river. And it has been slowly eroded away by squatters and fraudulent land deals over the last 150 years or so. And so that’s kind of where we’re at right now, in this kind of small 10 by 12 little kilometre square postage stamp in the middle of southern Ontario. It is the most populated reserve not just in Canada but in North America.

David : And I think it’s probably important to also say that what’s happening right now is certainly not the first struggle like this to happen at Six Nations. You know in 2006, there was a protracted land defense struggle against the Douglas Creek Estates housing development that was planned for Six Nations territory, a struggle that you were part of, that led to the successful land reclamation of what’s now known as Kanonhstaton. For people who are unfamiliar with this history, can you tell us a bit about what happened back in 2006?

Skyler: Yeah, there was a development that rolled up right on the, like that bordered the reserve, that was going to see about a thousand houses built right on our doorstep. And there was lots and lots of documentation about whose land it was and how it was squatted on, and all of the fraudulent dealings of the last 150 years, and got it to the point where we are kind of hemmed into this little reserve. And so there was a group of women there that banded together and wanted to share some information about whose land it was that people were developing on. And so they went in and were handing out pamphlets and flyers to people, letting people understand and know what was happening. In the process of this, they had been confronted by some of the people that were working at the site there. Some of the workers kind of confronted some of the women there, and there was a load of gravel that was poured at their feet from a dump truck. And so then myself and some of the guys from Six Nations here came out and people from all over Turtle Island came out to come and lend a hand and so forth. And it didn’t start out that way, but it became a land reclamation. And we took back our land. And it’s been 14 and a half years now and our people are still occupying that land today.

David : And looking back at that process of reclaiming that territory, what did that struggle look like and how does it compare to what’s going on right now?

Skyler: Well, I mean it’s, yeah, it was just about occupation and just like it is today, it was peaceful and it remained peaceful from the very start, until right now. The only days that there was ever violence that was coming to anybody there was when the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) raided. At that time, they raided with 220 OPP officers. Snipers in trees, there was lots of emergency response team unit members that were in full military gear, tear gas canister guns, the whole works. And so they raided April 20th, 2006. I wasn’t arrested that day, but I spent about a year in the bush there. And eventually after that, I was charged for several crimes and spent 7 months in jail. And then at my trial, all the charges were dropped and thrown out and I was released. And so, yeah, there was quite a bit of police violence that was happening. And so, you know, lots of people did defend themselves. Myself, I had half a dozen counts of resisting arrest and assaulting police officers, there was lots of that. But because they were all deemed illegal arrests at the time, all my charges were subsequently dropped.

David : And something else that stands out to me, looking back at that 2006 struggle, is sort of the high level of white settler backlash that was going on at that time. You know, I remember Gary McHale’s attempts at organizing a white militia in response to the land reclamation, saying that the police weren’t going far enough.

Skyler: Yeah, there were, there were lots of them. And what was it, the Aryan Brotherhood had come down at one point to make their voices known. And there was lots and lots of racist rhetoric that was kind of being floated around by lots of people like that. And there were some moments of engagement with them that turned violent and…it was certainly an interesting time when Gary McHale came to town.

David : Yeah and in some ways it seems like that sort of reactionary settler violence continued forward. I remember in 2012, I think it was the day after one of Gary McHale’s rallies, there was a settler car attack that drove into the area that had been reclaimed. But today it seems like that settler backlash is being led more explicitly by politicians, whether its Ontario Premier Doug Ford or Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt. Does it feel like that backlash is materializing differently this time?

Skyler: Yeah, there hasn’t been any kind of in-your-face racism from people who aren’t politicians. Although I do get quite a bit of death threats on a daily basis, and those generally spike around those moments when these politicians are talking to the media to say that, you know, we’re terrorists and all that kind of stuff. So, you know, when politicians throw around words like that, it inflames some of the far-right community that feels like they need to get some settler justice, you know?

David : Right. And whether it’s happening among the far-right and their media, or even more mainstream media outlets, something that we saw happen during the Shut Down Canada mobilization was this strategy that really took advantage of widespread settler ignorance. In that case between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the band council system imposed by Canada. You know, for those who aren’t familiar with the context, what do you think people need to know about the differences between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council and the Six Nations Band Council?

