Haudenosaunee Women Are Fighting for Their Land

Published August 30, 2020

Haudenosaunee Women Are Fighting for Land

A group of women from Six Nations of the Grand River are opposing the use of injunctions against their community members who have been occupying a housing development outside Caledonia, Ont., since July 19.

It’s been renamed 1492 Land Back Lane.

Roads and highways opened up Saturday afternoon in Caledonia, Ont. after being blockaded for over two weeks, and the occupation of the 1492 Land Back Lane camp on McKenzie Meadows by Haudenosaunee and their supporters continues.

The group has faced court injunctions saying they must vacate the site, but the women said in a statement that injunctions deny their inherent right to the land.

“Courts violate and criminalize the rights and responsibility of our women by preventing us from fulfilling our responsibilities to the land and our future generations in accordance with Haudenosaunee Law,” the statement read.

The sentiments have been echoed by Haudenosaunee women who have faced similar experiences in protecting their traditional homelands from developments.

The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Confederacy is made up of the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga and Tuscarora nations. Women hold title to the land under the Kaianera’kó:wa (Great Law of Peace), their oral constitution.

“The land is who we are,” said Ellen Gabriel, a Kanien’kehá:ka artist and activist from Kanesatake, northwest of Montreal.

Gabriel is best known as a spokesperson during what became known as the 1990 Oka Crisis, a 78-day siege that was sparked over the expansion of a golf club and condo project on disputed land. Thirty years later, she continues her work.

Gabriel said she sees parallels between the issues in Kanesatake, Six Nations, as well as Wet’suwet’en territory in B.C. Hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the Coastal GasLink project, after elected band councils had signed deals with the company, sparked solidarity protests across the country in February.

“As rights holders, we should be the ones consulted,” said Gabriel.

“With Six Nations, with Wet’suwet’en, with [Kanesatake], it’s the same thing. We’re not informed. There’s backdoor dealings that the people are not a part of. The system is not working for us.”

In February 2006, community members in Six Nations opposed a residential development in Caledonia, Ont., called the Douglas Creek Estates that sparked a two-year standoff. Today, it’s called Kanonhstaton.

Janie Jamieson was the spokesperson there, and said it’s been frustrating seeing similar events unfold 14 years later.

“Players change in the political scene, but the history remains the same,” she said.

“For these clash points to stop happening, there’s a lot of education that needs to start happening.”

Jamieson said younger generations in Six Nations are taught the history through oral tradition. She described it as “passing the torch” to the next generation.

“That just symbolizes that ongoing generational struggle we have as Onkwehonwe people, and quite often that gets initiated by the women,” said Jamieson.

The housing developments being occupied today and in 2006 fall under a large swath of land granted to Six Nations in a 1784 decree called the Haldimand Proclamation. It spans six miles (about 10 kilometres) on either side of the Grand River from its mouth to its source. Today the community is a fraction of that size.