A Voice from the Eastern Door


September 6, 2016


Purpose of this letter

1. I wish for this letter to bring to the community’s attention some important objective observations, experiences and actions, from an outsider who has been coming to Akwesasne regularly since 1990. This information is intended to shed some light or reflect the frustrations of many members on questionable conduct of some officials and individuals whose agendas are not always for the well-being of the People, with the hope that such exposure will lead to more fair and mutual-beneficial solutions, accountability and improvements. As I’ve learned over four decades as a lawyer and three decades as a mediator, someone has to ‘face the music’ when harm is done, under a Rule of Law and Traditional Wisdom.

Background of my relationship with Akwesasne

2. My relationship with Akwesasne began in May 1990, when I first entered this Mohawk Territory, to become the conflict-resolution consultant as Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution, after the Civil Strife here, during the Oka crisis. (These efforts are reported in four chapters of my 2010 book ‘’Is Everyone at the Table?’’ where lessons learned are documented).

Over time I became friends of and General Legal Counsel for Joellene and Roy Adams and members of their family. I first met Joellene when she was selected by the community to become the Executive Director of Sken Nen Kowa-an organization for Peace in Akwesasne.

Reporting AMPS Police Chief a Missing Person

3. On July 10, 2009, Richard Adams, son of Joellene and Roy Adams, brother of Della Adams, made final contact with his family. Attempts for AMPS to properly search for Richard as a missing person, although also a wanted person, but one is innocent until proven guilty, went unheeded. Not having heard back from Chief Jerry Swamp, I called to report him as a missing person, then he called me and began a late start inquiry. The Adams family complained about the Chief. The four-party agreement (Ontario/Quebec/Federal/MCA) had provisions for the Chief to deal with complaints about Officers but nothing about complaints against the Chief, so we worked out a protocol for OPP to investigate, which exonerated the Chief but criticized an Officer.

Court Declaration of Death of Richard Adams

4. After two years of litigation announced in many papers, including Indian Time, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued a Court Order that Richard Adams is declared dead as of July 11, 2016.

“Political Arrest”

5. a) Last year, I was driving back from the Akwesasne Casino, but took a wrong turn returning to stay with Roy and Joellene and was pulled over by the Mohawk Tribal Police since I was driving in the middle of a road. I was glad to get some help to get directions. Everything was fine until the Police Officer asked if I was the lawyer in the newspaper about the reward and disappearance of Richard.

When I confirmed that, I was arrested for DWI, refusing to take a breath test and lane violation, taken to the Tribal Police building, then to a Justice of the Peace, who released me to appear without bail. After many months, all charges were dropped except for a minor non-criminal vehicle traffic offense with a minimal fine, plea bargain through a very good NYS Attorney. I had a taste of this experience and the costs; I am now searching for options for accountability for this ‘political’ arrest.

b) I was most cooperative with the two female Tribal Police Officers who told the JP that, as I stood articulate, sober and steady at about 3 am, and who kindly escorted me to the motel at the Casino afterwards, genuinely asking more about Richard Adams and my background with Akwesasne. When taken to the Police Station, handcuffed and under arrest, first time in my life, I had to get up and down at least half a dozen to ten times, since the new fingerprinting computerized machine wasn’t working, which substantiated my refusal to take a chemical blow test as I didn’t trust the technology or the purpose of this ‘political’ arrest. A video would have shown that at all times I was steady and collaborative.

The only thing left is an administrative hearing in Plattsburgh on Sept. 21st where I’ll be self-represented and will be able to cross-examine the Police Officers and tell my side of the story. The Police report about the results of the road-side test is one-sided, with no second police officer to witness and no video. Just the words of one police officer against mine. But all of the other circumstances, evidence and demeanor by me support by assertions that I was arrested and charged only because of my connection to the Richard Adams file.

Note: No Police Officer ever appeared in any of the Court Hearings thus far.

Non-compliance with AMPS funding agreement

6. This is even more buttressed by the very bad state of affairs concerning the quadripartite agreement between Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the Governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec, which then existed for the years 2004-2010 putting tens of millions of dollars into the AMPS. When the Adams family sought to have Jerry Swamp, Police Chief of the AMPS, look into the disappearance of Richard Adams, he wouldn’t do anything, calling Richard a ‘scumbag’. Then Jerry told his Officers he was not going to waste his time looking for Richard, as I am told. When Jerry didn’t answer my calls, I reported him as a missing person which is when he contacted me, complaining that Richard was a ‘wanted person’ under indictment. But I argued that one is innocent until proven guilty so Richard should also be listed as a missing person which was done to require the Police to follow procedures to find a missing person. As the Court action described below explains, all allegations thus far are not yet proven in Court. The Police Chief was negligent, Incompetent and/or biased in not doing the right job to find Richard, too little too late.

