MNN. Dec. 28, 2005.
On Wednesday, September 26th, 1990, fifty-two men, women and children and 10 journalists walked out from the Kanehsata;ke Treatment Center. It ended the Mohawk "Oka" Crisis that had plagued the foreign governments of Quebec and Canada that entire hot summer. At issue was the provincially incorporated town of nearby Oka which decided to expand "it's" golf course from 9 to 18 holes over Indigenous traditional ceremonial and burial grounds, for the leisuure class of Montreal. The Mohawks were determined to stop this.
On July 11th 1990 the Quebec Police were sent in to take down the Mohawk barricade by opening fire on the people. It was an unsuccessful attack. One policeman was killed, apparently by "friendly fire". The siege lasted 78 days. In the final tally hundreds of paramilitary Quebec provincial police, 4,000 heavily armed military troops and the RCMP had been deployed against the Mohawks at Kanehsata:ke and their two sister communities of Kahnawake and Akwesasne. The cost was over $500 million. It was the biggest crisis in Canadian history.
Before the crisis a few citizens groups had formed. All were fighting for a change in leadership. Originally, the local government had been the "Six Nations Traditional Hereditary Chiefs". Challenging them were groups referring to themselves as the "Committee for Change", the "League of Democracy" and the "Mohawk Council of Kanesatake". Another group simply referred to themselves as "C-31's".
Between 1988 and 1989 twenty-one chiefs were kicked out of office. Clarence Simon was originally a "grand chief" of the Six Nations Traditional Hereditary Chiefs. He was thrown out the clan mothers in 1988. The "traditional" group kept replacing them without asking the people, who would then kick them out. This group, assisted by Indian Affairs, had set up an office in neighboring St-Eustache. During the crisis of 1990, Simon led another group called the "Mohawk Council of Kanehsata:ke".
After the crisis Kanehsata:ke was left in a political vacuum. There was no local government, no policing and no social programs to care for the Indigenous people. The "Committee for Change" formed the "Kanehsatake Mohawk Coalition". They went through public meetings and eventually got the support of most of the people. Minister of Indian Affairs, Tom Siddon, and Quebec Minister of Indian Affairs, John Ciaccia, approached the Coalition. They wanted to know who spoke for most of the people.
They challenged all the groups to come back and show them how much support they had. The Coalition went door-to-door and collected over 500 signatures, which is the majority of eligible voters on the territory. Hundreds attended their meetings. Every decision required the consent of the people. The Coalition gave the list to Indian Affairs, "Here's whose speaking for Kanehsata:ke".
The contentious Six Nations Traditional Hereditary Government, or band council, had never been incorporated under Canada's "Indian Act". Indian Affairs knows the band council is illegal. According to the Canadian constitution Sections 109 and 132, Canada must deal with Indians on a nation-to-nation basis until there is a treaty of surrender. Only then could they impose the Indian Act band council on the people. This never legally happened. So Indian Affairs couldn't give money to their band council government because they had no power. They had to deal with the constitutional government of the people which they chose to ignore. So the band council and their staff left the territory and Indian Affairs helped them set up in the St-Eustache office.
In the meantime, the Coalition presented a budget to bring about an election in ten months. An interim government was set up. So now there were two government bodies, one on the territory and one in St-Eustache.
Indian Affairs told the Mohawks they had to incorporate to receive funds to run this interim government. The Coalition's goal was to have an election, develop a custom code to select leaders and not be under the Indian Act. The federal government carried out the incorporation. One member from each group sat on the corporation. The people supported it. Ten people were selected to be the interim government. Elections took place. There was a new council. After that the corporation became dormant. Nobody could use it without all four groups being there and the community approving.
Then the militia, popularly known to as the "goons", attacked the community on January 12, 2004. They were fully armed and well equipped. Their mission was to take over the council and police station. The people rebuffed them.
After the invasion Indian Affairs helped these goons set up a police station off territory, first in St-Eustace and then moved them to Boisbriand. The goons were operating under two outside police forces, the RCMP and the Quebec Police. Then on November 2005 Quebec and Canada stopped funding the illegal policing agreement and the goons. The Mohawks had kept the goons out of the territory. Huge amounts of money were being spent on them, as much as $28 million according to one CBC TV report. Also, the policing agreement was illegal and never respected anyway by the goons.
