A group of protesters from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen #258 gathered in a protest outside of Kenora based lawyer Doug Keshan’s office on Wednesday June 4th and Thursday June 5th. They were there to state their displeasure with how they say their lawyer has been handling their community’s residential school settlements. They feel as if the elders who have gone through the legal system have been poorly represented, and are being deprived of the settlement money that should be their due.
KENORA – A group of protesters from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen #258 gathered in a protest outside of Kenora based lawyer Doug Keshan’s office on Wednesday June 4th and Thursday June 5th. They were there to state their displeasure with how they say their lawyer has been handling their community’s residential school settlements. They feel as if the elders who have gone through the legal system have been poorly represented, and are being deprived of the settlement money that should be their due.
“We have had enough of these stalling tactics, we need honesty to come forward” said Darlene Necan, one of the organizers of the protest. Necan was also protesting against Chief Edward Machimity, the chief of the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen #258, whom she sees as to closely intertwined with Keshan, the lawyer handling many of the residential school settlements and lawyer for the band. Necan and members of her group of off-reserve Saugeen citizens have been promised numerous meetings to deal with urgent problems facing her community, but these meetings keep getting cancelled at the last moment.
The protest came as the CBC reported that the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat has launched an investigation into Keshan’s law firm based on information provided by four residential school survivors in northern Ontario. According to a spokesperson of the group filing suit, they allege that “the Keshen firm may have provided loans directly to (residential school) claimants and/or facilitated loans with third party lenders (in some cases, with very high interest rates/administration fees) and then repaid loans/interest/administration fees directly from claimants… settlement proceeds.”
Although the protest was small, it appeared to have had its desired effect. “We got a lot of positive feedback with our protest today”, said Necan. “A lot of people gave us the thumbs up, and a few people stopped by to talk with us. We did our best to explain each of the signs that we carried along”.
Thelma Fair is a traditional healer from Shoal Lake 40 who also participated in the protest. “There were a lot of good attitudes and positive comments from people today. People told us that we needed to keep up what we are doing. We got positive feedback not only from native people, but also from white people who don’t think Keshan should be doing this.”
Fair added that Keshan “needs to be exposed. It doesn’t matter who he is, it doesn’t matter what title he wears, he’s just a man. He needs to respect these people. He’s hurting these people. And he doesn’t realize how far he’s gotten himself into the deep waters. He doesn’t know how to come out, but that’s his problem. Our problem is we want him out.”
When reached by the Two Row Times, Keshan did admit that his firm provided advances to some of his clients, but claimed that the loans that he issued were interest free. “Our firm is one of very few law firms that don’t charge the client anything to represent them. The government pays 15% and that’s all we take, we don’t charge the client anything from their settlement.”
However, some of Keshan’s clients did take out loans with third party lenders. While Keshan says “I personally, and the law firm did not get any benefit from these loans” the loans were made at an interest rate of 19% per annum and “there was a direction that when the money came in, the loans were to be paid off.”
As for Necan and her group, they say that they will keep up the pressure and continue to demand a just resolution to the situation. According to Keshan, the Chief and Council has called for a general band meeting and gathering on June 26th on the Saugeen territory where the concerns of Necan and others with their chief, council and lawyer can be addressed.
Necan has been involved in a series of other protests and events, including the Treaty 3 Grassroots Citizens walk for justice, and efforts to build a cabin in Savant Lake which against the wishes of the Ministry of Natural Resources.