Six Nations Elected Council is seeking a legal opinion and mediation for a local woman at odds with her neighbour over a suspected cigarette factory going up near her home.
Six Nations resident Amy Miller broke down in tears at last week’s general council meeting as she described the situation, saying she fears for her safety after things “escalated” with the neighbour who she says is building a cigarette factory near her home.
After attending a recent longhouse meeting, she said the man was outside waiting for her when the meeting wrapped up. She also said he drove at her after she videotaped some dumping happening on the property.
“This situation has escalated,” said Miller. “I did videotape the dumping that happened there. When I was driving away, he (the neighbour, who wasn’t named) tried to block me on the road. He drove right at me and blocked me on the road. It’s escalated. My security is a huge issue for me right now.”
She tearfully said, “The leaders need to come together. Something needs to be done. This is not okay. I should not be subjected to this. That’s not our way either, to come and intimidate a woman, because she’s speaking up for her family.”
Elected Chief Mark Hill said the problem boils down to the fact businesses don’t have to tell council what they’re doing, nor is there a requirement for them to be registered or inspected.
There is a business registration system on Six Nations but it’s voluntary.
In the past, councillors used to visit businesses seeking recognition from council to ensure they were legitimate, but that all changed about six years ago when elected council instituted a business registration system instead.
“It really leads back to the mentality of, ‘this is my land and I’ll do what I want with it,’” said Chief Hill.
Miller said the situation has made her think about moving.
“I don’t want to live here. I don’t want to live beside a factory. I might have to move. This is not okay for me.”
One of the issues is that Six Nations doesn’t have a zoning system in place, resulting in situations like Miller’s where a cigarette factory gets built in a residential neighbourhood.
“Then it becomes a rights argument,” said Coun. Wendy Johnson. “We don’t have the support to do that.”
She said there are factories all over the reserve and bush lots are being cleared for industrial construction.
“There will be more large buildings down here than homes,” said Johnson.
She predicted that if council tried to implement zoning, there would be arguments from the community about jurisdiction and rights and enforcement.
“And then elected council will get pitted against the (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy (Chiefs) Council,” said Johnson.
Councillor Helen Miller said she understands what it’s like to live next to a factory. She lives next to Grand River Enterprises, one of the largest cigarette manufacturers in the world.
She said she suspects about four sites under construction on Fourth Line Road will also be cigarette factories. Another one on Sixth Line is also going up, she said.
“I’m saying ‘suspect’ because that’s what we’re left to do,” said Coun. Miller. “We’re left to speculate. We can only go by what we see and I think that’s wrong. This council needs to know what businesses are coming to our community. The (council) business recognition (system) is mainly retail and they want the cigarette quota. All these big manufacturers – they don’t come to council. They don’t need a cigarette quota. That program is not working for this kind of a situation.”
Coun. Miller said they need to come up with new system.
“And people need to remember, they don’t own the damn land,” she said. “Nobody owns the land. It’s collectively owned by all of us. And we have a right to say what should be going on with that land.”
She said people can’t say, “it’s none of your business” what they do on their land.
“I own it just as much as they do. There’s so many issues with these cigarette factories that people don’t know about.”
She said when she complained about Grand River Enterprises, she found out it had an inadequate septic system, resulting in a swath of dead trees in the bush lot beside the factory.
“How many of these factories going up have adequate sewage systems?” Coun. Miller wondered. “I bet you none of them. I bet you the sewage is all going into the ground. They all use glue to glue the filters onto the cigarettes.”
She said she was told that GRE workers dumped the unused glue into the toilets at the end of their shifts, damaging the septic systems, although that allegation is unproven. Eventually, she said, GRE agreed to fix its septic system after she complained.
“There’s a lot of issues with these factories,” said Coun. Miller. “We really need to get a handle on it somehow. This is one of the issues that the Confederacy Council should be coming forward and offering to work with (elected) council on this because we need the two councils on this. I don’t know how we can get the Confederacy to work with us.”
But cigarette factories are a lucrative business on Six Nations.
They provide a huge boost to the Six Nations economy and employ a lot of people, said Miller.
Families depend on those jobs to make a living.
“They do good for our community and they do help our economy,” she said. “The people in the factory are spending their money in all our small businesses. Our small businesses are thriving because of this. We have to balance it somehow.”
Another issue, Coun. Miller said, is that many of the cigarette factories are being financed by non-natives, who are backing Six Nations people who would not otherwise have the capital to build such factories. Because of Six Nations’ tax-free status, non-native owners are benefitting from not paying taxes on the products sold from their factories. Off-reserve, they would have to pay taxes.
“We don’t know what kind of people is coming into our community,” said Coun. Miller. “We need to know who these people are.”
Amy Miller said the factory is “essentially in my front yard.”
Elected Council’s environment committee will seek a legal opinion and mediation for the homeowner and the neighbour.