The traditional leadership on Six Nations of the Grand River have been successful in forcing an Elections Canada polling station off its territory for Monday’s federal election.
Colin Martin, a concerned citizen of the Haudenosaunee confederacy in Six Nations about 35 km southwest of Hamilton, delivered a letter to the staff of the polling station from the chiefs and grandmothers of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
“We ended up going down there this morning and blocked the access, entrances and exits,” Martin told APTN News.
“The press showed up and the police showed up, and they were handed a copy of the confederacy statement. One was delivered inside by myself to federal officials and they were in the process of waiting to hear back from their bosses on what to do.”
In the end, Elections Canada moved the polling station to Oakland, Ont., just outside Brantford, “To ensure members of the Six Nations of the Grand River who choose to vote are able to do so,” said the electoral body in an email.
The confederacy has consistently discouraged its members from voting in elections that involve outside governments. This federal election is no exception.
But this is the first time a polling station has been forced to relocate.
“It’s a big day,” said Martin.
“They have to understand and respect that we have a right to determine what happens on our territories and today that was a big step.”
On Wednesday the confederacy issued a letter stating that the station had to leave the territory.
“It has been brought to our attention that the Canadian government has placed polling stations on Haudenosaunee Territory,” said a statement from chiefs and clan mothers who lead the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council on Wednesday.
“We urge those involved to immediately remove the polling stations and elections materials from the territory. This is a violation of not only treaty rights, but our human rights to exist as distinct people.”
Chiefs and clan mothers contend Haudenosaunee voting in Canadian elections is “a violation of treaties and commitments our ancestors made”, referencing the Two Row Wampum agreement made between the Haudenosaunee and Dutch settlers more than 400 years ago “to never interfere in one another’s government, laws and ways.
“We have never relinquished our sovereignty and we view the actions of all involved in Canada’s elections as doing such,” the Confederacy statement said.
The Confederacy is distinct from Six Nations elected council, an Indian Act government led by Chief Mark Hill.
In an emailed statement, elected council spokesperson Katie Montour said band members “have a free choice as to whether or not they decide to vote in any election.
“Having a polling location in our community is a way of respecting the right of our community members to exercise that free choice if they wish,” Montour said.
According to data from Elections Canada, 51.8 per cent of Indigenous people nationwide voted in the 2019 federal election, compared to overall voter turnout of 67 per cent.
Six Nations of the Grand River has approximately 27,600 registered band members, of whom nearly 13,000 live on the reserve.
With files from J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter