WAHTA – 120 days have passed since the Wahta Community Fire set up a ongoing protest camp in front of the Administration Building in the Wahta Mohawk Territory in order to prevent access by members of the Elected Council. The protest was initiated after the Elected Council publicly indicated that they would not abide by the Financial and Governance Codes that had been established during the previous council’s term.
A mediator was brought in by the Council in June and the Community Fire submitted a written “peace agreement” outlining a process to resolve this issue. On July 30, 2014 Elected Chief Phillip Frank responded to that proposal by sending a “cease and desist” letter to the Community Fire demanding they vacate the protest site or face a lawsuit. The Community Fire choose to stand their ground and a month has passed since the letter was given to them without any action on the part of the Elected Council as of yet.
But recently, in what supporters of the Community Fire consider to be a further escalation of the conflict, the Elected Council announced its intention to deny services to any band council members who were involved in the Community Fire protest. Council’s creation of a so-called “enemies list,” is being harshly condemned by the Community Fire supporters. “That means if you’re an older lady who needs her driveway ploughed, or her walkway shovelled… if you’re a young person who wants education funding, any kind of service… you will be denied access if you’re involved in a peaceful protest,” explained Ryan DeCaire, a supporter of the Community Fire. He added, “It’s a human rights violation, it’s basically saying, ‘if you want freedom of speech, these are the consequences.’”
Elected Council stated at the meeting that those on the list would be receiving a letter in the mail informing them of their loss of services. As of press time there has not been any indication if the Elected Council has followed through on this decision.
The Two Row Times first reported on this issue in May, when the Community Fire initiated their protest. The demands of the group have remained the same since then. They are as follows: a clear separation of the Elected Council and the administration of programs, and that the current Council accept and sign the Oath of Office and Code of Ethics.
In May, Karen Commandant, an Elected Councillor, was appointed as acting Senior Administrator to fill a vacancy left by the previous administrator taking a sick leave. Commandant was hired on to the position permanently in August and subsequently resigned her position as Councillor. She posted a lengthy rebuttal of the Community Fire’s claims on the website of the Wahta Mohawks. In that letter she states, “This Council has been clear that the Codes in their opinion were not enacted legally.”
Meanwhile the Community Fire has vigorously defended the process that was used to write and implement the Codes. They highlight the level of participation of the community and the commendations they received for engaging in the consultative process. Still, the proposed peace agreement indicated a willingness on the part of the Community Fire to review the Codes, something the Elected Council has insisted must be done.
A resolution to this issue does not appear to be horizon. Commandant’s post on the website states, “From the perspective of Council we have resolved the issues of the Community Fire Group.” Whereas the Community Fire feels there has been no progress. Members of the Community Fire suspect that the Council will try to wait out the protest through the winter. Stuart Lane, a Councillor who supports the Community Fire stated, “[People are] not going to be bullied and leave, there’s a lot at stake here.”
Lane credits the participatory process for awakening the people, “A lot of people have been empowered to be part of the decision making,” said Lane. The Two Row Times spoke with many people at the protest site, all of whom indicated that they had no intention of leaving until their demands were met. The supporters of the Community Fire insist that they are motivated solely by an interest to see greater transparency from their governance structures and a greater accountability between the people and Council.