Skyler: So yeah, in 1924, the Indian Act government was put in at Six Nations and it had been something that was taking a foothold in the Native communities across the country at the time. And so part of that Indian Act system was lots and lots of rules that governed Indigenous folks, including the rule that we weren’t allowed to hire a lawyer to defend ourselves in court. And if a lawyer did do it, they’d be disbarred. So yeah, there was, in 1924 the RCMP rolled in and started making arrests of some of our hereditary chiefs that were protesting that. At the time, one of our chiefs, Deskaheh, made a trip to the UN to try and plead our case there, for which then he was barred from re-entering the country under the rules under treason. And he spent the remainder of his life, the last 25 years of his life, in upstate New York. And so our people have been fighting against that band council system since before its inception. So after the RCMP rolled in and arrested everybody, the band council system was enacted here. Our people today, fast forward 100 years, the last voter turnout that we just had, the percentage of possible voters was the biggest that Six Nations had ever seen. And that’s 4.2% of the possible voters turned out to vote. The hereditary chiefs have maintained their government for, most conservative estimates put it at about about a thousand years old, 1200 years old. Some of the more…less conservative estimates put it quite a bit older than that. And so this is at least a 1200 year old democracy that has been working on this continent for the last, at least twelve hundred years. And so for us, if I was going to tell my mom or dad that I was going to vote in the election, they’d probably disown me. It’s participating in the oppression of our people. And so this is something that certainly my family and lots of people like me, 96% of our community, feels that that’s not their system that represents them. Or we’d have a lot more than 4 % voter turnout. (Laughs)

David : Right. And so moving back to the present moment, can you talk a bit about the site that’s become known as 1492 Land Back Lane? How did things first get started?

Skyler: It was.. some friends and I were talking one day, and had been involved in other things in the past, and we had heard about this other development that was growing up. And the thing is, the 2006 reclamation that we were just talking about, this particular development is going to roll up right to the front door of that development. Directly across the road. And so for people like myself that spent a lot of time in the bush there and a good chunk of time in jail for it, we saw that as a big slap in the face to the efforts that we had made previous. So, and then we had done all of our research that we needed to do, found out all of the land deals that happened to make that particular tract of land, kind of followed the paperwork along. And so we had a proper claim over the land there. And then COVID happened. And so we kind of got sidelined by that for several months. But during that time, development rolled on. Bulldozers were working. And as soon as COVID stuff started to lessen, I know that it’s tightening again, but as soon as it started to lessen a bit, we said alright it’s time. And on July 19th, we gathered our friends and family, there was about 20 of us on the first day, a dozen cars, and we just rolled right in the front door of Land Back Lane. And we wanted to make things as peaceful and as non-confrontational as we possibly could. You know, we had been very deliberate about the way that we did things. And so moving in there on a Sunday evening, we wanted to make sure that there was going to be no developers we were going to be confronting. And so when we got there, we were there for about an hour, we sat down, we made a fire, we put up some flags, and we sat down and we ate dinner together. We laughed and joked, and about an hour later, the cops showed up. OPP, a couple of OPP cruisers rolled in, they asked how long we were planning on being there. And I said, well, our people have been here for the last 10,000 and I think we’re probably going to be for 10,000 more. So where are your friends? You’re going to be here for a while? And I said, yeah we’re probably going to be here for awhile. And then they left and that was the first day. And then we camped out that night and we’ve been camped out there now almost 90 days, about 3 months we’ve been there now.

David : And it seems like a big turning point happened on August 5th when the OPP raided the site. Can you talk a bit about what happened that day?

Skyler: There had been some injunction stuff that the developer was pushing for. Finally on August 5th, the developer got the injunction and the police were ready to enforce that injunction. The cops came in, shooting rubber bullets, grabbing people, tasering people. One guy got a knee in the back of the neck, getting dragged along the pavement. He’s got some scars on this face because of it. And then one guy got tased in the neck and head, I had rubber bullets whizzing by my ears. There was myself and 8 other people that were arrested that day. But when I got out of jail that day, this woman came running up to me with a phone and showed me a video, a live feed video of somebody on Facebook or Twitter or something, of a bunch of fires on the highway, fires on the train tracks, fires on Argyle Street, people pushing the cops back. And so there was lots and lots of stuff that was going on in my absence. (Laughs) While I was dealing with being locked up.

David : Yeah, I mean blockades were set up to prevent the police from entering the territory, there was a secondary support camp that was established, you know, construction equipment was set on fire. Can you talk a bit about that support that manifested after the raid?

