Education and the threat of taxation topped the list of concerns of audience members at Monday’s debate between candidates for the position of Chief of Six Nations Elected Council.
With four strong candidates challenging incumbent elected Chief Bill Montour, one might have expected the sparks to fly in Monday’s debate at the Community Hall.
The debate mostly proved a respectful exchange of views, with all five candidates calling for unity and an end to factionalism and all equally angered by Ottawa’s dealings with Six Nations, particularly on the issue of education funding.
Montour faces challenges from sitting councillors Ava Hill and Ross Johnson.
Political newcomers William Monture and Nathan Wright complete the field. All four challengers spoke confidently about why they should be elected.
The current chief spoke first, telling the audience, “The position of chief is not a decision-making position but one of official spokesman for council.” He proudly listed his and council’s achievements as the water treatment plant, the new garbage plant, Samsung, the bingo hall, ambulance services, dialysis services, taking over the CAS and the new running track installed by Parks and Recreation.
Ava Hill stressed her nine years experience on council where she has chaired most committees and has connections across the country from her time working for the Assembly of First Nations. She concurred with Montour stating being chief “was not a one person show.” She cited land rights and the Brantford Charity Casino as key issues.
William Monture, a member of the Men’s Fire said, “I have been very active in the community on land rights, inherent rights and the rights of our people. I think it is important to have change in this community. A lot of things go on in this community that the people are not aware of.” He declared, “The people are the governing body. We all need to know what’s going on, not a select few.”
“The decision to run for chief was not taken lightly.” Nathan Wright said. “I believe it’s time for me to give back to this community. We are at a critical moment in our history.” Throughout the evening he championed the concept of establishing what he described as a centre for “governance excellence,” intended to overcome the factionalism that inhibits political consensus at Six Nations. He said the community faced many challenges, specifically identifying “developers infected with greed at our doorstep.”
Ross Johnson said in his three years as a councilor he has “received an education about our community.” Johnson wants to put his business experience to work for Six Nations. He wants Six Nations to look at the future of the next generation. “I look at the future of my grand children and what’s going to be here for them,” he said. “The government is closing in on us, we need to stand together and unite. Stating, “Division creates failure,” Johnson blamed “groups pulling in all different directions.”
The first question posed to candidates, by moderator Lynda Powless was, “What is your vision for the future of Six Nations and how will you get councillors onboard to achieve it?”
Montour again went first and began by observing, “We have a national government that isn’t functioning and an elected system that takes direction from a federal law. I believe we have to get together and create a unique Six Nations governance structure that is put together by the people. Until we do that we will always be fighting against each other. When we fight against each other we will fall into the trap of the federal government and the provincial government. As long as we’re scrapping together they don’t have to come to the table.”
“My vision is along the same lines,” said Ava Hill. “I’d love nothing better than to see our traditional government in place but I think there is a place for both the elected system and the traditional system to come together. That’s one of the areas I want to focus on, not only the Confederacy Council, but also all the other factions in the community. We’re the largest First Nations in the country and many people look to us for an example.” Hill stressed the importance of ending the infighting and being united.
On land rights Hill believes, “The federal government is using the excuse that they will not deal with us because we are a divided community. Imagine how powerful we would be if we joined forces and went to parliament hill and said settle our land rights right now.” Hill described the current federal government “as one of the worst that continues to impose legislation and force funding cuts on us so we can’t provide services.”
Hill would like to see Six Nations form partnerships and start generating its own money “because we don’t want to resort to taxation.” Hill warned that to create those partnerships requires political unity, “We can’t be going into partnership and two days later people going out to shut it down.”
Coming together was also the vision of William Monture. “Everyday I see change coming to Six Nations.” He said, “I strongly believe you take it to the people—taxation, land rights, privatization of our lands. In June of 2014 its coming, its slowly creeping into our territory and I see this council of today doing nothing to prevent it.” Monture said it was important to educate the community on the coming of taxation.
“Canada is not a country,” according to Nathan Wright. “It is not a nation. We are a nation. It is a successor state of the British Crown and we have to start treating them as such,” he declared. “I believe we are stronger together, when we all play by the same rules and we all contribute. In outlining his vision Wright said, “We need to be focused and take action, clear the paths so our community can put forth the values and traditions that have sustained us. Our children need to be empowered so they can lead us into the next century.
We need to focus on our children’s education and [have] no more colonial control of our education system.” Wright also rejected “colonial control” of businesses at Six Nations. Wright advocated “a life promotion strategy developed by and for the youth” and a new governance strategy for Six Nations.
Ross Johnson said to institute his vision for the community, “We need to stop the bleeding of wealth from the community. We have to come together and keep our resources in-house. When I see $400 million dollars of our money leaving this territory every year –that’s just a minimum – that concerns me. We’re always running behind the government with our hand out and we shouldn’t have to do that.”
Johnson reiterated his concern for the future of Six Nations children and said it was important that Six Nations complete its water system and build affordable housing, noting the 900 people on the waiting list for housing.
David Moses then asked how the candidates how they would unite and move the community forward.
Ross Johnson was first to answer. “We need to sit down together and come to a common ground. The elected council is the governing body of Six Nations whether we like it or not. I see us coming up with a solution. We have the resources, the smart people in this community. We need to use them.”
Nathan Wright said, “I believe change happens when a consensus is built. I would like to propose a made in Six Nations centre of excellence that would focus on governance. To give us the tools to settle disputes. Wright added, “Ava is right, other nations look to us for leadership.”
William Monture said unity is “like setting a table. Bring all the issues to the table. My solution is to sit as a people like we used to. We have become so westernized we forgot who we are. We need to come together.” Monture said, “We’re always pointing fingers and finding fault.”
Ava Hill said a solution lay in revisiting the Eight Points of Jurisdiction developed in 1991. “What I would propose to do is pull together a small group, a couple of chiefs that are willing to sit down and talk. Let’s start talking face to face and educate ourselves about the issues we are facing.
Let’s start talking about how we can fight together.” If we need to bring a mediator in from outside the community, then I would propose that, someone that is neutral and not take one side over the other. We should bring in some of our academics that know our true history, people like Rick Hill and Jock Hill and develop a communication plan.”
Bill Montour told the meeting moving forward will be difficult as, “The government of Canada has its thumb on us.” He further observed that many say, “We need to get out from under the Indian Act. “However he warned, if the Indian Act is repealed “a vacuum will be created that will be filled by natural law that we are not going to like. I think it is important like the other candidates have said that, “We need to come together and decide how to govern ourselves on our own terms with our own source of revenues.”