Member says SN Matrimonial Law “needs to be reviewed and changed”

OHSWEKEN — Jesse Maracle, son of the late Wray Maracle and sibling to Ryan Maracle, presented a petition to the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council with 1000 signatures regarding his family homestead last Tuesday.

With his late fathers wife named the executor of the will, Maracle explained that she was to sell the homestead at a fair price to Maracle and his brother, as the wife is non-native. The brothers grew up in the home and following the will, the two were to have the first opportunity to purchase the house.

However, the wife believed the price of the house to be $3-$400,000 before her husbands passing. This, Maracle said, is over $100,000 more than the real value of the house. She later posted the house for sale on Kijiji at $234,900, refusing Maracles offer and going against the will.

“She changed all of the locks on us after my dad passed,” said Maracle. “She was living there until September — she had six months after he passed,” he said, explaining that the six-month rule follows the Matrimonial Real Property (MRP) Law, but contradicts the residency law.

Maracle presented three other points to the SNGR including that non-native individuals should have no rights to land or properties on reserve, that the Six Nations Matrimonial Law needs to be reviewed and changed, and that Six Nations residents should be able to take control over their estates from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).

This, he believes, will help to nullify the situation he found himself in and keep it from happening to another Six Nations band member. He then asked for a support letter from SNGR to allow he and his brother to reside at the property.

“We’re focused on keeping the homestead, that’s how our people are and that’s how we’ve always been,” he said. “We try to put our children first, they’re the future.”

He detailed that the house was purchased in 1989, making it a part of the Maracle family for 30 years. Maracle said that his grandparents paid off the house in 2004, the same year the wife chose to move in with her son, which made the wife exempt of any contributing payments to the house.

In 2018, Quebec Superior Court tried to strike down a part of a “controversial” membership law in Kahnawake, Que.. The policy, with the backing of the Kahnawa:ke community for over 40 years, requires residents of the Mohawk reserve to move away if they marry a non-native person, as well as suspending their other membership entitlements.

Although Maracle doesn’t want SNGR to make a decision as rash as the ‘marry out, get out’ policy adopted by Kahnawa:ke, he does believe that changes must be made to be fair and to reflect the realities of the families in Six Nations.

“I agree with that kind of mentality because it saves a lot of headaches,” he said, saying that the revision should ‘put the people first.’ “I’m even willing to settle with [the wife] still, but also to make sure that in the future this does not happen to anybody else,” he said.

Chief Mark Hill explained that he agreed with the need to revise the MRP law, but explained that it was put in place to disallow federal law to supersede. He also added his concerns in the councils influence over legal matters, which should be proceeded with due caution as the situation is personal.

“I do realize also that the MRP Law needs to be reviewed, to me that’s a no brainer,” said Hill, explaining that changing the law to be accepted by Ottawa would still be a full process in itself.

“It’s no different than when we try to go though a process which Ottawa lays out for us to do and when we go through that process, they find a way to say that we, for some reason, haven’t followed the process. That’s just another tactic that the government continues to play on us.”

“In terms of the support letter that you asked for, I think that we need to be very cautious at this point to get involved in any personal matters,” he said.

Councillor Hellen Miller explained that the current MRP law was put in place to help keep children of both native and non-native parents on reserve, but since there are no children involved, she explained that this particular situation has an executor that isn’t meeting the standards of the will.

“She doesn’t have ownership of the land,” said Miller. “She has to sell it within a year and if there’s conditions in the will, she’s supposed to meet those conditions. And the conditions of the will are that she’s supposed to offer the house to the [Maracle brothers]. That’s the part she’s not doing.”

After clarification, councillors voiced interest in offering the proposed letter to Maracle.

“It comes down to ‘what are we going to stand by in our community?’ We talk about residency and we talk about jurisdiction, this is one of those pieces. So if we are going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again in the future, then I think there’s something that we should do and that we should play a part in that,” said Councillor Wendelyn Johnson.

Johnson and Councillor Michelle Bomberry later put forth a motion to grant Maracle a letter that will clarify jurisdiction within the community, to ultimately provide him with some reassurance in residing at the property. The motion was carried.

Maracle said that in a movement of 50 people, the community came together at the property last year to change the locks to give the residence back to the Maracle family. He believes that having the letter from SNGR will help in the process of allowing his fathers wishes to be followed.

“I’m just glad they’re giving me a letter,” he said, saying that he understood the reason that council voiced a need for caution. “I was expecting the worst because of the legal part. But to me, they should be standing beside us, fighting with us to protect our people. Our future.”

Currently, Maracle explained that the MRP Law on Six Nations isn’t recognized by the government because certain steps weren’t taken when making the law, such as having a 25 per cent vote to approve it. Thus, he said, INAC still uses federal law.

In regards to the SNGR, Maracle said that; “if it’s the right thing to do like standing up for your people in situations like this, then they should do what they can and not, not do it because they might get sued.”

According to the Government of Canada website following the federal law would mean that a “surviving spouse or partner has an automatic right to occupy the family home for 180 days after the death of their spouse or common-law partner, regardless of whether or not they have an interest or right to the home.”

“The provisional federal rules do not allow non-Indians or non-members to permanently gain possession of reserve lands. Non-member spouses or partners are entitled to a portion of the monetary value of matrimonial structures such as houses on-reserve lands, but not the value of the land itself. If a non-member spouse has directly paid to improve matrimonial real property, a court can order that they are compensated.”

“Non-members cannot make money from the value of reserve land. Non-members cannot sell the land or the family home or benefit from the increased value of the land.”

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