Observers of indigenous politics are calling it the next ‘Standing Rock‘ — and protest camps are expected to grow all summer long — during a Parliamentary election year, to boot.
On May 28th, citizens of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy barricaded the Six Nations Reserve’s Central Administration Building, a ‘federal works’ office of the Canadian government, located on the Confederacy’s sovereign Grand River Territory at Ohsweken, ON.
They’ve enforced the shut down for the past two weeks, effectively expelling the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) from their chambers and senior administrators from their offices. The shutdown is being enforced until SNEC acknowledges it’s limited role as an administrator of federal programs — not as the legitimate constitutional government of the Territory.
To understand the magnitude of the moment, one must understand Haudenosaunee history and Six Nations’ politics.
The two Councils have been engaged in an adversarial posture since 1924, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sent officers into the Old Council House to beat the Haudenosaunee Chiefs with billy clubs before installing their own elected Councillors to administer Crown programs on the Reserve under the federal Indian Act.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is the oldest still-existant constitutional democracy in the world, founded in 1142, with its capital situated at Onondaga Lake for more than 600 years — until 1779, when General George Washington ordered Generals John Sullivan and James Clinton to execute a genocidal military campaign against the Haudenosaunee.
Hundreds of villages were burned to the ground, and the survivors fled across the Niagara River as war refugees to the Grand River Territory, which they secured as a term of their alliance during the American Revolution, in negotiations with Governor General Fredrick Haldimand.
The Haudenosaunee Chiefs continue to conduct Council on the first Saturday of every month — as allies, not subjects, of the Queen. There they operate as a government in exile, their diplomatic relations having limited recognition by the American or Canadian government, though the sovereigns are signatories to the most substantial treaty history in North America.
In recent years, SNEC and its economic development attache have asserted jurisdictional capacities over the Haldimand Tract — the federal government’s largest off-balance sheet debt and the largest set of indigenous land claims cases in Candian history.
That series of Court of Claims filings by Six Nations have been valued by economists at many hundreds of billions of dollars. The Canadian government has been trying to reach settlement agreements for various fractional parcels of the Tract that were stolen or otherwise diminished, much of it by illegal squatters and unhonored lease agreements over many years.
But it was the sovereign Haudenosaunee government — not SNEC — who was a party to that treaty and other treaties with the Crown. SNEC has made material misrepresentations to counterparties, including presenting itself as a government with fictitious jurisdictional capacities, as they did during a 2015 effort to legalize alcohol on the Territory. That has angered many traditionalists in the community, who argue that those misrepresentations constitute criminal fraud.
Lonny Bomberry is SNEC’s outgoing Director of Lands & Resources, which ‘manages’ the community’s ongoing land claims. That Department maintains an impressive research library and an extraordinarily deep body of documentation of the deeding of the Tract and its subsequent history of uncompensated transactions that defrauded the Haudenosaunee people of more than 90% of their Grand River Territory.
It’s widely known in the community that much of that body of documentation was stolen from the Haudenosaunee during high-profile 2006 hostiles that came to be known as the Caledonia Reclamation, in which a major housing development was halted by Haudenosaunee activists who were unwilling to ‘give one more inch.’
A consultant working for the Haudenosaunee at the time was offered and accepted a reportedly lucrative consulting role with SNEC that he has held since. He took that body of documentation with him.
The Lands & Resources Department has been funded to the tune of millions of dollars a year, for more than a decade, using Ontario-First Nations ‘limited partnership’ funds, which are discretionary monies that could have been otherwise spent by the community, which still lacks a reliable supply of clean drinking water.
Under federal law, the Canadian government has a duty to consult indigenous communities when a government decision can cause adverse impacts. In practice, development projects that take place within the Haldimand Tract (a twelve-mile wide parcel along the Grand River from its source to Lake Erie) offer cash payments to mitigate development impacts to both SNEC and HCCC, made separately to each body.
One such consultation agreement, relating to a project known as the Niagara Reinforcement Line, has been the source of much anger in the community. The NRL transports hydroelectric energy produced at Niagara Falls to the Greater Toronto Area. In 2011, the Ontario government spent $1.6 billion CDN to expand its generating capacity at Niagara Falls but has been unable to increase production for a lack of transmission capacity.
In order to monetize that infrastructure investment, the transmission line must be rebuilt and modernized. Because it runs through the Haldimand Tract, and so close to the Caledonia Reclamation site, the project has become a symbol of the continued erosion of Haudenosaunee sovereignty and an unrelenting encroachment on its sovereign territories and scope of jurisdiction.
Matt Jamieson leads SNEC’s economic development corporation, and he is the son of Ron Jamieson, a former Bank of Montreal executive who is widely credited with inventing ‘aboriginal banking’ in the late 1990s, in order to offer access to mortgage loans in Reserve communities.
The younger Jamieson has engaged in deal-making on projects in which his father has financial interests or has been advising counterparties, a blatant conflict of interest that observers have argued ‘corrupt’ his development dealings and consultation agreements.
Jamieson accepted the terms of an agreement proposed to him by Hydro One and the government of Ontario, in which Six Nations would have to pay $13 million in exchange for a 25% stake in the transmission line. But neither Jamieson nor his economic development corporation, have the authority or jurisdiction to negotiate such authorizations on behalf of the Haudenosaunee.
Some members of the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), an instrumentality of HCCC, believe that SNEC’s economic development corporation has been actively defrauding major Canadian firms with false claims, including to Hydro One, the utility that wants badly to begin monetizing its expensive and unused generating tunnels at Niagara Falls.
It’s been widely rumored that the Haudenosaunee are debating whether or not to disband the SNEC Council permanently or to simply dismiss the current Councillors and install new ones in their place (presumably with individuals who understand SNEC’s limited role as a service delivery agency, rather than that of a government).
Either would be an unprecedented move that would reassert the Haudenosaunee Chiefs and Clan Mothers as the sovereigns of the Grand River Territory.
Members of the barricade have called for the resignation of SNEC’s elected Chief Ava Hill, Bomberry, Jamieson, and several Councillors, but the Haudenosaunee have not yet removed those officials in their collective governing capacity.
SNEC elections will be held in October.
A working group of eight — four from each Council — is being assembled to negotiate a memorandum of understanding, a process that is likely to take place over the course of many months, and through the October elections.