Ignoring injunction, Six Nations people stop work at development sites

‘Today is the first day of taking back our territory’
Ignoring injunction, native protesters stop work at development sites

July 8, 2008

Brian Thompson A representative of STM Construction (right) tries to stop native protesters Monday morning from taking down a locked gate at the Fen Ridge Court construction site for the Kingspan Insulation industrial plant and headquarters.

Natives ignored a court injunction Monday by marching onto development sites across the city.

Construction was halted at five projects as about 150 native protesters burst onto dusty work sites and ordered employees to shut down equipment.

“Our people have been patient and today our patience has run out,” said Seneca sub-chief Butch Thomas.

“Any new development in this area or on our land has got to stop. Today is the first day of taking back our territory.”

Mayor Mike Hancock wasn’t happy with the turn of events.

“We’re very disappointed that the demonstrations have started again,” he said prior to

Monday’s council meeting.

“Our legal counsel is advising the city to take immediate steps to enforce the court injunction,” he told Expositor reporter Cheryl Bauslaugh.

However, Hancock stopped short of saying what those steps should be.

Coun. John Sless said the demonstrators can’t be allowed to ignore the injunction.

“There are ramifications to breaking a law,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but it has to be dealt with.”

Monday’s rolling protest was largely peaceful, with natives calling, “Have a good day off!” to departing workers.

But there was underlying anger, too. Female protesters called out sharply to bricklayers who opted to finish an area of work before putting down their trowels at the partially done Hampton Inn site on Fen Ridge Court, in the city’s northwest area.

When the protesters moved along Fen Ridge Court to the construction site for Kingspan Insulation’s new headquarters and industrial plant, they found all the workers, their cars and equipment were behind a locked eight-foot metal fence.

“We can put you down if we have to,” yelled one native, as several Confederacy chiefs argued with a site official, insisting he open the gate and stop work.

When the worker refused, saying the land belonged to the developers, several natives simply lifted a portion of the metal fence out of its moorings and swung it out like a garden gate. When it toppled, the natives walked over it and swarmed over the enormous property, ranging out to where huge earth-movers were operating and insisting the work stop.

At each site, the protesters waited patiently for the workers to shut down equipment, pack up their tools and move out of the area, often waving goodbye.

It’s the first time that Confederacy chiefs, such as Allen MacNaughton, Ron Thomas and Butch Thomas, have publicly supported the land protesters.

One woman suggested the chiefs had been urged to make a stand by the Six Nations clanmothers.

The chiefs were joined by several clanmothers, Mohawk members and one elected band councillor — Melba Thomas — in a crowd that at times may have numbered more than 200.

“This is to show the support of the chiefs,” said MacNaughton.

“The city has accelerated things to hurry and cover up our land. They’ve interfered with our people’s rights to free speech and tried to silence our voices.”

At the first two sites visited, city police Insp. Scott Easto was clear in telling the natives they were breaking, not only the city bylaw against protests at those sites, but the temporary court injunction against the action.

“You’re breaking the law,” Easto said several times. “You’re breaking the injunction.”

Later, Easto said the protesters had been clearly notified their actions were illegal.

While protesters like Floyd and Ruby Montour, who were named specifically in the injunction, remained on the road, outside of the actual work sites, Easto said it didn’t matter.

“The injunction names a number of people but it also names Jane and John Doe, which covers everyone. These people are breaking the law.”

No arrests were made.

Ruby Montour was clearly worried that she might have been arrested if she went onto the disputed sites.

“I’m a surety for someone so I can’t afford to get charged,” said Montour, noting she was pleased at the turnout.

“We only did this in one day. There’d be more if we had the time.”

The protest was called during a Saturday afternoon Confederacy meeting and the plan was spread by word of mouth.

Several of the chiefs and bench-warmers, as chiefs in waiting are called, wearing their ceremonial headdresses, posed for pictures with one of the injunction signs warning against protesting at the site.

Grandmothers, wearing ribbon dresses and sandals and carrying umbrellas to protect them from the sun, wandered around the earth-moving machines on the construction sites. Several small children were also in the group.

In the afternoon, the rolling protest moved to the city’s southwest area where work was stopped on a retirement village on Diana Avenue, off Shellard Lane.

Site manager Terry Donovan talked peacefully with the natives, explaining that communication was the most important thing to keep the peace.

“It’s the governments that need to address this problem,” Donovan said. “We’re just innocent bystanders.”

“They’re hanging you out to dry,” agreed Butch Thomas.

Ron Thomas said the natives do not respect the courts the city is relying on for its injunction.

“The city of Brantford and the people of Brantford don’t know how deeply they have hurt the Six Nations people. They have grieved us.”

Thomas said that some natives feel so alienated they are now opting not to shop in Brantford.

He acknowledged the workers who peacefully stopped their tasks at each site and the police officers who worked to ensure everyone remained peaceful.

After stopping work at the Bell Lane Retirement Village on Diana, which is south of the new Wyndfield Community Church, some protesters also went to stop grading equipment moving in the site to the north of the church building.

Then the natives moved down the road to Conklin and Shellard Lane where a housing subdivision is going in.

A last stop was made at Birkett Lane and Erie Avenue where the city was expected to be working on servicing the site for a 99-house subdivision.

But with no workers on the site, the group’s attention turned to a home that was being demolished between Erie Avenue and Mohawk Street and stopped the work.

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