OHSWEKEN, ON — An Ontario Superior court judge has rejected the argument of one of the Six Nations’ most prolific businessmen and civic leaders. Ken Hill, co-owner of Grand River Enterprises, the manufacturer of Seneca brand cigarettes, asserts that Haudenosaunee laws trump Ontario family law when it comes to Indigenous families.
Hill is fighting a claim by ex-partner, Brittany Beaver to pay $33,183 per month in child support for their eight-year-old son and $85,701 per month in spousal support. She wants to be named a beneficiary of his life insurance policy and is requesting $200,000 in legal fees. She has hired four attorneys.
Among Indian lawyers, Justice Deborah Chappel’s decision smacks of racial bias. Many even perceive a stubborn drive to rewrite Indian law in such a way that denies previously understood rights, practices, capacities, and responsibilities of Indian communities — while providing almost no rational legal basis for her finding.
Ontario’s involvement in the dispute is a clear violation of the constitutional rights of Indigenous people, Hill’s lawyers argue. Canadian Court precedents protect Reserve communities from any legal encroachments of the Provinces that detrimentally impact ones’ Indian-ness. The definition of the term is the subject of much jurisprudence in the Canadian courts.
Traditionally, Haudenosaunee family matters have been resolved according to the laws and governance of the Haudenosaunee, and its constitution — which is an evolution of law stemming from the Great Law of Peace, ratified by the Haudenosaune Confederacy in 1142.
Chappel issued a Dec. 8 decision, which is demonstrative of shocking biases. She even calls Hill “an extremely successful and wealthy businessman,” as if his success is an appropriate legal basis on which to sweepingly deny indigenous people rights of self governance that they have always possessed.
Many residents on the Six Nations Reserve, which is home to more than 13,000, are outraged over the decision. That Chappel attempts to swindle this indigenous community of their legal capacity to raise their own children in accordance with traditional norms, is an egregious strike at the very essence of Haudenosaunne peoplehood.
Chappel wrongly asserts that Hill made “broad, general assertions” about Haudenosaunee laws and protocols. The statement is seen by many as a racist smear of traditional custom, illustrating a dismissiveness that could indicate deeper biases.
“These assertions are akin to an empty shell,” she wrote.
Her ruling only addresses the constitutional question. It does not deal with Beaver’s support claims — which are widely seen as egregious. Beaver is not a particularly well regarded member of the community.
Hill is a well-known, well-liked, and well-respected figure on the Six Nations reserve. He once owned the Brantford Golden Eagles hockey club, a recording studio, restaurants, and several other on Reserve businesses.
He is a prolific philanthropist in the community, and founded The Dreamcatcher Fund — which helps Six Nations youth pursue educational and athletic advancement.
Hill’s firm pays more than $240 million in excise taxes annually to the Canadian government. All federal and Provincial funding for the community totals $76 million, demonstrating the continued reality of domination and colonialism that continues to rile traditional people here.
Hill dated Beaver from 2008 to 2013. They had a son in 2009. They disagree on whether they ever lived together but in 2009, Hill bought a Kitchener home where Beaver and their son lived for five years, and paid the property taxes, utilities, and expenses.
In 2014, he bought them an $895,000 home in Waterloo, too.
Beaver is asking for spousal and child support retroactive to 2013. To secure that money, Beaver also wants a temporary order designating her as a beneficiary of Hill’s life insurance policy. She’s also requesting orders mandating Hill disclose his finances.
Robert Halpern and Katherine Hensel, Hill’s lawyers, said Haudenosaunee and the Six Nations have an inherent right to govern themselves, which includes “inter and intra-familial disputes.”
That right, they argue, “has never been ceded by treaty or extinguished by any valid constitutional or other instrument.” As such, he said, Ontario’s Family Law Act infringes on his rights. They also make the point that Ontario and Canadian legal processes have harmed and continue to harm Haudenosaunee children, families and communities — an indisputable fact of life on the Reserve.
Hill has already paid Beaver more than $10,000 per month in spousal support. He’s paid about $4,058 per month in additional expenses for his son on top of that.
The Haudenosaunne are sovereign and have a right to self government, but in the Canadian colonial legal framework provincial laws sometimes apply to First Nations communities when they are “laws of general application.”