By Tom Keefer
TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – Over 60 people gathered in the Longhouse in Tyendinaga on Wednesday, July 19th to discuss the issue of cannabis use and sales in the territory.
The meeting was called after Ron Maracle, the Chief of Police for a force jointly paid for by the OPP and elected Band Council, interrupted a meeting of the Kenhteke Cannabis Association at Big Green’s dispensary on Highway 49 on Monday morning.
The Association was in the midst of drafting a public statement in response to claims made by Maracle that he was going to shut down the booming cannabis industry in Tyendinaga, when Police Chief Maracle and fellow officer Nathan Leland entered the store and demanded to meet the individual owners of the stores one on one.
Maracle and Leland came into the store armed, something that store owner Rathahine objected to. Simply by the fact of showing up with a gun and making demands, “you take away our choices,” Rathahine said.
Niwahkwaritaa of the Bear Clan, who was also there for the meeting, agreed. He believes that Maracle and his officers are an institution of an outside colonial force who are operating on Mohawk territory without jurisdiction.
Furthermore, “why go to a negotiation strapped?” questioned Niwahkwaritaa. “So called “Peacekeepers” should be easing stresses and conflicts, not making new ones” he added. “A meeting was already underway, and they came in and said that people needed to separate in order to talk to them.”
Maracle, in an audio recording of the encounter obtained by Real People’s Media, stated that the risks to “public health and safety” were such that “all the dispensaries need to shut down.” Maracle demanded that store owners take down their signs displaying the cannabis leaf, and close their doors.
Maracle stated that “as it stands right now, all these dispensaries are selling marijuana and other stuff that is technically illegal – regardless of the announcement to be made next year that it will be legalized.”
Maracle added, “I don’t care who smokes marijuana, I just can’t have dispensaries selling it openly. He also bluntly stated, “We uphold Canadian laws. And Canadian laws apply in this community.”
Maracle’s statement that Canadian laws apply in Tyendinaga is at odds with how Kanyenkehaka (Mohawk) people see themselves, since they never signed away their lands, freedoms or responsibilities, and have been allies to the British Crown – but never its subjects.
The Simcoe deed of 1793 specifically states that the “Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People of the said Six Nations and their Heirs” are to enjoy “the full and entire possession, use, benefit, and advantage of the said District or Territory of Land to be held and enjoyed by them in the most free and ample manner and according to the several Customs and usages by them the said Chiefs, Warriors, Women and People of the said Six Nations.”
Many of the store owners who were present at the meeting are traditional people belonging to clans who have never surrendered their sovereignty. They were not impressed with Maracle’s ultimatum.
Niwahkwaritaa, himself a member of a traditional medicine society, suggested that the arrival of outside police forces arriving “strapped with glocks” to a meeting of traditional Kanyenkehaka (Mohawk) people to demand that they stop providing a plant based medicine, was a colonial throwback.
“It’s just like medicine societies once upon a time ago. Remember when they would throw people in jail and take all their Hadui masks and take all their traditional medicines away? And it had to go underground to survive. It’s only in the last few years that it’s come back into the open. In a sense this is the same thing. It’s an assertion of their laws on us.”
After the nearly two hour meeting with Ron Maracle on Monday morning, members of the association approached the Longhouse. They requested the holding of a meeting to address the issue of cannabis in the community.
Questions put to the clans at Longhouse
At the Longhouse meeting on Wednesday night, members of the Kenhteke Cannabis Association were asked what they wanted from the assembled clans. The request from the association members was that the clans consider several related issues.
“Firstly, do you agree that cannabis is a medicine?
Secondly, do you agree that cannabis is our medicine?
Thirdly, do you agree that we have a responsibility to provide medicine to people who need it?”
The questions were put to the assembled people, and people consulted in their clans as to how to proceed. A preliminary discussion was held on the issue, and following Longhouse procedure, the matters were “put into the well” so that the people could begin discussing the issue in their families and clans.
Tesakononwaratons, one of the runners for the Kenhteke Cannabis Association, offered the following assessment on the evening:
“From my personal perspective, tonight was a very productive beginning of a counselling procedure. The biggest benefit is that the people convened themselves and looked at an intense issue.”
Tesakononwaratons went on to note: “I was so proud tonight of the people in that house because of three things: 1.) we all set our personal issues aside and looked at the big picture, 2.) the number of people that showed up that were newcomers that felt comfortable debating an issue of that importance, and 3) that we’re actually taking the time to look at what we can do to better ourselves as a people. Them three things alone are a success.”
Kennikastosera:a, the owner of Smoke Signals, has been providing cannabis to members of the community for the past 25 years. He gave his thoughts on the matter:
“I am operating within the confines of my own law, constitution, and way of life. It boils down to who I am as a Mohawk, Bear Clan male. That is literally what’s on the table. I have no problem being judged by the people in that longhouse, those are my people. That is my governing body. Those are the people that raised me, educated me, taught me how to conduct myself.”
On the topic of regulations and guidelines for the industry, Kennikastosera:a indicated that he would follow whatever rules and procedures agreed to through the longhouse procedure.
“If they want to create a traditional body – rules, regulations and a process for distribution, I’ll gladly follow those rules. If they make an agreement or come to the conclusion, “not at this time,” I’ll take the open sign down and I’ll take my store sign down. But if [people in need of medicine] still come and knock on my door, I will not turn them away. To do that is questioning me as a person, who I am, my way of life, my culture, my constitution – nobody has that right.”
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Patience and respect for traditional decision making process
The holding of this meeting and the asking of these questions to the nine clan families that make up the Mohawk nation in Tyendinaga has began a process of internal discussion making according to traditional protocols.
However, traditional people are concerned that outside forces like the Tyendinaga police will not respect their internal decision making structure.
As Tesakononwaratons put it, “generally, during that time when our process is being looked at by the people, patience becomes an issue. Sometimes external forces get impatient with how long our true democratic process can take. Especially in today’s society when there’s social differences that we’re trying to deal with as discussed by the Truth and Reconciliation commission.”
Tesakononwaratons went on to express concern about possible action that might be taken by police: “In any other circumstance, the external forces usually takes this time to attack us, to disrupt our decision making abilities. I know there’s men, women, and children amongst the community who are very nervous that they’re going to use the same tactic that they’ve always used before.
“So it raises a side issue that the men need to discuss about protection of the people’s voice in counselling procedures.”
Despite the holding of the meeting and the initiation of the longhouse process, police chief Maracle has continued to do the rounds of cannabis stores on the territory and has threatened police raids on any stores that stays open past Friday. According to reports, Maracle has succeeded in convincing two dispensaries not affiliated with the Kenhteke Cannabis Association to close their doors.
As for the rest of the members of the Association, they have renewed their determination to stay open and affirmed their responsibilities to provide plant based natural medicines to those in need.