City of Brantford council heard from a former Brantford resident regarding council’s motion to hire an Indigenous Affairs officer during their regular meeting on Tuesday, October 26.
Veronica Martisius was a delegate at the meeting, requesting the opportunity to address her concerns about the potential new position.
Before Martisius and council could discuss the matter, council needed to do some housekeeping, including making a motion to waive sections 15.11.15 and 15.3.12 of Chapter 15 of the Brantford Municipal Code in order to introduce the resolution without having been considered at a Committee of the Whole or Standing Committee for it to be discussed during the meeting.
The motion to waive was carried, 9-1, with Councillor Greg Martin opposed.
After passing the motion to waive, Mayor Kevin Davis invited Veronica Martisius to speak as a delegate regarding the creation of an Indigenous Affairs Officer.
“I appear to you tonight as a former longtime resident of Ward 4 and a member of the Mohawk nation of the Haudenosaunee confederacy. What I am about to say is intended to be tough love, not an attack,” said Martisius. “Today, I speak in the capacity of an individual with concerns and questions about Councillor Wall’s resolution to create an Indigenous Affairs officer. While I can appreciate the need for improved communication, I think this idea is premature and deserves careful thought and engagement. In particular, I do not think the Council should proceed in this direction until it is properly consulted with the Haudenosaunee about this matter.”
Martisius continued, “For too long, our voices and perspectives have gone unheard. I am asking you to abide by the principle of nothing for us without us. Consultation doesn’t mean providing notification to the Six Nations Band Council office and then approving your idea anyway because you didn’t receive a response in some arbitrary timeline.”
Martisius then went on to compare the creation of the new position to the Arrowdale situation.
“Furthermore, the timing and urgency of this resolution suggests to me that this was born in response to the reclamation and occupation at Arrowdale, which Councillor (Cheryl) Antoski rightfully admitted was foreseeable and avoidable…”
Mayor Davis interjected, reminding Martisius to stay on topic.
“Veronica, we do have a rule that when you come to us, you need to stick to the subject matter and the subject matter on the agenda tonight is whether or not we should hire an Indigenous Affairs Officer. It’s not to discuss the Arrowdale situation so would you be kind enough to focus on the topic that is in front of us tonight,” said Mayor Davis.
Martisius continued, “Yes, absolutely. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this resolution is at odds with recent statements that have been made by the Mayor and others around the issue of Indigenous land claims not being within the City’s jurisdiction to resolve. This resistance and pass the buck attitude does not bode well for a resolution that is intended to further the aims of reconciliation.”
Martisius went on to provide a brief history lesson of decisions made by previous councils.
“Institutional memory does not allow you to deny or dismiss Haudenosaunee existence or land claims. For example, in 2008, Brantford City Council adopted a resolution respecting First Nations’ policy. In that resolution, the City stated that it remains empathetic to the aspirations of the First Nations to obtain redress for any past wrongs and said it would offer assistance where it can,” explained Martisius. “This leads me to my next point. Reconciliation is the responsibility of all City staff and members of Council, not just one Indigenous Affairs officer.”
Martisius continued, “With respect to Indigenous relations, the Association of Municipalities Ontario stated that municipal governments, Indigenous governments and the Federal and Provincial Crowns should work together to address outstanding issues impacting municipal Indigenous relations, such as the duty to consult and accommodate and the municipal role in land claims. The City may not be able to resolve the situation but it can choose not to sell and/or develop lands it knows are under dispute. Compensation and restitution are not the only remedies to redress past wrongs. Reconciliation includes giving land back where possible.”
Martisius concluded her presentation to council by identifying specific issues and concerns she had with Councillor Wall’s motion for the creation of an Indigenous Affairs officer.
“The City of Brantford likes to talk in terms of being neighbours to the Six Nations Reserve. This line of thinking is problematic because it erases the fact that the City of Brantford is situated within the Haldimand Tract where you can find our people all over. Yesterday was the 237th anniversary of the Haldimand proclamation whereby the Mohawks and such others of the Six Nations were granted six miles on either side of the Grand River to possess and to enjoy forever for compensation of our losses from the American Revolution. To put it politely, the City of Brantford is more of a guest in our territory than a neighbour,” said Martisius.
Martisius then explained that truth always comes before reconciliation.
“If you can’t clearly admit whose land your city is situated upon, your attempts at reconciliation ring hollow. The largest indigenous population you speak of happened to be the Haudenosaunee, the Six Nations, name us,” she said. “Based on my observations, whether the City of Brantford values the relationship with the Haudenosaunee and their ways of being, remains to be seen. Until the City stops viewing our people as criminals for defending our own lands, the jury is out on that one.”
Regardless of her thoughts, Martisius said she is glad that the City is looking at reconciliation.
“However, the creation of an Indigenous Affairs officer does not signal a commitment to this value. Who do you intend to fill this role? Will it be someone with knowledge and respect for the Haudenosaunee, the Haldimand Tract and our rights and responsibilities? Or, will it be someone you expect to tell you what you want to hear in an effort to advance the City’s objectives? Will this Indigenous Affairs officer be mandated to manufacture consent or will this person be able to freely advise you that you are failing at reconciliation,” Martisius asked.
“Finally, for transparency reasons, I have concerns about the Indigenous Affairs officer reporting to the office of the CAO and Mayor. I think this person should operate as independently as possible and be accountable to the public. If that is not possible, I fail to see the point considering that this is supposed to be about reconciliation,” said Martisius. “In conclusion, I don’t think it is appropriate for this council to move forward with this resolution until you have meaningfully consulted with the Haudenosaunee people, including the Chiefs and clan mothers, to better understand the Haudenosaunee, our relationship with the lands that you conduct your business on, your legacy as a settler, colonial government and what true reconciliation requires. I agree with Councillor Wall, peaceful, respectful and meaningful dialogue is the way forward but not by a process that is imposed on my people.”
After concluding her presentation, Councillor Richard Carpenter had a question for Martisius.
“Thank you for being here tonight, what should be our first step?” asked Councillor Carpenter.
Martisius replied, “I think that reaching out to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs would be a good first step.”
Councillor Carpenter asked, “Should we defer this resolution and get more clarification from the clan mothers and Haudenosaunee on how that should go forward?”
“I think so,” replied Martisius. “For all of the reasons I mentioned, I think that would be a good way to move forward if you’re going to move forward at all with this proposal.”
Council had no further questions for Martisius but discussed the creation of the Indigenous Affairs Officer position later in the evening.
Check out the Brant Beacon later this week for council’s discussion surrounding the creation of an Indigenous Affairs officer.