Skyler: Yeah, I mean, there was lots of barricades that were set up across Highway 6, on train tracks that kind of border our reserve, the road that kind of connects the back of our camp (like a dirt trail, it’s kind of a back entrance for us to get into the camp), and so all of these kind of ways were cut off from people getting on to the site there at Land Back lane. Hundreds of people came out from Six Nations and surrounding communities to voice their displeasure with what was happening. And as much as I’m not a big fan of setting tires on fire and barricades and all that stuff, after 400 years of hate and anger, over-incarceration of Indigenous people, residential school, all of that history of violence that’s been predicated on Indian people. When that racism is something that is whispered behind people’s backs and in quiet corners, it’s almost tolerable for people. But when that racism is so in your face that the cops are coming in with people occupying their own land and they’re being shot at and tasered and beaten and dragged off of their lands, that kind of racism is so in their face that it brings up all that quiet racism that we’ve dealt with and are dealing with every day. And so I got no blame for anybody who set a tire on fire that day or flipped a car over in the middle of the road or burned an excavator or anything that anybody did that day, I had no blame whatsoever. And I certainly don’t have any judgment for it because if this is what the State is planning on doing to Indigenous people who stand up for their rights, this is what you can expect. When you’ve beaten and alienated from the system, an entire race of people, and certainly a community as big as vast as diverse as Six Nations is, and you inflame that situation like that? How can you expect a different result than people coming out and voicing that frustration and that anger towards a system that has seen them jailed beyond words, that has seen them shot and killed by police violence? It’s absolutely ridiculous to think that there would have been any kind of other result, other than what happened.

David : Yeah, and it seems like that support that materialized after the raid has been an important factor in preventing another police raid of the site, or at least for now. And that support has continued to build in different ways. You know, we got to see it across multiple cities a few days ago. On October 9th, there was a call for a day of action in solidarity with 1492 Land Back Lane. What did that day mean for folks who were at the site at the time?

Skyler: Yeah, I mean, that day coincided for us with our last court hearing, which was the injunction hearing where the judge that was supposed to be ruling on whether or not there would be a permanent injunction on the land there, that would have this superior court judge in Haldimand county, Ontario (Laughs) be able to take it upon himself to extinguish all land claims over that. And at the same time not allow me to speak in my defense. And so yeah, to see actions in Vancouver, in Winnipeg, in Saskatchewan, Montreal, Toronto, Guelph, Cambridge, Nova Scotia, like it was every city, lots of reserves came out in huge, huge ways. And there’s a huge team that has held it down now for almost 3 months at Land Back Lane. And I can not say enough about the women that have spearheaded this movement, and are the ones pushing us through all of the hard times and the good times and the everyday times. These women have managed to hold it down in a way. You know, we’re a matrilineal society here. We really hold our women in very, very high esteem and make sure that we take their direction and their guidance very, very seriously. And so these women have held it down in ways that I have never seen before. And it’s an amazing thing to be a part of that.

David : Right, and as folks continue to hold things down at the site and as all this support is building, repression is continuing. You know, instead of doing another raid, the police have been going to the homes of people who they believe have been on the site and arresting them, charging people, putting warrants out for people’s arrests. How many people have received charges at this point?

Skyler: So right now, I think it’s 32 total. And people have been getting calls, my wife included. People have been just calling them at home. You know, for a lot of people that have jobs, that have kids, they can’t have a warrant for them and not have it dealt with. So they have to turn themselves in or OPP have been showing up at their homes. You know, one guy got arrested, pulled over on the side of the road by several police cruisers and dragged out of the car in front of his kid. One girl went to her grandmother’s funeral in the States and when she came back across the border with her 4 children, was hauled in and arrested at the border. And so, yeah, it’s pretty consistent criminalization of our land defenders.

David : And what was the result of that court hearing that happened on October 9th, as all the support actions were taking place? Where are things at right now in terms of the legal attack on the folks defending the territory?

