Indigenous journalist, academic speak out against charges in Caledonia, Ont., land dispute

An Indigenous journalist and a Six Nations researcher vowed Friday to fight criminal charges laid after they were arrested this week in relation to the occupation of disputed land in southern Ontario.

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Karl Dockstader, the co-host of the radio show One Dish, One Mic on NewsTalk 610 CKTB, said he spent six days living at the encampment in Caledonia, Ont., where Indigenous people have stayed since mid-July, for an immersive piece on the issue.

He said he left on Saturday and returned to his family.

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Lawsuit claims land in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan owed to Métis

But on Tuesday, he received an email from an Ontario Provincial Police officer who wanted to talk to him about his involvement at McKenzie Meadows, the housing development at the centre of the dispute. On a phone call the officer said they intended to charge him with mischief and disobeying a court order.

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There is currently a court injunction ordering everyone off the land.

“I immediately disclosed I was a member of the press and documenting a story while I was there,” Dockstader said.

“She said you could come in and talk to me in person and present any evidence that you have then. As soon as she said evidence I shifted. I thought I could explain this away.”

Instead, he got a lawyer and arranged to be arrested at the detachment. When he showed up on Wednesday, cops slapped conditions on his release that he’s banned from the property.

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“This affects my job. This is hard … these are criminal charges,” he said.

“I have a family: a wife, two daughters, 10 and 12 years old, and I had to talk to them and tell them their dad has been arrested and charged and that’s tough because I wanted to break the cycle as an Indigenous man — I’ve always wanted to break the cycle and not be the stereotype for our people, but one way of looking at this is I’m just another Indigenous man with criminal charges.”

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Dockstader said he’ll fight the charges.

As will Courtney Skye.

She said she was driving with her friend after having lunch at the site Thursday when they pulled up to the banks of the Grand River.

Then a police officer asked her to get out of the car, handcuffed her and took her to the station to be booked and fingerprinted.

The Ryerson University researcher from Six Nations said she studies injunctions and land claims. She spent time at the site this summer, partly because it’s her area of work and partly to be up to date for her recurring segments as a commentator with the CBC.

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She said she brought soup — chicken and dumpling — for the people staying there on Thursday and was arrested shortly after leaving the encampment.

She, too, cannot set foot on the land again as a condition to her release. She faces the same charges as Dockstader.

“It’s a real hindrance to my work, it’s a real hindrance to my livelihood,” she said.

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“At a certain point, it felt inevitable, based on the other arrests, based on the fact I knew I wouldn’t be distinguished. I’m a visibly native woman, they’re not going to care that I’m a reporter, that I’m a researcher.”

OPP Const. Rod LeClair said 17 people have been arrested since the demonstration began on July 19.

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On Friday, officers read out the injunction again to those at the site, which demonstrators have named “1492 Land Back Lane.” They argue the land is theirs and the development violates the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee people.

The Haudenosaunee — a group that includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora First Nations — are also known as the Iroquois or the Six Nations, and were involved in a similar land dispute in 2006.

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Skyler Williams, who has been living at the site since the first day, said arresting a Six Nations woman who doesn’t live at the encampment and a journalist covering the story is an aggressive move by the OPP.

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“This is what escalation looks like,” said Williams, who was arrested when the OPP raided the encampment in early August.

“I’m not expecting Ontario or Canada to come to the table to say here’s the deed to the property, we already have that. We have all the documentation to back up our claims.”

Const. Rod LeClair said 17 people have been arrested during the course of the dispute.

“The OPP is committed to the freedom of the press and respects the important role the media has in the community,” LeClair said in a statement. “We value and strive to have collaborative relationships with our media partners. Engaging in activities outside of their reporting purpose could subject media personnel to charges in relation to violation of a court order and other applicable offences.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press