Mohawks feel and know their kids are becoming sick in Tyendinaga by pollution and contamination dumped there. In a confrontation with the OPP, Shawn Brant led 350 Mohawk men (all armed) to stand before police and say you cannot have what is not yours anymore. Later, Shawn joined 175 Mohawk men in a face off with OPP and told them our ancestor’s blood and bones are buried here, and it will not be only our blood that is spilled here today. Ontario Provincial Police backed away.
Every Sunday, Shawn Brant lines up with community members to collect free water from a community pump for his family because the Ministry of Environment has not taken away the boiled water advisory. Tyendinaga is one of hundreds of Native communities in Canada with the same problem of buried contaminated waste on their homeland poisoning ground water, and it is fully documented in environmental archives, says Shawn Brant.
When I visited Shawn at his home by the Bay of Quinte on Mohawk Territory, I sat down and listened to Shawn tell many stories and insights he had experienced over the years as a Native activist, and I felt Shawn was a true environmentalist in every way and more. I believe Shawn and his people must be protected and respected so their culture, ideas, values, love, and insights can survive and help all of Canada and all life to survive. Shawn said, “The reason why we have to arm ourselves now is because we saw what the OPP did to our brother Dudley George. They killed an unarmed man; we are not going to be killed the same way on our homeland.’’
Here is my interview with Shawn Brant, my brother and a friend: “My name is Shawn Brant, and I am forty-eight years old, born in Oshawa Ontario. My father worked at GM; my mother was a nurse. We moved to Tyendinaga when I was five years old. I have lived here for the last forty-three years. I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist per say. I do consider myself to be a responsible, honorable Mohawk man who complies with the laws and the constitution of Mohawk people. That brings in the stewardship of all things, the people, the land, and the law, so in some context it brings me in as an environmentalist, but I don’t see myself as that. In the past 20 years, I have been arrested two hundred and fifty times—maybe three hundred times. I have been charged, arrested, and jailed. I had to stay in jail at least twenty five times.”
“As a Mohawk, I am bound to the protection of Mohawk people. Through our free and sovereign people and our lands and laws firstly. Our families and our children benefit as we undertake that responsibility. Having said that, I don’t believe that a caring and compassionate person can restrict himself to only his nation’s issues in view of all the other things that are going on across the country. We have been on a boil water advisory where we have not been able to drink the water from our well for over five and a half years. In those five and a half years, we had to go to a park and fill up our water buckets for the week. I always believed that the greatest indignity that could face a people or face an individual was having to do that for the last five and a half years and go down and fill your water buckets so your kids can have clean drinking water for the week. But in the last five years and before, given the murdered and missing women across this country, given the fact that they are finding women in ditches and river beds and dumpsters, I believe that’s a greater indignity that faces our people.”
“The number one issue that concerns me the most that I can’t sleep at night and I think about it every day is the fact as men we failed in our ability to protect our daughters and sisters and our mothers from simply walking down the street, walking down a road, being some where in public, and that they suffer the incredible indignity of being abducted and raped, tortured and murdered, and that we cannot stop that. I used to think that when I was in jail there was nothing that I could do, so I felt good while I was in jail because I didn’t feel that responsibility. When I see our people protesting and trying to bring attention to these issues and limiting the degree to which they go forward on these issues, it hurts me, and I think that if we are going to project ourselves in any way as being a real, true, and proper people then that’s the issue that we have to start to deal with and we have to resolve it because it demonstrates that there is not only violence against women, it demonstrates that there isn’t any regard, cause, or concern by anybody within society because they allow those things to continue, and the police don’t investigate it, and government will not call an inquiry, and Mr. Harper has made it clear that he is not prepared to take any measures to address this issue. I find that unacceptable.”
“Tyendinaga is the territory of the Peace Maker; it’s the birth place of the one who brought the Peace that made the Five Nations the Confederacy as people know it through the Constitution of the Great Law. We have always been here. The special part is that what gives our relationship to each other, the relationship to Mother Earth, the relationship with our Great Creator, it comes from the words and constitution that came from here. It isn’t just about the richness of the community; it’s about the richness of the spirit. When government passes polices and attacks Tyendinaga, they are not attacking us as any other community, they are attacking the very heart of the Confederacy. They are attacking the spiritual base and the spirituality of the Confederacy. All those things that bind us together, whether its Six Nations or Akwesasane or Kahnawake, Onieda or Onondaga where Oren is from, all those things are based on one Constitution and one document of peace and relationship that came from Tyendinaga. When we struggle here and people think we are a pretty feisty community, it’s because of that. It’s because we know that if were extinguished here, the very heartbeat of the Confederacy and the heartbeat of the Mohawk people will be extinguished.”