Skyler: So right now, the judge did not make a ruling whatsoever on the injunction stuff. What he said in his judgment is that we need to leave the land. And if I’m going to be able to defend myself, because I am the only named party in it, I need to be off the land. But not only am I responsible only for my actions, but I need to make everybody else that came there with me, I have to make them leave it as well. And he said that Six Nations had never made a claim over that land before, through the court or through government. And just so, you know, your listeners can know, it was about 1820 that our people here at Six Nations started asking the government, petitioning the government to remove squatters from our land. And so we did that consistently from 1820 until about 1920. After 1920, residential schools had really taken a foothold, the Indian Act was being implemented. After 1921, we were no longer allowed to hire a lawyer. And that stayed that way until the mid-50s. After 1950, the 60s scoop happened. And so then it was dealing with the trauma and aftermath of, like my dad would tell stories of hiding in the bush during the 60s while he was on his way to school because the Church would come out and snatch kids on their way to school to take them to the residential school. It wasn’t exactly the ideal moment for us as a people to be able to push forward with any kind of land claims issue because you didn’t know whether or not you’re going to have kids to feed, or the means to. And there was a pass system for leaving the reserve, you had to go and talk to the Indian Agent to get your pass to leave the reservation to go to the grocery store. Like it was, you could not be in the same house with 5 people that were not your family members. Like there was lots and lots of laws that kept us from being able to do any of this kind of stuff prior to the last 15 years. And so 15 years ago, the Douglas Creek Estates, Kanonhstaton now, that happened and that kind of lit a fire under everybody that felt like, you know what, it’s time that our voices be heard again. It is absolutely time. And the system has been built and designed in a way that sees Indigenous people alienated from that process. And we’re saying, you know what, no more. And this particular judge who really, really doesn’t like me very much, is…you know, you’ve got to remember that the Haldimand County court is literally a stone’s throw from the river. You could walk out the back door of the courthouse, throw a stone and it would splash into the water. So to say that they don’t have bias…That the court that is making the judgment is actually sitting on contested land! And so it’s really hard for a lot of folks, certainly from Six Nations, to sit idly by while this stuff is happening.

David : And so following that court hearing, is there still technically a warrant out for your arrest?

Skyler: Oh, there’s no technically about it. No, there is fully a warrant for my arrest.

David : And so what does that mean for you right now?

Skyler: Well, it means I’m not going to the grocery store anytime soon. (Laughs) But at the same time, I’m not hiding. I’ve lived in my home for the last 10 years. And I’m not going to hide from anybody. I mean, for the last 3 months I’ve lived down on Land Back Lane, but I go home every couple of days, I have a shower and wash my clothes and see my kids and make sure my pigs and goats and chickens are all fed. I live on a farm. So I’m not hiding from anybody, yeah.

David : So, you know, as the struggle is now continuing into the colder weather, and folks are making plans for the winter, are there any parts of that struggle from 2006 that are sort of in the back of your mind right now?

Skyler: Sure, there are lots and lots of things that are very similar. And that are, you know, some of the people, some of the good times and the happy and the laughing and the stories. Our people like to sing and dance and laugh and do all the things that we do as Onkwehon:we people. And it’s certainly those bits anyways that are quite refreshing to be able to kind of be a part of that. And so yeah, there are lots of similarities.

David : And what are things like at the site right now? How our spirits considering everything that’s going on?

Skyler: I mean, they ebb and flow. I mean, spirits right now are good. Everybody is mostly the same as what they had been, which is sitting around the fire, and chopping wood, there’s always camp maintenance that’s happening, we’ve got a building that’s going on, there’s lots of people working on the law stuff and trying to support all the people that are being charged criminally. And so we’ve been doing lots to make sure that we’re able to keep pushing forward with all of the things that we need to do in order to maintain our presence throughout the winter.

David : And I know that there’s both a building fund and a legal fund to help that work continue. If people are able to donate to either of those, we’re going to have links in the show notes, but is there anything you think people should know about the need for funds right now?

David : Yeah, so the number of warrants that are out right now, I think was at 22, as well as 30 that have already been arrested. So the criminal defense stuff is huge. And in order for us to be able to win at this, we need to be able to stay there and occupy our land. And so we’ve got both going, so the  criminal defense stuff you can find on GoFundMe, just look up 1492 Land Back Lane. And for the camp and build fund, we use that money for building and gas for the generators. And we would not be able to do the work that we’re doing without the generous support of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that have pushed us to this point right now.

David : Well Skyler, thank you so much for taking this time to chat. I know things are pretty hectic out there right now, so I really appreciate it. And sending our solidarity from all of us out here.

Skyler: Right on, I appreciate it very much.


Sam: Treyf Podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman. A huge thanks to CKUT 90.3 FM where we normally record this podcast under the shadow of the giant cross of secularism on Occupied Kanien’kéha territory.

David: Thanks as always to Saxyndrum and Socalled for the music you’re heard in the episode. And to everybody who helps make Treyf Podcast happen.

Sam: You can follow us on all the social medias at Treyf podcast, T-R-E-Y-F. That includes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And you can also visit our shiny web site

David: And you can send us comments, suggestions, or hate mail to treyfpodcast at gmail dot com.

Sam: More episodes soon.