Shawn Brant discusses his growing support, his run for chief and missing and murdered Indigenous women

By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
Gone are the days when people opposed to Shawn Brant’s activism could simply brush him and his “few supporters” off as radicals, as his backing in the community of Tyendinaga has grown, evident from last month’s election for chief that saw hundreds of people cast a ballot in his name.

“The OPP wasn’t happy and neither was the government. They can’t say ‘it’s Shawn and a handful of supporters’ anymore,” said Brant in an interview with APTN National News.

Brant wasn’t elected chief. That title stayed with the incumbent R. Donald Maracle.

But he didn’t need to.

He showed his backing isn’t from just a few diehards.

Some 358 people put their support behind the infamous Mohawk from the Tyendinaga Territory 300 kilometres east of Toronto.

And they all know what he’s willing to do to make his point.

Brant has sparred with police, shutdown Highway 401, blocked rail traffic, raided offices and called out leaders in his efforts to push back against what he sees as injustices against Indigenous peoples in this country.

After the election results were made public, in early December, it was clear Brant’s support was from the people who live on the territory.

But some 540 ballots were mailed in from off-reserve band members and Brant said almost all of them went to Maracle giving him the numbers he needed to beat Brant with 852 total votes.

“We got all our votes on-reserve and got the majority of locals,” said Brant.

Brant came second to Maracle in the election and said Mohawks typically shy away from voting because they don’t support the Indian Act that put the very structure of voting, for chief, in place.

They say this divides communities and was never the way things were before the colonialists imposed their beliefs.

Brant was once asked why never ran for chief if he was so fed up with the way things were run in Tyendinaga.

“Because when you lie down with the dogs, once you get back up you still stink like them,” he said to an APTN reporter last summer.

But things changed when his daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and began fighting for her life.

Nothing was off the table then.

Brant believes the water on-reserve caused her cancer. Clean drinking water is a fight he continues.

But he’s got another fight – justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

With more on that and the election here is an edited version of an interview with Brant.

APTN: What do you think of the election results?

Brant: The last 20 years the cops and federal government has been putting me out as a terrorist and radical and somebody that people don’t support. That was part of the reason why we ran in the election too. A good lawyer says you never ask a question without knowing the answer, but sometimes you have to put it out there. They wanted us to get like 25 votes, or finish third or forth, and it just didn’t happen. We easily carried the community and they were shocked by that.

APTN: Why do you think many people in the community supported you?

Brant: I think, for the most the part, people felt there needed to be someone in place that cared about the people, that cared about the community. That’s what I heard for the most part. People acknowledged when someone puts their ass on the line for the community that there is something genuine there. The people who came out to vote and supported us are not passive people. They’re the people who are active and the people look past all the other stuff that the band and government generally tries to put on me.

APTN: What about the votes from off-reserve members. Were you given a list of people to contact before the election?

Brant: I got a list about a week in into the election with just the names of people with no addresses. We had no access to them at all. Maracle got almost all those votes. When people are mailing in ballots from all over Canada and other continents they have absolutely no idea what issues the community’s facing and when they deny you (a proper) voters list you have absolutely no way of conveying that information.

APTN: So you had no access to off-reserve band members?

Brant: No. We didn’t have any access to them at all. It was just their names. We thought about every way we could contact them. The band didn’t allow any candidates to mail them anything either. The only information off-reserve voters received was from the chief and the council candidates (of the Mohawk Peoples Party which Maracle was the candidate for chief).

(Editor’s note: APTN asked Maracle about these allegations. He said no single candidate for council or chief had the addresses of off-reserve votes. He did provide this statement: The Mohawk Peoples Party, which I was candidate for chief, sent one flyer out which was handled by one of the candidates Christine Claus. I did not send out an individual flyer of my own.” APTN has asked if the same courtesy was provided to other candidates and will provide an update soon.)

APTN: What was your campaign platform?

Brant: A good part of the reason was to demonstrate the support we had, to take away the government’s argument and the OPP’s argument that we don’t have any support and we wanted to represent this issue of missing and murdered women from a point of legitimacy. We campaigned on the issues of missing and murdered women. The people who voted for us supported justice for that as well.

APTN: Didn’t the community give you a mandate to try and force the federal government to order an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women?

Brant: Not to try. My mandate is to do it. I received it on Oct. 27. It’s to take whatever action is necessary to secure an inquiry.

APTN: What is a mandate?

Brant: We’ve governed ourselves over the past 20 years on the basis of mandates. What we do is when a local or national issue arises we do research and comprehensive analysis of the situation. We present it to community members and request their support to take whatever action necessary to deal with the injustice and set things right. This a really more of a Tyendinaga thing. It’s really an extension of how we used to conduct business ancestrally. The cops and the government know what that means. When I say I have mandate to deal with something that strikes fear in their hearts.