By Michael-Allan Marion, Brantford Expositor
OHSWEKEN - Six Nations is seeking to take its opposition to Bill C-10 to the Senate to explain how the proposed legislation discriminates against band members and harms their economic interests, says elected Chief Ava Hill.
In a conversation with reporters in her office, Hill minced no words in expressing her anger that the federal government pushed through the House of Commons and onto the Senate its controversial Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code section dealing with trafficking in contraband tobacco.
"There has been no consultation at all," she said.
The chief said that the government must be reminded that a United Nations declaration of rights of indigenous people and Supreme Court of Canada decisions say that free, prior and informed consent must be obtained in any legislation that affects Aboriginal Peoples.
"They need to talk to us before they have any legislation. But about Bill C-10 they are not doing that and they don't want to. It's that old Great White Father attitude of 'we know best.'"
If the bill passes, "I can't guarantee that there isn't going to be some violence," Hill added.
"We're hearing about that in the community."
Brant MP Phil McColeman said in a previous interview that the government is not targeting legitimate tobacco operations on First Nations, but what it considers illegal trade.
"There is illegal trade, not just on Six Nations but in many First Nations, and this is what the government in its bill is going after," he said.
"I'm not a person who says 'because you live on a First Nation territory you can break the laws of Canada."
Hill says that it's clear that the government is targeting the Mohawk nations that produce and trade in tobacco.
Hill said Six Nations is taking its case to the Senate where hearings by a standing committee have been promised when the upper chamber resumes sitting in the fall.
Hill said a delegation wants to make a presentation explaining that Six Nations and other Mohawk nation partners, such as Akwesasne and Kahnawake, are building a free trade relationship that is dependent on the free movement of products and people. That trade includes tobacco.
Hill is also trying to get a meeting with federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver.
She said Bill C-10 will undermine rights and economic development, criminalizing people in the process.
"They want to nab people as soon as they leave the territory," she said.
"It's not contraband tobacco. We have been growing and trading in tobacco for hundreds of years. That industry is building the economy here."
Hill said that, led by Six Nations tobacco manufacturer Grand River Enterprises, the government has received $2 million in excise taxes.
GRE is in opposition to the bill, while still taking the trouble to acquire federal permits. The company is paying $220 million per year in excise taxes. It has hired more than 400 people in its operations, who spend their money at Six Nations and in neighbouring off-reserve communities.
Six Nations and it partners are working on free trade agreements between First Nations.
Earlier this month, 35 community members attended the first public meeting of the Haudenosaunee Trade Collective at Ohsweken. The organization, formed in March, is made of up of local business people involved in the tobacco trade.
On its website at www.htradecollective.com, the trade collective says its goal is "to help educate and inform Haudenosaunee communities and the Canadian public of the potentially devastating effect that Bill C-10 would have on the people and economies that depend on the tobacco industries in First Nations Territories."
The group has produced a series of five videos available on its website, which explain the history and development of native tobacco industry and how Bill C-10 could be catastrophic for it and those associated with it.