In December 2005 the new grand chief, Steve Bonspille, was negotiating with the Quebec Public Security Minister regarding the enormous amount of equipment bought for the goons, such as tear gas, AR 15's, regular service revolvers, uniforms, badges, ID cards, computer equipment, fancy police cars and body bags. Body bags? What kind of Hollywood script were they imagining? When their funds were cut the goons all ran away and left their lethal toys behind. Steve went there to pick up the cars to take them back to the community. Louis Bergeron of the Quebec Police told him he could not have them because they belong to a corporation, the Kanehsatake Mohawk Coalition, and the owners are James Gabriel, Clarence Simon and Leona Bonspille!
The Mohawks had always said that James Gabriel acted privately with his personal army, the goon squad, which was instigated and funded by Canada. Canada could not fund the Mohawk Council of Kanehsata:ke because their mandate had fallen. So Indian Affairs set up these three people to continue their corrupt shady deals.
Though they were the legally elected representatives of the people, Pearl Bonspille, John Harding and Steve Bonspille, were called the "dissident councilors" by the colonial press and Indian Affairs. One would think in a "free and democratic society" they, of all people, had a right to be informed. But they weren't. Instead secret back door deals were being made between Indian Affairs and their favored nominees who had stolen this corporation from the people. The theft was done by fraudulently changing the names of the signatories without the knowledge or consent of the original officers of the coalition corporation.
During the behind-the-scenes reign of this stolen corporation, Walter Walling of Indian Affairs was named as the senior negotiator on Kanehsata:ke land claims involving 250 square miles. He reported to Eric Maldoff of the law firm of Heenan Blakely of Montreal. He, in turn was named by then Prime Minister Jean Chretien as the federal negotiator for the Kanehsata:ke land file. Maldoff sat on the Prime Minister's committee on Kanehsata:ke without the people's knowledge. Rob Wright, national security advisor to the Prime Minister, was the Chairman. They all had phony mandates. The people started to get upset because after the council mandate fell, these nominees continued to wheel and deal as if nothing happened. When Pearl Bonpille and John Harding questioned what was going on, Wright was quickly removed.
Now that this private corporation was owned by their nominees, Indian Affairs provided lavish funding, at least $28 million. The Prime Minister, the Ministers of Indian Affairs of both Canada and Quebec and other government officials had countless meetings with this stolen corporation discussing the affairs of the people of the community and making decisions. By this time Indian Affairs had moved the Coalition offices to Laval to supervise and fund their illegal goons. These government officials were fully aware of the political turmoil. A lawsuit has begun. More revelations are forthcoming.
In 1997 Walter Walling hired Richard Walsh. Walsh, a convicted felon in a fraudulent scam and a non-native, was paid as a Mohawk language teacher, a plumber and scuba diving consultant. He never did the work or file any reports. He was charged for impersonating a Kanehsata:ke police officer carrying a phony badge issued by James Gabriel of the corporation. This underhanded character was wanted on fraud charges all over southern Ontario. His job was to collect information on the enemies of James Gabriel and Indian Affairs. He sneaked into the Petawawa Army Base and walked away with personal files on Mohawks. The subsequent investigation made the Canadian military and Canadian Secret Service look like fools. These reports never officially saw the light of day.
Indian Affairs sent funds for all education, medical, school construction and services through this corporation. Indian Affairs gave James Gabriel $500,000 for his election campaign. They also gave him $1.5 million for lawyers who filed all kinds of charges against the people of the community. Indian Affairs funded policing, spent $17,000 a month on public relations to get James Gabriel elected and to demonize the Mohawks in the media. The community had no voice. It was all done behind everybody's backs.
Bertha Bonspille said, "I am the f..king Coalition. I want an investigation, criminal charges and arrests. They are criminals. They committed fraud and theft using my name. They had no right to use our corporation. We want anything that corporation owns, the cars, the guns, everything!" Indian Affairs and their co-conspirators have a big problem on their hands.
A complaint has been laid against James Gabriel, Clarence Simon and Leona Bonspille. They are being investigated for fraud and theft of this corporation and for organizing a political and military coup with that money that Indian Affairs gave them. The Quebec Police said they can't investigate because the auditors haven't said anything is missing. Have they got something to cover up too?
Indian Affairs has come running onto the scene. Suddenly they want to be the fiduciary in this situation. They offered to investigate themselves! We can ask a question here, henh? Aren't the police supposed to investigate criminal matters?
