OP-Ed: History has a funny way of repeating itself

Way back in the year 1970, the Six Nations Council building was padlocked on instructions by the “Hereditary Chiefs.” Six Nations Elected Council employees were prevented from going inside to work. It turned into a legal battle that went to the Supreme Court of Canada called Davey v. Isaac. A similar case happened in 1959 if you look at Logan v. Styres.

In 1970, the elected council sought a permanent injunction restraining the defendant Ackland Davey from interfering with the use of the administration building. The case was dismissed at trial but later allowed by the Court of Appeal. The key battle was the fight over what constituted a “Band” as it was defined by the Indian Act.

Lawyers for the hereditary chiefs argued that the Six Nations people were sovereign and did not constitute a band as defined by the Indian Act — therefore the elected council had no authority over the governance of Six Nations because the Indian Act did not apply to indigenous people who are not a “band” or “reserve” under the Indian Act.

It ended with Davey losing in court and a condoled Chief being held accountable for the lockout.

Back then an article was written in the McGill Law Journal about the lawsuit which was to provide insight into the “series of interwoven issues” that led up to the clash. Listen to how similar it is to today:

“Briefly, the case deals with the two rival factions of the Six Nations Indians, both living on the “tract” near Brantford, Ontario. The plaintiffs (respondents) are adherents of the elective system of selecting their governing council members pursuant to the Indian Act, while the defendants (appellants) are seeking a return to (or in their view preservation of), government by “Hereditary Chiefs”.

The dissidence arose out of the alleged failure of the Elected Council to maintain contact with the people it was meant to represent. The Council reportedly neglected to consult its constituents on matters such as the closing of the Mohawk Institute (residential school), and the taking of soil samples by strangers. Since the inception of the Elected Council in 1924, the frustration with the Council gradually grew to a point where a spirit of passive co-operation evolved into a tactic of confrontation.

In an attempt to bring matters to a head, the defendants secured with padlocks the doors of the Council House in which the government of the band was conducted, and generally obstructed and interfered with its use. This action was followed by at least two very unproductive meetings between the plaintiffs and the defendants which only served to solidify the animosity between them. As a result, on July 15, 1970 the plaintiffs commended an action for an injunction restraining the defendants from interfering with the plaintiff’s use of the Council House”

So who is right?

Were these lands occupied by Six Nations passed to them in fee simple, or were the lands in question still vested in the Crown and subject to the exercise of “traditional Indian rights?”

I went down to the protest and spoke with a man who said he was frustrated with the closed door meetings that SNEC holds on his behalf. He pointed at a protest sign that said ‘No More Deals’. Others wanted more fairness and transparency. I spoke with another man who seemed certain that SNEC wanted to turn Six Nations into a municipality. It seems like everyone has their own motives for being there at the protest.

Officially the protestors want SNEC to sign a letter recognizing them as the true governing body of Six Nations — similar to the ultimatum given in 1970.

If HCCC does have authority over Six Nations can they explain how they received it from Captain Joseph Brant and his Warriors who definitely certainly did possess it in 1800’s Was Joseph Brant even a part of the HCCC?

Another difference this time, is HCCC has since become a corporate entity with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions in its bank accounts. Is it possible that this recent take-over attempt is about more than land and treaty rights?

HCCC’s development arm, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI) is being hit with a putative class-action lawsuit by Original Men’s Fire members Bill Monture and Wilf Davey. This suit is currently awaiting certification by the Ontario Superior Court.

The class action being granted certification would have devastating repercussions to HCCC and HDI. It would require disclosure of documents that would pierce the longstanding veil of secrecy — making public the the conditions, terminology and agreements made on our behalf by HDI. The class action case would make public the detailed information about HDI’s bank accounts, who signs the cheques and where the money goes.

The Original Men’s Fire want the same accountability from HCCC that protestors outside of SNEC want – but are going about it a different route.

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