Updated August 1, 2020: Please note that the settlement has now been concluded. We are still accepting funds to help cover the defendents' settlement costs and are so grateful for every donation.
For two months during the summer of 2017, a peaceful group of Indigenous land defenders and Winnipeg residents banded together to prevent the clear-cutting of a large, beloved aspen forest in south Winnipeg that was set to be demolished to make way for infill housing and apartments.
The forest had been part of the historic Rooster Town, the nearby Métis community that was expropriated and demolished in 1960 to build Grant Park Mall and other developments. The land had been acquired in a controversial land swap in 2009 that did not involve formal property assessments, inspections, or competitive tendering. Despite ceremonial structures and artifacts having been found in the forest, no archeological survey was completed prior to the destruction of the land, a requirement under the Heritage Act. Métis or other Indigenous peoples were never consulted about the land swap.
For almost 10 years, local community members voiced opposition to the project at town halls and in letters to city councillors. None of it worked. After the contracted mulcher destroyed about a third of the forest in July 2017, a group of concerned individuals decided to peacefully occupy the formerly public land, pleading with the developer and City to consult with the Manitoba Metis Federation and other Indigenous groups, environmentalists, and community members.
The Rooster Town Blockade, as it came to be known, sought to not only protect the land and Indigenous rights, but to bring attention to the destruction of the historic Métis Rooster Town community. The living survivors of Rooster Town have asked for an apology for the community’s destruction, which the city has never offered.
Others joined the blockade to protect a forest in which they had hiked, skied, or walked their dogs for decades. Still other local residents worried about the destruction of rare habitat for birds, plants, and animals, as well as the increased threat of flooding due to the loss of wetlands. Some participated in the blockade on a near-daily basis.
All shared the same goal of halting the destruction until more thorough consultation had been done, and pressuring the City to expropriate the land and return it to public hands.
In mid-September 2017, after two months of increasing pressure from the developer including round-the-clock surveillance, private security to deter entrance, and noisy diesel-powered floodlights at night that prevented the concerned residents and land defenders from sleeping – the Rooster Town Blockade ended due to a court injunction.
Most of the remaining forest was destroyed.
It didn’t end there. The developer filed a lawsuit against 49 people for damages associated with alleged participation in the blockade. His lawyer suggested that pursued damages could range anywhere between $500,000 and “tens of millions of dollars.”
Faced with the prospect of crushing legal fees and a potential judgement against them, the defendants, some of whom had never even set foot on the property, banded together to build support and fight the lawsuit.
Thanks to social media, a crowdfunding campaign, and numerous fundraising events organized by supporters, Rooster Town Blockade defendants were able to retain lawyers at reduced fees for their defense.
Over the past two and a half years, we brought a successful procedural motion that resulted in portions of the claim against us being struck out and required the plaintiffs to provide more information about their claim. More recently, after extensive discussions with our lawyers and with each other, we were able to negotiate a reasonable settlement of the entire claim with the plaintiffs.
This settlement means that this lawsuit will not proceed to trial, avoiding years more of costs, stress, and mental health impacts. This was of course not the outcome we had hoped for, but the growing significant costs and hardship of fighting this battle in court had already taken its toll. Settling means that we begin to move on with our lives and engage in other kinds of activism without this weighing on our shoulders.
The settlement was agreed upon before COVID-19 hit Winnipeg, and has significantly shifted the calculus of how we are going to produce the settlement funds. However, we still fully intend to hold this settlement agreement together.
We now find ourselves in the position of having to once again appeal to our supporters for help, this time in the midst of a global pandemic. Defendants have already paid significant costs out of pocket, but have not been able to come up with the full amount required for the settlement to go through. We aim to raise $15,000 to make up the difference. This is a very large amount of money, especially given the current circumstances in which people are facing unemployment and inability to pay basic costs like rent and food. Many of us are in similar situations and are thus truly grateful for any contribution you can offer—even a small amount makes a difference.
We rely on your support to leave this lawsuit behind us before accruing even greater legal fees in a period of great economic uncertainty. Thank you so much for any support you can offer during this deeply challenging time for everyone. While this current iteration of land defence appears to be finally drawing to a close, we commit to keep fighting in the ways that we can for Indigenous rights, ecological protections, and more democratic decision-making in our city and country.
Here are links to more information if you wish to learn more, as well as an article of support from the Manitoba Métis Federation:
First Rooster Town Blockade Fundraiser: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/481wbf4
An Indigenous Blockade in Winnipeg Is Halting Deforestation Efforts: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/evdj3z/an-indigenous-blockade-in-winnipeg-is-halting-deforestation-efforts
Parker Lands consultations would give Métis a say on ancestral land: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/opinion-parker-lands-consultatioon-1.4221809
Métis-Anishinaabe land defender establishes Rooster Town blockade in Winnipeg to protect wetlands: https://canadians.org/blog/m%C3%A9tis-anishinaabe-land-defender-establishes-rooster-town-blockade-winnipeg-protect-wetlands
Coverage of Winnipeg’s Rooster Town Blockade Reveals Media’s Anti-Indigenous Biases: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/coverage-of-winnipegs-rooster-town-blockade-and-medias-anti-indigenous-bias
The Skoden Chronicles podcast: https://soundcloud.com/the-skoden-chronicles/episode-10-racism-and-the-media
Protesters quietly leave Parker lands: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/protesters-quietly-leave-parker-lands-444778673.html
City reviewing removal of last trees from forest on Parker Lands
Letter of support from the Manitoba Métis Federation sent to APTN:
“The Manitoba Metis Federation respects Ms. Vandal’s right to protest the development of this area.
From our preliminary research into this matter, it seems there may be legitimate concern regarding the approach of the developer in not fully following the correct procedure in the development. If this is the case, we would certainly share and express similar concerns as those of Ms. Vandal.
We are led to understand some of this land is private. However, there are still proper procedures regarding the work to be carried out. We are not fully sure these procedures were followed. This is a question we will follow up on with the City of Winnipeg.
In addition to any environmental concerns, there is also a question about the archeological significance of this property as it does pass near or through the former Métis road allowance village known as Rooster Town. We do have our own concerns about how the residents of Rooster Town were treated and would not want a repeat of those events where Métis interests and concerns were not fully respected or considered. We would expect that an impact analysis of the development of this area to be conducted.
- Desiree Lavallee
- Dahlia Berting
- Meghan Mast
- Karin McSherry