Hamilton

Demonstrators say 40-day blockade not affecting Six Nations emergency response

Protesters who have blocked elected officials at the Six Nations of the Grand River from accessing its administration building for more than a month are rejecting allegations their demonstration is scaring off emergency crews from other municipalities.

Chief said other municipalities 'wary' of responding to fires because of demonstration

Protesters camped outside the Six Nations Elected Council Administration Building, have blocked elected officials from accessing it for the past 40 days. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Demonstrators who have blocked elected officials at the Six Nations of the Grand River from accessing its administration building for more than a month are rejecting allegations their protest is scaring off emergency crews from other municipalities.

For the past 40 days, a group of supporters of the traditional Haudenosaunee Confederacy leadership have been camped outside the Elected Council Administration Building.

The demonstration began on May 27, a National Day of Action in opposition of the federal government, its policies and "framework" for Indigenous people, according to representatives Laurel Curley and Mike Davis.

They're calling for a meeting between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) and the nation's elected council to talk about a range of issues, including taxes, alleged corruption among elected officials and a recent vote on a citizenship code where the demonstrators say the community's "silence was taken as a yes."

The protesters are calling for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council to be recognized as the nation's "Indigenous form of accountable governance." (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Demonstrators are "seeking active recognition of the Hodinosho:ni Confederacy as our Indigenous form of accountable governance" as well as independent, forensic audits to "reveal believed corruptions within the imposed administrative structure," said Curley.

She added the current elected band council governance structure was "imposed at gunpoint" back in 1924 and that the elected council is meant to be an administrative body, not decision makers who determine laws for the nation.

The elected council has not responded to requests for comment.

They have, however, issued regular updates online since the blockade began.

The most recent post to Facebook said the council met with HCCC in June. Following that meeting, the elected council says it's focused on establishing a working group with the hereditary chiefs to put together a memorandum of understanding and lay out a path forward.

"The protest has displaced staff and caused inconvenience for many other community services and businesses," the post reads. "While it has been an uneasy and challenging month, this situation makes it clear that we cannot continue to let difficult conversations remain unspoken."

Curley said two joint meetings were "almost successful," but the demonstrators haven't heard from anyone about scheduling another meeting since.

"People of the community are ready to unify and mobilize. It's time to say, 'That's enough now.'"

Demonstrators deny any interference with first responders

The press conference was also held in part as a response to another media event two days before where Six Nations Fire Chief Matthew Miller said his department was having trouble responding to an "unprecedented" number of house fires without the help of nearby municipalities who may be "wary" of the protest.

Fires have broken out at five homes on the reserve over the past nine days, stretching the nation's firefighters to the limit, he said Wednesday. Several of the fires are being investigated as suspicious, but officials have so far not been able to determine a connection between them.

Meanwhile, the chief said, the higher-than normal demand has left firefighters "in a constant state of exhaustion with no adequate time to recover physically and mentally."

One of five house set on fire over the past nine days in the Six Nations community. (Colin Cote-Paulette/CBC)

That's left the department with approximately four firefighters to respond to emergencies, rather than the typical 10-20, Miller added.

The chief also said other, out-of-town brigades were wary about helping because of the demonstrators.

"The honest truth is if the protest wasn't here we could have firefighters from the neighbouring municipalities here assisting us," said Miller.

Six Nations fire department Chief Matthew Miller says the increase in fires has left the service in a constant state of exhaustion with no adequate time to recover physically and mentally. (Colin Cote-Paulette/CBC)

Representatives for the people blocking access to the building disagree, saying their demonstration has remained peaceful and stuck to the administration building property.

"A peaceful demonstration should not [affect] outside emergency services from assisting the Six Nations Territory," they stated Thursday.

"No interference has been made of any sort involving the peaceful protesters and emergency services."

with files from Colin Côté-Paulette