Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Land Claims, Cannabis, and Taxes: MCA's January General Meeting

 

February 1, 2018



It seemed like there were more former chiefs than current chiefs at the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne’s General Meeting held on Saturday, January 27th. It was hard to tell which agenda item was bringing them all out as each seemed to elicit comments.

MCA videotapes their general meetings and publishes them online via Youtube. For those unable to attend, this is a good way to keep up to date on council business. However, certain content, such as land claims information, is edited out, as it is not for the general public but for Akwesasne membership only. Local press is asked not to report on it, either, so community members are urged to attend the meetings in person if they want that level of detail.

The meeting began with an update on Entewatatha:wi, commonly known as the “Nation-Building” program. It began with a brief overview of the history behind the effort, going back to the Constitution Act of 1867. So far 23 self-government agreements have been negotiated between the Canadian government and Indigenous First Nations. A community member who works on the program’s committee noted that they would like greater involvement by members of council.

The next item on the agenda concerned the Political Service Agreement. MCA’s Chief Executive Jordan Wapass and staff member Chelsea Francis explained that the Political Service Agreement was an update and revision to the Working Conditions agreement MCA council members sign when they begin their term of office. It was made clear that members of council are not employees of MCA and should not have the same benefits as employees, even if they were one before they ran for council. The new Political Service Agreement covers renumerations, cell phone use, office hours, etc.

The next presentation was by Phillip White-Cree, acting manager of the Aboriginal Rights and Research Office (ARRO). It detailed the $45 million settlement offer from the Canadian government regarding the St. Lawrence Seaway. Akwesasne initiated court action in 1976. Various tracts of land were mentioned as “returning” to the reserve that were expropriated for the construction of the Seaway. Compensation was made to various landowners at the time, but a number of issues were left outstanding. It was mentioned that OPG (Ontario Power Generation) has already settled with MCA for $46 million. A similar strategy is being developed by which community members will vote to accept or reject the offer.

Mr. Cree also discussed the Dundee/Tsikaristisere Land Claim settlement offer, which his office is preparing to take to the people for a final vote. A number of community forums are planned with a referendum to be held by the end of this year. The threshold for approval is fairly high: 25% of MCA eligible voters 18 years of age or older amounts to about 2,200 people, a turnout rarely achieved even for elections.

It was asked why at least two of Akwesasne’s other claims have been rejected by Canada for out-of- court settlement, as was stated at a previous general meeting. The reason given was that the submissions lacked sufficient research. A flyer handed out at the meeting gave more of the particulars, but we are not allowed to report on it. It was mentioned by a community member that there are a lot of people who are engaged in historical research, and that the land claims office should reach out to them to see if they can help improve ARRO’s work.

The next topic on the agenda was the issue of Cannabis legalization, set to take place in Canada in July of this year. This was something that Council is admittedly unprepared for, even though a medical marijuana operation is being developed within the district of Kawehno:ke by private interests. A lot of the discussion at the meeting centered on the difference between medical and recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada. This summer recreational marijuana will be available for the general public. Council is concerned by what is taking place in other native reserves such as Tyendinaga, where there are a dozen or more dispensaries operating without the local council’s approval.

A community member asked if MCA was planning to get involved in this aspect of the marijuana trade. Grand Chief Abram Benedict said he was hoping for community input on all of these matters. Another community member asked if there could be a type of amnesty for those convicted in the past of marijuana offenses. Another mentioned that in the past hemp was once a very useful plant for indigenous people and should be considered again.

Taxation was also on the agenda. Everyone agrees that nobody wants to see taxes on the reserve, but businesses have been offering native tax exemptions to non-native customers. The outside governments have been pushing for taxes to be collected on those sales, but the Grand Chief stated that council does not want to become a tax collector for the provinces and federal government. A former chief mentioned that council does collect fees from the on-reserve tobacco industry with their quota system.

The meeting wrapped with the announcement of the upcoming district meeting schedule. These will take place on February12th for Tsi-Snaihne and Kawehno:ke, and the 19th for Kana:takon. The next general meeting will be held on February 22 at the Kahwehnoke Community Centre starting at 6 p.m.

 

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