Try to imagine if the peace treaties which were signed at the end of the Second World War as a settlement between warring nations, were one day considered obsolete merely because they’re old. It’s unimaginable that any government would turn its back on a signed covenant on those terms. But that seems to be precisely what the Canadian government is doing to the Onkwehonwe people of this land – outright ignoring their sovereignty secured in the Silver Covenant Chain and the Two Row Wampum.
Kanenhariyo Seth LeFort, a Bear Clan Mohawk from Tyendinaga, is one of the latest victims of this apparent case of national amnesia.
About six months ago, as he was on his way from Tyendinaga to Six Nations, where he lives with his wife and children, he came across a routine check by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. During the course of the inspection, they ended up “discovering” 150 cases of so-called ‘contraband’ cigarettes in his possession. But what the Canadian government calls ‘contraband’ tobacco has been a part of indigenous traditions since time immemorial, and the revenue from tobacco sales have become one of the biggest lifelines sustaining indigenous people today.
Kanenhariyo now faces $629,000 in provincial fines and a potential jail term of six months in jail under the Excise Act.
But where more pessimistic people may consider this an obstacle, Kanenhariyo has turned it into an opportunity to start a much needed conversation with the governments of Canada and its people.
Kanenhariyo reached out to the Two Row Times in order to turn his looming battle against the Ontario Ministry of Transportation into a podcast. Appropriately titled “What’s Going On?” the show documents his attempts to reach out to the government and his struggle to ensure the treaties and rights of Onkwehonwe people in Canada are honoured.
The podcast will launch over the next few weeks on the 2RT’s website with 2RT founder Jonathan Garlow, 2RT co-editor Tom Keefer and Kanenhariyo as hosts.
Though the tone of show will remain light and friendly as Kanenhariyo, Garlow and Keefer chat with special guests and with each other, the ideas discussed will have far-reaching impacts in the indigenous community.
Now that the case is in the courts, Kanenhariyo wants to deal with it in full accordance to his rights as an Onkwehonweh person established in the signed treaties, hoping to establish some precedents or at to least bring national attention to the issue. For this, he’ll have to raise it as a constitutional issue at his next hearing Garlow, who also appeared in the pilot episode, said he hopes “What’s Going On?” will pressure the government into action.
“Even if they don’t rule in Kanenhariyo’s favour, they’re just putting it under the rug, on the backburner to be dealt with at a later date when we have more numbers,” he said. “It’s in Canadians’ best interest to deal with this the proper way today, otherwise they’re just making it a burden for the next generation of Canadians.”
Kanenhariyo agreed, saying he did not want the case to be thrown out on a technicality but to be dealt with thoroughly.
“What good is that going to do for the next generations coming? So I feel that it’s important for me and for the coming generations to raise these questions now…and get it solved,” he said.
Garlow said that while the show would feature guests from all sides of the political spectrum in order to foster debate, the purpose of the show would be to give the forum to Kanenhariyo to express rather than to just defend himself.
The first episode of the show is available online at www.tworow.tv