“Here on Tyendinaga, we have a landfill that is polluting our community. We have five kids with cancer—one who passed away last year. Fourteen-month-old, two months ago that got diagnosed with stage four lung and liver cancer. We are supposed to be those Stewards. When people stand up and talk about their relationship with Mother Earth, our children have expectations of us, that all society has of us, that our communities have for us, is that we must step up at some point and fulfill that or nobody will believe us anymore. My feet are here today because hundreds of years ago my ancestors literally put their blood and bones on the ground fighting to ensure that we would have survival. In the Longhouse at every meeting we remind people, and people talk about these sacrifices that were made. Our ancestors’ thoughts were of us of those who hadn’t even existed yet. Are our children’s feet going to be here too in the future? Society has lost a connection in a greater way. We have to be really careful that we don’t bring people down where we say that there’s no hope, but we don’t say to people ‘guess everything we are doing is going along good’ because it’s not. Things are not getting better.”
“The other night, I was listening to Bernie Farber on CBC talk with Phil Fontaine, and they were speaking about the unwillingness of Canada to use the word ‘genocide’ and genocidal policies. Bernie Farber, of course, is responsible for the Jewish Congress. Bernie said that these policies that have been demonstrated by government in the past seventy years are certainly evidence of genocidal tendencies as defined by international law and standards. A man who represents the interests of and the future of those descendants of six million Jews who were killed in concentration camps across Europe is talking about us and saying that we’re affected by the same policies. When starvation experiments are being talked about and uncovered as part of international news, we have Canada saying, ‘well they are not starvation experiments they were engaged in nutritional experiments, like lets give Johnny an apple today; lets give Jimmy two oranges.’ These were similar experiments that were done to First Nations people that were done to Jews while they were being held in concentration camps: where you determine that line of where someone can live on the most minimal amount of available food and keep them on a cutting edge of death or living based upon the food you make available to them. These where experiments of starvation. New allegations are being made about intentionally deafening our children for scientific experiments.”
“There are some seventy thousand documents that have not been made available to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that is ongoing about the Residential School Experience; there are over a million pages now that our government won’t disclose. They won’t disclose it because they contain these types of allegations and these types of experiments and procedures and policies that the government was using because they had a scientific body that was ready and available, because they had Indian children in these institutions. Of course, they carried out this activity the same as they carried it out against Jews in concentration camps. So when Bernie Arber is talking about Canada’s indigenous people facing genocidal policy, he does not know why Canadian government is not willing to acknowledge that now. Canada is not willing to acknowledge this because we as Indian people do not acknowledge it. We do not talk about apartheid, we talk about Canada as colonialism. Well, colonialism is coming over and occupying the country. Apartheid is an international crime. Apartheid says that when you want to colonize a people, each and every day you torture them. You make them struggle for food, you keep them in a state of despair and sadness so you can rip them off. When this is done to a people, it is known as a crime.”
“Each and every day you maintain a degree of sadness that immobilizes people. It immobilized us when they took our kids away from our homes. The numbers are higher now than they ever were since the ‘60s scoop or residential school experience. So let’s not call it colonialism; lets not call it intended policy that’s gone bad. Lets call it what it is. Bernie Farber said genocidal polices are designed to eliminate our people. Maybe when we all start to look at history in its true form as being the victims of history, when we look at why our children are killing themselves at rates that are the highest in the world, when we talk about the degrees of drug and alcoholism, of being lazy slugs that can’t get off our ass and do anything, lets talk about it in the context of these polices that made us feel immobilized without any sense or control of our future. Let’s talk about the policies that make our children feel like there’s no hope. But the shining light at the end of the tunnel is that we understand all of this as a people that we are not failures and this is not genetic to us or being caused by us.”
“The policies that are being created today will be hard to fix. The environmental laws that existed for all life are now gone; exploitation can move forward, such as oil development etc. Social programs for elderly and for all people are being disbanded behind closed doors, and all children will suffer in the years to come. International Free trade is being built behind closed doors with Canada’s resources being given away for short term profit and for whom? Mother Earth and our water is being polluted and destroyed faster and faster each day. These are things we all need to think about now because all life is suffering! We will kill all life if we do not change our ways. Our ancestors have shared everything in the past, but nothing is protected today! In Cochabamba and the Earth Summits, indigenous people said Mother Earth has rights. Canada has a responsibility to all children, and now we need leaders who will listen to indigenous people in Canada who care and know what is going on behind closed doors.”