Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Activism and Apathy at Six Nations

Two words, both beginning with A, and apparently opposites of sorts, can come into play at Six Nations - to the frustration of non-Native and Natives alike.  So how can these polar opposites occur at the same time in the same community?  I don't have an answer to that question, but will simply provide one classic instance of each, both reported in Turtle Island News, one week apart.

First the activism.  Activism is nothing new at Six Nations.  Examples abound of those at Six Nations who were active politically and who set out to seek remediation for what they saw as injustices.  One only has to look at the General Family as an example.  The well known Deskahe, Cayuga Chief Levi General took the complaints of his constituents to the League of Nations in the years leading up to the well known change from the Hereditary Council (of which Deskahe was a member) to the Elected Council in 1924 (see here).  His niece Emily General followed in her uncle's footsteps and directly approached the British Crown in 1930 to explain how Six Nations saw themselves as allies, not subjects, of the Crown.  Although she was unsuccessful, her efforts speak loudly as to her zeal (see here).

Certainly ever since 2006, people of Six Nations have shown an amazing ability to congregate in large numbers at a moment's notice.  For this reason, the activism tends to take place in close proximity to the present Reserve - but not on the Reserve - something a cynic would cite as a willingness to disrupt the lives of their neighbour's community, but not their own Community.

For some time there have been violent disputes between the Elsipogotog First Nations people of New Brunswick and the RCMP over the practise of "fracking" in the search for natural gas - due to perceived potential environmental damage (a view I happen to share).  However in the days before 17 October 2013 the confrontations turned violent with the hurling of Molotov coctails at RCMP and vehicles, thus burning the vehicles sreated nothing but tons of scrap metal.  40 people (Natives and their supporters) were arrested in a jurisdiction where the police are actually willing to enforce the law and apply it equally to all - something the people of Haldimand County do not enjoy.  Turtle Island News (TIN) of 22 October 2013 (p. 2) reported that, Turtle Island News Facebook and Twitter exploded with updates on the situation and soon, communities across the country were organising and planning rallies and protests in support of the Elsipogtog Mi'qmaq First Nations.  It seems then that what followed at Six Nations was a direct function of the buzz in social media created by Turtle Island News - at least that is what the newspaper seems to be saying here and in the following excerpt:

Six Nations people arrived in droves to the intersection of Hwy. 6 and Fifth Line, just outside Caledonia, Ont., around 3 p.m. after a call - out for a blockade went up on both Facebook and Twitter and Turtle Island News social media sites exploded with information, updates and questions as Turtle Island News social media managers updated the sites as it happened.

I do not follow Facebook or Twitter, so was quite ignorant of what was going on - other than the fact that I was in traffic bumper to bumper on both sides of Highway 6 - so do not have personal knowledge of who was there.  TIN did report that, Many of the same faces from the Caledonia land reclamation turned out for the show of support, including Janie Jamieson, one of the main spokeswomen during the reclamation.  Also among the throng was Aaron Detlor the legal advisor of the HDI, and Melba Thomas of the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC).

So the point here is that at the drop of a hat, one might expect 150 or more Six Nations activists to appear minutes to a spot designated as the site of an action of some sort.  That is pretty impressive, and one wonders if these people had a job, or ditched school, or were retired, or jumped up from their desks at work to attend this rally.  How could this happen?  The response was virtually instantaneous for something that was perceived as a "cause" - although it was not one that anything whatsoever to do with Haldimand County which bore the direct effect of this action.

The subject is immensely complicated by various cross currents and inconsistencies.  It was quite a surprise to see the pictures of Floyd Montour and his wife Ruby Montour on the front pages of an Indian newspaper in what amounts to a new role for them (Turtle Island News, 23 October 2013 and 6 November 2013 respectively).  For years this couple has been known for their direct activism in virtually any contest where it was generally Six Nations versus the local Haldimand Community.  Whether it be the DCE confrontations with Gary McHale, or at the hamburger facility, or ranging as far as Dundalk at the headwaters of the Grand River to support local residents against a sewage sludge issue.  Now, a few months later, on the front page of  above TIN issue where a picture of Ruby was shown (as ever sporting her "traditional" red hat), and the caption read, "former activist Ruby Montour".  How can one be a former activist when one is front and centre at a local land claim - related protest?  However in this instance, she and Floyd were at the Erie Avenue development site as supporters of the housing development. 

I suspect that by showing support for the Mohawk Workers and their deal with the owners of the undertaking (one White fellow, and two Six Nations members) they are in this instance perceived as not following "protocol" as mandated by the HDI with Hazel Hill being the spokesperson for this group, demanding that for example a new archaeological survey be conducted.  Perhaps the sobering reality of the consequences of "activism" in the form of illegal work blockages is beginning to sink in.  Developers have begun to sue members of the HDI and their supporters directly, and when these protesters hand in their legal bills to the Elected Council for payment, they are meeting with a frosty reception, as outlined in a letter to the Editor of Turtle Island News by Councillor Helen Miller - see here.  One would think that this could dampen the enthusiasm of protester likely to face Court Injunctions which also include fines levied against the specific participants, with the demand that the latter pay the fine themselves, not via a third party.

Second the apathy.  The Editor of Turtle Island News (TIN), on page 6 of the 30 October 2013 edition, wrote a very interesting article on the apathy at Six Nations which allows "mediocrity" to flourish.  Some of the points raised by Lynda Powless include the observation that in the upcoming Six Nations Elected Band Council (SNEC) elections, in three of its six districts, individuals were "acclaimed to their seats".  No opportunity for voters to grill them on their performance or justify their actions - just an automatic re-seating.  The Editor's take on this is that, It has everything to do with voter apathy in a community where it appears the great divide between the confederacy council and its supporters and the elected band council and its voters has gotten even wider.  In the last two elections voter turnout has actually dropped.

The Editor looks to explanations in the way the elected system operates and behaves (which she articulates later in the editorial).  She expresses particular concern over the youth who are not invested in the process and disillusioned about the outcomes.  As an example, they watched as an elected system that appeared to have no stability as the community was hit by one time chiefs and council bickering and continues to this day.  And when unity first reared its head at the land rights negotiations table, the band council walked away leaving behind a unity chasm that continues to grow.  Again, hardly inspiring for future community leaders.

Ms. Powless is very emphatic in stating that a system needs to be in place that attracts the best possible person for the job, someone who believes strongly in unity.  It is critically important, says Ms. Powless to foster those with leadership potential, those who are dedicated to public service.  The outcome, otherwise, is mediocrity. 

Perhaps the apathy is much more widespread beyond merely politics.  I went to a recent Community forum where there were 8 knowledgeable people available to answer questions about a proposal that needed to be discussed.  In the 30 minutes I was there, I remained the one and only non staff person in the room.  That is very sad indeed.  I felt very upset for those committed individuals who were willing to give of their time, and had clearly put in a lot of effort to prepare for the meeting.  How disappointing and discouraging.  Doesn't anyone care unless it appears as a Twitter feed and an opportunity presented to gather with those who feel passionate about some cause - whether it has any direct bearing on Six Nations or not.  Words fail me here.


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