How much money was put through this corporation? Where did the money go? Is there a Richard Walsh trying to finger Indians on every reserve in Canada? Do they try to get something on every honest band councilor so they can keep control of them and continue these nefarious schemes? What happens when band councils don't cooperate? They end up on the welfare line like Pearl and John. Every time they try to get a job or start a small business, they find extraordinary measures have been taken to block them. Has there ever been a proper audit of Indian Affairs? How can the Canadian public afford this when they don't have enough money for decent medical care?
MNN Mohawk Nation News
Contact: Kanehsatake 450-479-8520 about forthcoming book:
"Who's Sorry Now? The Good, the Bad and the Unapologetic Mohawks of Kanehsatake".
Mohawk Warrior Ronald Cross
2000 Canadian Human Rights Report
Ten Years after Oka
Ten years ago, an armed confrontation between Aboriginal people and the police and army at Oka, Quebec, moved the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians to the forefront. At the time, the Commission issued a Statement on Federal Aboriginal Policy, entitled A New Commitment. This statement called for collaboration in redesigning the relationship between the Aboriginal peoples and Canada and in finding new ways of addressing questions fundamental to our co-existence. It is clear today that while progress has been made in ten years, it has been too little and too slow.
Important steps have been taken. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples made many concrete proposals for resolving long-standing issues. In response, the federal government issued a Statement of Reconciliation and an Aboriginal Action Plan, Gathering Strength. However, these steps are now several years old; and it is discouraging that many of the Royal Commission's recommendations have yet to be given the consideration they deserve.
Obviously, it will take many years to resolve the most pressing issues, such as land claims. Yes, more land claims agreements have been reached. In 2000, Parliament took an important step by passing legislation to implement the historic Nisga'a Final Agreement, the first comprehensive claim settled in British Columbia. However, overall, the claims process is still slow and fraught with too many twists and turns that give governments an advantage over First Nations seeking recognition of their legitimate rights. The modern claims process, which began in 1973, is now almost three decades old. In some cases, the daughters and sons of the Aboriginal leaders who first sat at the negotiating table are carrying on the fight. Claims are complex, and careful negotiations that ensure fair treatment for all those affected take time. But it is reasonable to expect Canada to bring this long unfinished business to a close before yet another generation of negotiators takes its place at the table.
Resolving Specific Claims
Resolving specific claims -- those dealing with non-fulfilment of treaty obligations or poor administration of Indian interests by the government -- is similarly discouraging. In 1990, the Commission endorsed the idea of an independent claims body to expedite and facilitate the resolution of the hundreds of pending specific claims. Such an entity, the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), was in fact created and has done commendable work.
However, as its members have themselves stated, repeatedly and vociferously, the ICC lacks the statutory mandate or the independence necessary to get the job done. At one point, the ICC Commissioners even submitted their mass resignation in frustration with the government's failure to create a more effective commission. Consultations between the government and Aboriginal leaders on establishing a new claims commission have been going on for years, but at the end of 2000 the matter still seems far from resolved.
Self-government and the Indian Act
Canada, to its credit, recognizes Aboriginal peoples' inherent right to self-government. Aboriginal communities do indeed have more autonomy and self-direction than ever before. And, despite the media focus on cases of poor management or financial waste -- a problem not limited to Aboriginal governments -- Aboriginal communities, by and large, are admirably managing their own affairs in the face of formidable challenges.
Experience shows that self-government regimes established under claims settlements such as the James Bay Agreement enable Aboriginal communities to provide a better life for their citizens. This is happening despite ongoing questions about the federal and Quebec governments' commitment to meet both the spirit and the letter of their obligations. Such concerns were brought to the Commission's attention by the Cree-Naskapi Commission, an independent body that monitors implementation of the self-government provisions of the James Bay Agreement. The Cree-Naskapi Commissioners pointed out that despite repeated recommendations for improving the situation, the federal government has yet to respond adequately to the Commission on issues such as claims implementation, self-government, housing and economic development. The Canadian Human Rights Commission urges the government to fully and fairly address these issues.
The vast majority of Aboriginal communities still operate under the Indian Act. All sides agree that this legislation is archaic and out of step with the realities of modern Aboriginal communities. At the end of the year, the Minister of Indian Affairs announced a major overhaul of the Act. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Aboriginal issues will remember similar statements by previous Ministers over the last 25 years, all with no result. Nevertheless, the Commission remains hopeful that this time meaningful and much needed change will occur.
