Onkwehonwe Week in Review: Week of November 24, 2015

By Danielle Boissoneau

McGill University’s unpaid debt now amounts to 1.7 billion

One of Canada’s most illustrious universities, located in Haudenosaunee territory, is denying that they owe Six Nations anything.  McGill University, founded in 1860, nearly faced bankruptcy in its early days.  So, the Canadian government bailed McGill out with a loan taken from funds that were held “in trust” for Six Nations.  According to records held by Indian Affairs, McGill University “borrowed” $8,000.  Representatives from the school say that the loan was repaid to the trust in 1989, but when asked for documentation, the requests were ignored.  Considering interest and inflation rates, the unpaid debt now amounts to 1.7 billion dollars.

This unresolved record of debt has been a focus for Phil Monture, who was previously the Director of the Land Claims Research Office, in Six Nations.  The misuse of trust funds and land was cause for Six Nations to file a statement of claims in 1995, against Ontario and Canada.  In 2004, the action was put on hold, hoping that discussions would be fruitful.  When that plan fell through, litigation was introduced in 2009.  Ava Hill, Chief of Six Nations through the band council system, suggests that McGill offer full tuition to the 400+ students that were denied education funding.  The issue is still before the courts.


New statistics offer glimpse into life in First Nation communities

Indigenous researchers with a First Nations Information Governance Centre (a non-profit organization) have released preliminary data collected from a massive survey of people living on reserves across Canada.  Over 21 000 children, youth and adults from 250 First Nations took part in the survey which is called the First Nations Regional Early Childhood, Education and Employment Survey.  This new data focuses on how indigenous languages, cultural beliefs, education and employment can affect the need for programming and policy development.

Researchers noticed a big gap in information around culture and language.  Some key findings are:

  • 20% of First Nation members living on reserve commute off reserve for work.
  • 40% of on reserve jobs are “governance related” – band office related.

Isadore Day, Regional Chief of Ontario says that this data “reconfirms our children, youth and adults are determined to seek a better future for themselves through education and long term employment, while retaining their language and culture.”  A need for increased funding has been identified.  Final results of the findings are set to be released in March 2016.


Anishnaabe woman faces hate crime at boarding home in Ottawa


Since late August of this year, Sharon Land Fisher has received two handwritten notes that were shockingly racist and full of hate.  Fisher is from Wabaseemong, which is near Kenora, Ontario.  She was also a part of the Sixties Scoop, which was the Canadian practice of “scooping” Indigenous children from their families and homes to be placed into foster care with non-native families.  A life filled with racist experiences began with her adopted family in Ottawa who were intolerant of her existence.  These days, Land Fisher is living in a boarding home in Ottawa which is called TRY, a Housing Program for Women.  It was in this boarding home that Land Fisher found the first of two notes.  In the washroom, there was a note that had the words “Indians are disgusting” scrawled on it.  The next note had written on it, “Stupid, dirty, Indian.”  This note was slid under her door.

Despite living through this hate filled experience, and although she has faced racism her entire life, Land Fisher remains happy and shares her story openly.  “Part of it was to show this wasn’t going to hold me back,” she said.  “When I was young, I did.  I kept a lot of pain inside, a lot of hurt, but this time, no.  It’s going to push me to continue spreading cultural awareness.  It proves to me how much more this is needed.”  Tanya Schryer, with the Housing Program, has filed a complaint with the Ottawa Police Service.  The individual responsible for the notes has been identified through a comparison of hand writing.  Although this is a crime of criminal harassment, the OPS has chosen not to file charges because the woman suffers a mental illness.


Kanesatake to formalize indigenous treaty in face of tar sands expansion

The idea to create an Indigenous alliance against the proposed Energy East pipeline came out of a meeting held by the British Columbia Indian Chiefs meeting at the beginning of September.  It was then that Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon identified how an indigenous treaty would create a “formal alliance between anyone who would be inclined to reject pipeline proposals going through native territory.”

TransCanada’s Energy East project would cut through the traditional hunting territory in Kanesatake, which stretches 200 square miles to Sainte Scholastique, Mirabel and all the surrounding areas.  The Energy East pipeline would transport 1.1 million barrels of crude oil a day.  It will cost $12 billion to build and will cross 4600 kilometres from Alberta’s tar sands to Irving Oil facilities in Saint John, New Brunswick.  The pipeline would like to cross through 155 different First Nations.

This new treaty will be based in ceremony and will include the exchange of sacred items to formalize the agreement. A wampum belt, a Pacific Northwestern totem pole and a Midwestern Buffalo robe are objects that are inseparable from the cultural fabric of their respective nations.  This exchange will commemorate kinship, honour and the alliance.

“It is to safeguard our rights,” says Simon. “If the industry or government, or both, decide to strong arm a First Nation who steadfastly says ‘no’ then that First Nation can rest assured that they’re not alone.”

Since the Keystone XL pipeline has been rejected, Ottawa is facing increased pressure to approve the Energy East pipeline. Justin Trudeau’s government has openly admitted to “supporting” the Energy East project.


Survivors of capsized boat plan special thank you to Ahousaht rescuers

The end of October saw the MV Leviathon II, the biggest tourist vessel in the area of Vancouver Island at 20+ metres, capsized by a huge wave. The boat was carrying 26 people on the ocean outside of Tofino, British Columbia.  The boat flipped so quickly that there was no time for a mayday call.  Ken Brown and Clarence Smith, from Ahousaht First Nation, were fishing facing Vargas Island, off of Tofino, when Smith noticed the firing of the only flare the survivors had.  They quickly pulled in over 200 metres of fishing net to respond to the distress call.  “I knew what it was right away.  I knew people were in distress,” said Brown.  Ahousaht is a reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island, with about 1, 800 members.

A Calgary couple who survived the shipwreck wanted to thank the people who saved their lives.  Dwayne Mazereeuw and his wife Elisa Kasha were not told who their rescuers were, so they began to piece together the puzzle through media reports.  After they realized who had saved them, they began to research how best to say thank you.  It was then that Mazereeuw discovered a fundraising campaign to build a skatepark for children in the isolated community.  It just so happens that Mazereeuw works for a company called New Line Skateparks, who will provide a financial donation and assist with the planning and construction of the park.

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