1492 Land Back Lane refers to the site of a protest in Caledonia, Ontario, in July 2020, where Haudenosaunee protestors – known as land defenders – occupied a housing development they argue stood on unceded Six Nations territory. 1492 Land Back Lane is part of a long-standing issue between the Haudenosaunee, settlers and the government over land rights in Caledonia, dating back to the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784. In July 2021, the housing development was officially cancelled.
On 19 July 2020, members of Six Nations of the Grand River, the largest reserve in Canada by population, located near Hamilton, Ontario, started what would become a months-long occupation of a residential housing project in nearby Caledonia. They called the site 1492 Land Back Lane.
1492 references the year explorer Christopher Columbus travelled across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain to the Americas. It also refers to the subsequent colonization of Indigenous peoples by European powers in those territories.
The company behind the McKenzie Meadows project, Foxgate Developments, plans to build 218 housing units on farmland south of the town. There are separate plans to build more units nearby by a separate company, called Wildwood Developments.
In the summer of 2020, Haudenosaunee land defenders set up encampments and demanded the federal government renew land claim negotiations. The dispute escalated once the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) raided the occupation, arresting several Indigenous protestors and their allies. After the intervention of police, people from Six Nations constructed three road blockades and set fires.
Haldimand Proclamation of 1784
The dispute is linked to the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784 that was supposed to guarantee 10 km on either side of the entire length of the Grand River, which extends from Lake Ontario to Dundalk, representing 385,000 hectares. The land, which is often referred to as the Haldimand Tract, was provided to Six Nations by Sir Frederick Haldimand, the then Governor of Quebec, for its alliance with the British during the American Revolution (1775-83). The proclamation states that the Six Nations were:
to take possession of and settle upon the Banks of the River, commonly called Ouse or Grand River, running into Lake Erie, allotting to them for that purpose Six Miles deep from each side of the River beginning at Lake Erie and extending in that proportion to the Head of said River, which Them and Their Posterity are to enjoy for ever.
Despite the wording of the proclamation, land disputes have arisen ever since, owing in large part to entirely different interpretations of the agreement. Originally, Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), who helped negotiate the treaty, asserted that Six Nations held rights to the land; the Crown believed that Six Nations could not sell land to anyone but the Crown.
As seen in the 1492 Land Bank Lane protest, the Haudenosaunee are still seeking amends for the loss of these lands. It’s along or near the Grand River’s banks that entire towns — just like Caledonia — have been built and remain.
Establishment of the Six Nations Reserve, 1847
Six Nations reserve is the most populous in Canada, with about 13,000 members living on-reserve and more than 14,000 off-reserve. The parameters of the reserve represent roughly five per cent of the land set aside under the Haldimand Tract.
In the middle of the 19th century, settlers had entered the Grand River Valley, increasingly threatening Six Nations’ control of their land. As a proposed solution to ensure this land would be protected, the Crown recommended that Six Nations sell outstanding acres to the Crown. In exchange for selling this land, Six Nations would receive money and a reserve of about 8,093 hectares. The Crown claims Six Nations agreed to these terms; however, this remains contested. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy asserts that Six Nations never agreed to sell the land but to lease it. Land defenders assert that this land, and the rights to it, was never surrendered.
Six Nations Governance and 1492 Land Back Lane
Most First Nations in Canada fall under the Indian Act, which instituted Indian Status and replaced traditional forms of governance with elected band councils, whose administrative affairs are, by and large, bound to the federal government.
Six Nations has both an elected band council and a traditional government — the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a historic union of First Nations considered to be the oldest form of participatory democracy in which the community has power to make political decisions.
These two distinct government systems are often at odds. For instance, the confederacy supports 1492 Land Back Lane, whereas the Six Nations elected band council signed off on the two housing developments in 2019, in exchange for about 17 hectares of land and $325,000.
The 2006 occupation of Douglas Creek Estates
Kanonhstaton, which means “the protected place” in the Mohawk language, is near 1492 Land Back Lane. It too, has history that is rooted in reclaiming land included in outstanding land claims associated with the Haldimand Proclamation.
In early 2006, a group of Haudenosaunee women occupied a planned housing development called Douglas Creek Estates located on Kanonhstaton. Barricades were set up on roads and railway tracks. A few months later, the company behind the development obtained an injunction. The OPP raided the site and violently arrested several people; the Haudenosaunee organized and retaliated. This turned into a months-long dispute that included violent clashes, blockades and a longer occupation. In order to end the dispute, the Ontario government intervened, eventually buying the parcel of land that was slated for development. The land remains in a trust.
In 1995, Six Nations filed a lawsuit against Ontario and the federal governments for what it saw as the dispossession of land included in the Haldimand Proclamation. A trial is scheduled for October 2022.
Timeline of 1492 Land Back Lane
19 July 2020: Six Nations members set up camp on planned housing development McKenzie Meadows, renaming it 1492 Land Back Lane.
31 July 2020: Police officers deliver court injunction obtained by Foxgate Development and Haldimand County that seeks to break up the occupation. Land defenders ignore it and remain at the site.
5 August 2020: Ontario Provincial Police raid 1492 Land Back Lane, conducting several arrests. Land defenders retaliate by starting a tire fire, blocking a railway and highway.
18 August 2020: Haudenosaunee Confederacy releases a statement indicating it supports 1492 Land Back Lane.
19 August 2020: Federal ministers publicly state that they are open to renewing land claims negotiations with Six Nations.
21 August 2020: The majority of barricades start to come down, with a small presence remaining at Kanonhstaton.
22 October 2020: Superior Court injunction becomes permanent. Rolling skirmishes continue between police and land defenders.
18 January 2021: The land defenders released a statement indicating that a barricade blocking another highway would be removed.
1 July 2021: Representatives from the McKenzie housing development announced that the housing project had been cancelled and sent letters to homebuyers indicating that any deposits would be paid back in full.