On July 30, 2014 the Wahta Band Council issued Wahta Mohawk Residents a 10 day “cease and desist” order with the threat to sue for alleged costs incurred as a consequence of actions to keep elected officials out of administration.
Since May 6th, 2014, now more than 90 days, concerned members of the Wáhta Mohawk Territory have been denying the elected Council’s access to the Wáhta administration building due to the Council undermining and disregarding community developed Governance laws that seek to assure transparency and accountability for its people.
In the three years prior to the current Council being elected in March of this year, the Wáhta Mohawk people engaged in a participatory process to develop Administrative and Financial Transparency Codes which set out general principles of good governance. Both Codes were created after a rigorous Organization Review in 2010 that identified many problems related to Council interference with fair and consistent administration as well as a lack of community participation in decision-making. At a community vote in the winter of 2014, both Codes were officially ratified. Contained within the Administrative Code are also a Code of Ethics and an Oath of Office that are to be signed by Chief and Council before they officially begin their positions.
On becoming elected, the current Council refused to recognize or adhere to these community-based Governing laws and proclaimed that they would not sign the Code of Ethics and Oath of Office developed by the community, stating that the Codes were ‘under review.’ To this day, approximately 5 months since being elected, they have yet to be signed. Shortly after taking office in March, the Chief and Council announced that they were moving the Council office into the administration building. In direct violation of the Administrative Code, which requires a clear separation between Council and the Administration, the Council appointed an elected Councillor to serve as Acting Senior Administrator, thus taking direct control of administration.
The Wáhta Community Fire has consistently stated that it is unacceptable for a Council to simply decide not to follow community driven and developed Governance laws, and to take direct control over Administration as it perpetuates cronyism and nepotism within everyday decision making such as hiring, firing, raises, land use and land allocation, contracts, membership, and beneficiaries of programs and services such as housing and renovations. Stated by the Wáhta Community Fire, “These laws empower our people in the decisions which affect our lives. Our stand to defend the community Governance laws is grounded in our understanding that our people must be empowered to participate in the decisions which affect them. This is the essence of our Governance laws. It is a transitional step away from the practices of the Indian Agent and a step towards restoring traditional practices in our community.” This is why the Wáhta Community Fire created a sacred fire on the premises to symbolize a safe place where the Council is invited to come and engage in meaningful dialogue to develop a solution for the current impasse.
Since the beginning of the dispute, there has been much potential for the creation of a peaceful process of negotiation between those of the Community Fire and the current Elected Council. From day one, the Wáhta Community Fire issued repeated invitations to sit down with the Council to develop a fair means of resolution. In time, the Council proposed a mediation process which the Community Fire agreed to engage in. In this process a mediator, recognized by both parties to be unbiased, was selected to initiate a ‘Wáhta Interim Peace Agreement.’
Understanding it to be a firm foundation for moving forward, the Community Fire provided the Chief and Council with an agreement developed jointly with the mediator that the Community Fire was willing to sign which enabled a review of the Codes, while also requiring the Council to follow the community laws. Rather than responding to this process, the Council instead issued a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter on July 30th, threatening that they will take legal action against protesters of the Community Fire if they do not remove themselves from the site within 10 days. According to the Community Fire, this threat indicates that the Council was never invested in the negotiation process, especially since the Council reportedly never signed a contract with the mediator.
The Wáhta Community Fire has no intention of vacating the site until the community Governance laws are upheld and Council withdraws from direct control of administration. In the meantime, perhaps it is important to think about what kind of precedent it sets for other First Nations communities.
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