OHSWEKEN – Approximately 35 community members attended the first public meeting of the Haudenosaunee Trade Collective (HTC) last Wednesday evening. The HTC is an organization made up of local business people involved in the tobacco trade. The group represents the majority of tobacco manufacturers at Six Nations and has representation from Six Nations businesses involved at all levels in the industry – from growing, to manufacturing, storage, distribution and retail. The group was formed in March 2014 after community awareness about the possible impact of the so called “contraband tobacco act” Bill C-10 was sparked by the holding of a public meeting on the issue in February.
HTC Spokesperson Kris Green addressed those at the meeting and explained that the HTC has been trying to get factual information out about the consequences of Bill C-10. According to Green, upon discovering the reality of Bill C-10, Six Nations manufacturers were faced with one of three options. The first was simply to wind down production so as to come into conformity with Canadian laws. The second option would be to continue on and ignore whatever legislation was passed by Canada since Canadian law does not apply in the sovereign territory of other nations. The third option and the one that the group eventually decided to focus on, was opposing Bill C-10 through the expression of Onkwehon:we rights and the developing of Six Nations’ own tobacco laws and regulations.
The HTC decided to chose the third option, and has gone to the hereditary chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy seeking to develop a model of governance for tobacco regulation, because as Green pointed out, “protecting tobacco rights will help protect other rights which are currently on the chopping block.” The HTC has also made links with the Kahnawake Montreal community and have been paying close attention to the tobacco law that has been proposed by manufacturers in that community.
One of the biggest impacts of Bill C-10 would be in effecting on-reserve employment. Green stated that if the law was passed and enforced, mass unemployment would occur. According to Green, HTC members alone employ some 2000 full time and part-time employees. As Green stressed, “tobacco has become the cornerstone of our community.” The first priority for the HTC is to protect the trade and to figure out how to stop or slow down Bill C-10. The second priority is to establish Haudenosaunee laws and regulations regarding tobacco.
Green suggested that part of the problem the Canadian government has with tobacco is that Native people are getting the full benefits of their labor. “We’ve flipped things with tobacco, because now we own the industry and are not just working in the fields.”
Members of the HTC are no strangers to sharing their wealth with the community, as Green pointed out that HTC members together donated at least $2 million last year to community and sporting initiatives.
At the meeting, Bill Montour the former elected chief, stated that tobacco is not the only thing under attack from the feds – so is the bingo hall and taxation on gasoline. According to Montour, “the government wants the 500 million dollars that they’ve “lost” from us because we don’t pay taxes”. Montour referenced the recent supreme court decision on concerning the Tsilhqot’in people in BC, and said that “the courts said that what we do with our lands is none of their business. We should have our own tobacco commission with a levy that goes to the whole community. It should be a Six Nations product stamp approved by both councils [elected and hereditary].”
Current elected chief Ava Hill stressed the importance of getting stories about the issue into the mainstream media before Senate resumes in September. She stated that she has raised the issue with both the Chiefs of Ontario and the AFN both of which have passed motions in support of the Haudenosaunee tobacco trade and the rights of indigenous nations to trade and commerce. However, according to Hill, the Chiefs and the AFN are looking for Six Nations to take the lead on the issue.
Bill Monture stated that Onkwehonwe people can’t count on the Senate to stop Bill C-10, because after the Senate sends it back the House of Commons, it can be sent back again to the Senate and that time it will have to pass. But added Monture, “I would love to see them try to enforce Bill C-10. We will fight them in the Supreme Court, and we’re going to win. Their law-enforcement agencies don’t want to come down to our territory. We need our own laws, and then we need to make them respect them.”
To stay up to date with the work of the HTC, check out their website at http://www.htradecollective.com where there are a variety of videos explaining the Haudenosaunee relationship to tobacco and Onkwehon:we economic rights.