Complaint about AMPS Chief Jerry Swamp

7. The four-way agreement had provisions for complaints about police officers to go to the Chief of Police, but no process for complaints about the Police Chief, so I negotiated a process with MCA Counsel leading to an OPP inquiry with an outcome that exonerated Jerry but criticized a junior officer. I obtained a two and a half page letter from a former President of the Ottawa Defence Association, which is part of the Court record, explaining how Jerry and AMPS failed to comply with their legal, ethical, professional and community duties in searching for Richard, a son of Akwesasne.

Ontario lawsuit against 8 Defendants launched

8. a) With all of this indifference, I sought to have the ‘standing committee’ required under the four-way agreement, with representatives from the three outside governments, and for MCA representatives from each District in Akwesasne. I wrote to all governments after I obtained a copy after an access request but, lo and behold, MCA did not appoint any committee members as required, so no meeting could be called to look into the problem. Efforts made at the Mohawk Police Commission were to no avail either, which is supposed to oversee the AMPS. So the family was stymied once again, leaving them no choice but to launch a Civil Litigation action in Ontario Superior Court Action # 16-69791 issued on Aug. 30, 2016, the Plaintiffs being the Estate of Richard Adams, Roy, Joellene and Della Adams against the following 8 Defendants:

Akwesasne Mohawk Police Services

Dean Doxtator

Jerry Swamp

Leroy Swamp

Tanya Barilko

Kenny Cree

Adam Harris

Shane Mahoney

b) The Adams family in this Court Action is doing what no one has yet done, a full and truthful investigation into what happened to Richard Adams. Also suing for 7 million dollars for damages representing the 7 years they had to endure, with pain and suffering, to obtain a Declaration of Death, preceded by 3 other Court Orders, including appointing Joellene Adams to administer the Estate of her son, Richard Adams, and, should she be unable to complete this task, her daughter Della Adams is appointed as the substitute.

Other examples of Abuse of Power

9. Two other stories give a flavor of what everyone in Akwesasne knows about in relationship to abuse of power. Perhaps there should be a ‘’Listening Tree’’ set up, like an Ombudsperson Office to get to the roots of the problems so branches and leaves of the Community and its Members don’t die away.

(a) One day not long ago, I was pulled over to Immigration at US Border Control who asked who I was going to see in Akwesasne and when I told them, I was asked if I was going to see someone else to which I answered “no” at which time I was called a liar. It turned out that the authorities intercepted a private professional confidential email I sent that morning to someone whom I might also be seeing in Akwesasne that day. If anyone ever doubted that everyone and everything is monitored, especially in Akwesasne, including emails, phones etc., don’t ever doubt it again. It reminds me of back in the mid 1990’s I was a facilitator of legal defence teams, intermediate with Crown Attorneys and during one ‘voir dire’ to test the veracity of evidence, closed to the public, it was disclosed under cross-examination that there were numerous illegal wire tappings going on in Akwesasne.

(b) A couple of years ago, two AMPS vehicles with four police officers illegally followed me into the driveway parking lot at Joellene and Roy’s house, which Joellene later complained about. I was told that the Police could not identify the car, but I’ve been driving with the same licence plate, ‘’AGAPAN’’ for 30 years. So late at night on the Adams’ property I was asked to give ID. These types of experiences and the fact that I’ve known, as a colleague said in 1990, about me being checked out “every which way from Sunday’” by every Police Force in North America, is another reason to suspect that my arrest was “political,” as I’ve had an unblemished record as a lawyer for four decades and a spotless clean criminal record.

Declaration of Missing Person and Death Acts

10. Everything is explained in the Public Ontario Superior Court of Justice File #14-62030, (Ottawa). Others not yet named as Defendants will be contacted to come forward with information with the noble goal of finding out what happened to Richard, an outcome every family needs for closure and which the Community should insist upon.

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network

11. APTN journalist Jorge Berrara has been investigating the disappearance of Richard Adams for over a year, and will follow the trails continuing to cover this story to the end until all of these matters are resolved.


12. As the new CBC radio show says ‘’Somebody Knows Something.” The $5,000 award published April 13, 2015 for any information leading to finding Richard still applies. Anyone having any relevant information, please contact the Family’s Legal Counsel, Ernest G. Tannis, Ottawa: (613) 266-3896.

This is not an act of revenge, this is an act of reconciliation and accountability.

Joellene Adams and her family’s intention is for the community to get back to caring for one another and this is not about just Richard Adams, but there are a number of others in the Community that go missing or dead and remain unsolved and are not properly investigated by the Police.

This exercise is a plea by the Adams Family, not just for a resolution of this case, but also for the well-being of the Community as a whole for the next generation with proper accountability and to feel safe and free to come forward to express their issues and to open up an avenue for others to feel safe and free to come forward. In all my decades of being in Akwesasne, from the beginning, I have come to respect Joellene’s commitment to the well-being and love of the Community and her intention and hope that this will hopefully be an initiative for community members to resolve their issues.

Ernest G. Tannis, Professional Corporation Solicitor and Mediator


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