OHSWEKEN — As a much-hyped and controversial federal election looms near, vaccine passports appear to be a hot topic in all ridings among all candidates but even more so on Six Nations.
One of the most outspoken candidates vying for the seat in Brantford-Brant is Six Nations man Cole Squire, a People’s Party of Canada candidate who is vehemently opposed to Covid vaccine passports and Covid public health regulations.
Six Nations has a Covid vaccination rate about 30 per cent lower than the rest of the province, at about 50 per cent receiving at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, while the province’s tally sits close to 80 per cent.
Squire has been vocally opposed to lockdowns and stated on a Facebook post this past spring during the devastating third wave that hit the community that families who lost a loved one on Six Nations to Covid-19 were “lied to.”
“It’s been really troublesome to see the top-down approach from the government,” he said of the government’s response to the pandemic.
He said it’s been, “over the top and unprecedented. The only thing that’s certain in life is that we will die. That might be a bit blunt but that’s the harsh reality. We can’t just stop living our lives. We need to take a more rational approach to this.”
He said the PPC is “totally pro-choice” when it comes to masks and vaccines.
“When we’re looking at vaccine passports, that’s a totally different ball game. Myself and the people’s party – we’re totally against that. It’s absolutely egregious what’s going on.”
He said he’s not going to “promise millions of dollars” because Canada is a “broke nation. We need to have adults return back to Ottawa.”
He said he wants to see everyone in Canada have the best opportunities and futures possible.
“That’s what myself and the People’s Party of Canada is committed to.”
Squire, a proponent of limited government, said he wants to see Six Nations economically independent from the federal government and ending the “parent-child relationship” between the two.
“I’m a bit hard on our people. I want what’s best for them.”
The virtual debate brought together Squire, Conservative candidate Larry Brock, Liberal candidate Alison MacDonald (who also hails from Six Nations), and New Democrat candidate Adrienne Roberts.
Brock, a Crown lawyer in Brantford and newcomer to federal politics, secured the Conservative candidacy after longtime Brantford-Brant Conservative MP Phil McColeman announced his retirement last December.
“As a member of parliament it is my ultimate goal to be a very strong, articulate advocate for Six Nations,” said Brock. “I have many friends on Six Nations.”
Brock criticized Trudeau’s failure to end boil water advisories on First Nations reserves, which was one of Trudeau’s biggest campaign promises, saying the Conservative Party views clean, potable water as a human right.
He said one of his priorities is ensuring watermains are extended throughout the entire reserve. Only about 20 per cent of the community is currently served by the Six Nations Water Treatment. The rest of the reserve relies on trucked in water or contaminated wells.
“It is absolutely inexcusable that we live in a leading, G7 nation and you’ve got 80 per cent of your population trucking in water from grocery stores or water tanks,” said Brock. “We can’t rely upon the well system.”
Brock said a Conservative government would also fund a full investigation into all former residential school sites for hidden graves.
“We have a plan…to address that. We want to fund the investigation at all former residential schools where unmarked graves may exist. We want to actually give teeth to the Truth and Reconciliation Report.”
They also want to build a national monument in Ottawa dedicated to residential school survivors.
When it comes to land claims, Brock said he was shocked to learn Six Nations’ land claims case filed against the Crown is almost 30 years old and will only be heard for the first time in fall 2022.
Brock also said that Conservatives would advocate for funding the Kawenni:io/Gaweni:yo private language immersion school to build its own school. The program is currently teaching students out of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena. The building would cost roughly $10 million with an annual operating budget of $2 million.
“Anything we can do to enhance…your language is a priority. It’s a priority for me and it will be a priority for the Conservative government.”
Curbing human trafficking, which disproportionately affects Indigenous people, will be another one of his priorities.
He said the pandemic has personally affected his family, as his wife is a nurse, and his family has been vaccinated. Brock said it’s “unfortunate” how divided the country has become between those who vaccinate and those who don’t but “we want to unite this country, not divide.”
Brock didn’t make an impression on Six Nations Elected Councillor Nathan Wright, who said he’s never voted in a federal or provincial election.
“None of the parties, including yours, have inspired me to vote in this election. I could be swayed. I’m always open-minded to swayed.”
Wright said he was concerned about the Conservatives’ track record on climate change, as well as what appears to be a Conservative initiative to criminalize Indigenous people, “for standing up for Mother Earth. Your party has openly and publically been a climate change denier. We know climate change is real.”
Brock clarified that the official policy of the current Conservative caucus is not to deny climate change.
Roberts, as the NDP candidate, says she has a focus on youth.
“Listening to them over the years, they’ve inspired me. I want to make sure the future they want is available to them. They’re facing a housing crisis, a climate crisis, a pandemic, an opioid crisis and it’s a lot.”
As a teacher, she said, education is a priority and she would advocate to get the funding for a new building for Kawennio/Gaweniyo private language immersion school.
An NDP government, she said, would also appoint a special prosecutor to hold still-living perpetrators of residential schools accountable for their crimes.
MacDonald, a lawyer who specializes in representing Indigenous children, said she was “very afraid” to put herself at risk running for the seat as an Indigenous person for the Liberal party in the riding.
The discovery of unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in late May prompted her to throw her hat in the ring.
She said she was moved by the outpouring of love and support from non-natives after the discovery and renewed her resolve to run in the riding.
“Now is the time to take a risk,” she said. “My biggest concern is voter apathy” on Six Nations, she said. “Please go out and vote. At least stand up so that the federal government sees what we can do in terms of solidarity. Voting does not mean you will be giving up solidarity.”
MacDonald said she is loud, outspoken, and passionate, with a fiery disposition.
She said the other candidates engaged in “lip service. I’m voter focused, just like I’m child-focused in my practice and in my life. The last thing this riding needs is a settler talking cheap.”
Her priorities include child care and Indigenous housing.
The federal election takes place on Sept. 20.