SIX NATIONS – There have been many calls to unity for the people of Six Nations since the original formation of League of Five Nations, and most of the time, these calls have been for well-intended purposes and even in desperate circumstances. But unfortunately, most of these calls for a united front against an aggressor who threatens the entire community of Haudenosaunee people have been applauded by all and then quickly forgotten.
Time will tell if last week’s community meeting against taxation will follow that same trend or if the Six Nations people themselves are willing to fight this battle as one.
The meeting at Six Nations Polytechnic was well attended with a wide cross section of the community represented.
Elected Chief Bill Montour chaired the meeting, which was encouraged by the Turtle Island Business and Commerce organization and supported by the Men’s Fire and the Mohawk Workers.
“We have been asked by the business community to host this meeting in response to Canada Revenue’s direct attack against Six Nations businesses,” opened Chief Councilor Montour. “This is a listening exercise for the council.”
Several other elected Councilors were present to do just that as well. But before he opened the meeting up to the floor, Montour offered his own stance on the taxation issue.
“People are buying commodities and the surrounding retailers are not respecting the tax exempt status we have,” he said.
“In 2010 we fought a battle to keep this community exempt from the HST,” he continued, “But that is when Ontario was collecting the tax. Since 2010 Canada Revenue Agency has been made the tax collector for Canada and the Provinces. And what they are saying is that everyone in Canada is obligated to pay tax. We say no. That is not what the treaties say and that is not what their own legislation says.” He read directly from the Canadian government’s papers.
“Section 87 of the Indian Act is very clear,” he said. “’Not withstanding any other act of parliament, or any act of the legislature, or the Province, but subject to section 83 and section 12 of the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, the following property is exempt from taxation: a) the interest of an Indian or Band on reserved lands or surrendered lands, b) the personal property of an Indian or Band situated on a reserve.’”
“But CRA has a different opinion and they are coming after our people one by one. There are people in this room who are being attacked as we speak. And it’s not just for a bit of change, it’s for quite a lot of money in some cases.”
After more than two hours of public input from a number of members of the community, some common threads began to form. And it all pointed towards standing together as one people to fight, rather than complaining about what Band Council or the Confederacy Council are or are not doing about the situation.
“If we let the individuals fight it by themselves, we all are all going to fail,” said Montour. “I believe this is a community issue and we have to come together and create a strategy of how we are going to fight this, because they are going to be relentless.”
The present Harper Government is transparent about one thing. That being their goal to privatize reserve lands so they are then taxable, and to steel away what remains of Onkwehon:we sovereignty by removing the land that now protects these rights.
“We are in critical times here,” said Montour. “I believe this is a constitutional issue. But if we as a community can stand together, I believe we can beat these people.”
But it will not happen without a well-coordinated battle plan.
That is what Montour seemed to be most interested in — to formulate a strategy that would transcend the many divisions within the community, which the government of Canada has capitalized on time and time again.
“There is another threat,” said Montour. “With Harper’s majority government, bill C-38, bill C-35 and others over the last couple of years, they have changed about 77 different Acts and many of them deal with us. In January 2012, this man stood in front of us and said I will not be tinkering with the Indian Act. It’s too deep rooted. But what he does in 2012 and 2013 is actually exactly that, tinkering with the Indian Act.”
He warned that eliminating the Indian Act without something better ready to replace it, there would be a vacuum, which he says, “natural law would fill with something we are not going to like.”
Speaker after speaker from the floor presented his or her own personal battles against taxation and how every inch gained has been taken back with interest someplace else.
Some spoke about the unfairness of the cigarette quota system, and how the government won that battle despite a Supreme Court judgment against them.
Others offered possible solutions for consideration.
Audrey Hill, speaking for the Turtle Island Business and Commerce group, which initiated the meeting, offered her perspective.
“We have a position paper that clearly says that we have been doing trade and commerce throughout Turtle Island for centuries to take care of our families and communities,” she offered. “I propose that instead of getting ourselves all caught up in bureaucracies that are not ours, we revert back to our traditions and who we are and conduct our businesses the way we are supposed to, and govern ourselves accordingly.”
She was only the first of many to, in different ways, articulate the same message.
The Men’s Fire, with the input and endorsement of the Turtle Island Business and Commerce group and the Mohawk Workers read from a prepared statement that has been sent to various levels of government explaining their stance against privatization and taxation.
“I am not exempt – I have immunity from taxation because of who I am,” said Bill Monture of the Men’s Fire. “Right now I am fighting it.”
One recommendation came from a woman familiar with the traps some Nations in British Columbia have stepped into by accepting Prime Minister Harper’s “modernizing the Treaties” scheme.
“They cannot take our treaties away,” she said as a warning. “That is something we do ourselves.”
Another gentleman was a little harder on Band Council in his remarks.
“The Nanfan treaty calls for free trade and commerce within the borders of the Nanfan,” said Kelly Curley. “I have that right, but they didn’t give that to us, we gave that to them. They are not giving us anything. If Band Council doesn’t jump when they say so, they turn off the funding. I’ve seen band councils jump and beg to the Canadian government to get more funding. But something people don’t look at is the eight points of jurisdiction. I have heard our elected chair say we have to fight this as a community. NO! We need to fight it as a Confederacy because there are Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Tuscarora and Cayuga in this room.”
He called for the Elected Council to accept the eight points and turn the authority back to the Confederacy and support them in any way possible as administrators and a link to Ottawa.
“This Band Council must fight this with the Treaties as a confederacy,” he said.
GRE President Steve Williams once again brought up an often talked about plan to keep the $130 million his company pays the Canadian government annually to help fund the community should the feds turn off the funding in the wake of a possible class action suit or other direct actions by Six Nations against taxation.
Cyril Frazer, owner of the Bright Feather Laundromat and other businesses, has been in a 27-year personal battle with the government over taxes.
He encouraged Band Council to methodically work with the feds and forget the province on this issue.
Others complained that past efforts to get help from either the elected body or the traditional chief has brought nothing but frustration and disappointment, and echoed the thoughts of some others that the fight has to be made by the unified people of Six Nations rather than expecting either council to do it on their behalf.
Elvera Garlow seemed to wrap up the general consensus of the people in attendance when she called for a community driven initiative against the taxman.
“I like the fact we are meeting together,” she said. “I agree we need to do it ourselves. Idle No More captured the attention of Ottawa and we must follow the same process.
“Council is now asking us for solutions, and that’s good. I recommend this council not take the lead, but a community group be struck to do that. This council would provide funds and resources. That would be their contribution and the Elected Chief or Confederacy Chiefs or both speak in Ottawa, if needed.”
Anticipating the usual comeback from any plan that would include the elected system, she added, “It’s not sleeping in the same bed.”
She explained that in her understanding, the Two Row Wampum principle applies here too. That the Elected council as the administrative body and the Confederacy can co-exist as two distinctly separate but allied systems, as long as they don’t cross each other.
“I believe in the Clan system,” she said. “I believe that the Band Council are administrators of funds, but the real power comes from the Confederacy. All Haudenosaunee come from the same roots. We are brothers and sisters. Let’s act that way.”
In the end Chief Montour recommended a community committee be struck which does not include Band Council or the Confederacy Council, but rather, the people themselves supported by both councils.