When the new Territory of Nunavut opened its Legislative Assembly in Iqaluit in October 2000, the Chief Commissioner was honoured to participate in the opening ceremonies. The Inuit of the Eastern Arctic, who constitute the majority of the new territory's residents, have embarked on an ambitious exercise in northern government. Although the logistical challenges are real, expectations are high. Nunavut will need the full support of the government and the people of Canada to ensure the success of this bold experiment.
Living Conditions in First Nations
Money and effort have been invested in improving housing and infrastructure in First Nations communities. More communities now have better housing, safe water and hygienic waste disposal systems. There are also some improvements in health and well-being, including a modest increase in life expectancy.
But Aboriginal people, as a group, remain among the most disadvantaged of all Canadians. The life expectancy of First Nations children born today is six and a half years less than their non-Aboriginal peers. They are also especially likely to be affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effect -- a preventable disability which results from prenatal alcohol use by mothers. Canada's failure to ensure a full measure of social and economic equality for all its citizens is troubling. The commitment to achieve such equality is far more than a matter of kindly benevolence. It is a question of building a society in which all Canadian citizens enjoy the fundamental dignity and respect that are at the root of human rights both in Canada and internationally.
The Innu people of Labrador received particular attention in 2000. This same group made international news several years ago, when a video showed the suicidal behaviour of some Innu teenagers. Frustrated by their inability to control the situation, the Innu gained the public's attention in 2000 by calling on the federal and provincial governments to take a group of children addicted to gas sniffing into protective care, away from their communities.
In 1993, the Commission investigated the Innu of Labrador. It found that, as a result of special circumstances relating to Newfoundland's entry into Confederation, the Innu have been denied the same level of programs and services available to Aboriginal peoples in other provinces. The Commission recommended then that the federal government register the Innu as Indians under the Indian Act. Such registration would give them access to a much broader system of social and economic support. In late 2000, following the recent crisis, the government announced that the Innu in Labrador will be given the same access to programs and services as other First Nations in Canada.
The plight of Davis Inlet and other communities with similar problems raises serious questions about whether Canada is affording Aboriginal people the rights protected under international law. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that governments will undertake "measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation." The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions."
Aboriginal People Outside of Reserves
One matter that habitually falls between the cracks is the provision of programs and services -- not to mention opportunities for self-determination -- for Aboriginal people outside of Indian reserves. This is especially true of Metis and non-status Indians, many of whom live in our major urban centres. Although discussions are under way and some commitments have been made, federal and provincial governments have yet to devise a comprehensive approach to dealing with the needs of these groups. This is despite the fact that they now constitute a majority of Aboriginal people in Canada and face particular challenges, including social and economic conditions that can be worse than those on reserves. Discussions have begun with the Metis and non-status Indian organizations, but signs of real progress are still scarce.
The Minister of Indian Affairs announced this Fall that First Nations' election rules would be amended to allow off-reserve band members to vote in elections for band councillors and in referenda held pursuant to the Indian Act. The government here is implementing the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling in the Corbiere v. (Canada(Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs)) case. More than 200,000 new voters will now be able to have a say in elections and referenda that may have a significant impact on their lives.
Overall this is a positive development that will strengthen self-government. But as First Nations have pointed out, implementation of the Supreme Court decision will have little practical benefit if First Nation governments are not given sufficient resources to meet the needs of all their citizens.
Compensation for Past Acts of Discrimination
As was noted earlier in relation to the World Conference Against Racism, compensation for past acts of racial discrimination is a critical issue. In Canada, the experience of former students of Aboriginal residential schools, which were funded by the federal government and managed by church organizations, is one example. Both historic research and court decisions show that physical and sexual abuse were common occurrences in the residential school system, along with the systematic deprivation of Aboriginal culture and language. In 1998, the Canadian government expressed its profound regret for the wrongs suffered by Aboriginal peoples in these schools.
But, there are now more than 7,000 pending court claims relating to residential school abuse and several thousand more are predicted. As emphasized by the Law Commission of Canada's recent ground-breaking study of institutional child abuse, there are practical alternatives to litigating each case, a process that often re-victimizes people already scarred by their residential school experience. It is therefore encouraging to report that the Deputy Prime Minister has initiated discussions aimed at achieving a comprehensive and fair resolution of redress claims outside the court system.
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