Reserve despair hits home for outspoken Mohawk, Shawn Brant
By Mark Bonokoski ,Toronto Sun, Friday, January 25, 2013
TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY, ONT. - When the barricades went up, and the Idle No More movement decided to start blocking railway lines, highways and border crossings, one of Canada’s more notorious Native dissidents was nowhere near any of the protests.
Nor did he go to Ottawa to pay symbolic homage to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence at her teepee on Victoria Island, his mind fully convinced that her alleged hunger strike was nothing more than a smoke screen to draw attention away from the incompetence an audit found in the handling of her reserve’s financials.
Shawn Brant says Spence has a lot of explaining to do. “Her people are living in unheated shacks, impoverished and in desperate need, and she is largely responsible because she had the control over the money.
“She is no hero in my book.”
The last time we met, some three years ago, the Mohawk activist was in the Ontario superjail in Lindsay, his customary camouflage fatigues replaced by an orange prison jumpsuit.
He has been arrested more than 200 times for civil disobedience and the resulting breaches of both bail and probation, some of them under criminal indictment.
In all, Brant has served almost three years for his “cause” — primarily the lack of potable water on reserves, and particularly his own reserve near the eastern Ontario town of Belleville — in segments that have ranged from three days to seven months.
Brant had then been behind bars since June 10, 2009, when approximately 100 OPP and First Nations police stormed in at dawn to end the Mohawk blockage of the Skyway Bridge near Deseronto, perched at the end of this reserve.
When we spoke, it was nearing October and the end of his sentence.
“I can’t say it is entirely over for me when it comes to my involvement in the cause,” said the father of four. “All I can say is that I will give the next one, the next protest, a lot of thought.”
Today, Shawn Brant, now 48, can be found behind the counter of the Two Hawks smoke shack.
He may not be manning any barricades for Idle No More, but this does not mean Shawn Brant has let up on his campaign to get to the bottom of why the water on his reserve, primarily accessed by drilled wells, is both undrinkable and, as he alleges, potentially lethal.
On the band’s website — the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte — a boil water advisory has existed for years, leaving the impression the water is safe if procedures are followed.
But Shawn Brant believes differently and, instead of blocking rail lines to get the action from the Ministry of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, he is shifting the blame and going after Chief R. Donald Maracle and the rest of the band council for allegedly burying the truth and putting lives at risk.
This time, however, he is doing it through the courts.
Since July of last year, Brant’s only daughter, 13-year-old Teyohate, has been in Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-moving cancer that Brant believes was triggered by the water on the reserve.
Three other children on the reserve, all around the same age, have also being diagnosed with cancer. One of them, 13-year-old Paula Sero-Loft, Teyohate’s best friend and classmate at Quinte Mohawk School, located no more than 600 metres from the controversial landfill, was buried last September.
“Yes, it’s personal this time,” said Brant. “Why the rash of cancer? Why the rash of unexplained body sores on other children?
“The odds of such a cluster being coincidence are off the charts.”
Earlier this month, Brant, through Ottawa lawyer and First Nations issues expert Stephen Reynolds, filed a statement of claim in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and later tabled application documentation that runs more than 1,000 pages.
QMI Agency has a copy of all the documents.
An environmental engineering firm, XCG Consultants, plus the federal and provincial governments, are also named in the suit.
Its total focus is on that now-closed landfill on the 7,300-hectare reserve that had been built in 1968 on fractured bedrock, without a liner and against the recommendations of various engineering firms, and continued until it was boarded up in 2004.
Then, three years later, it was capped with allegedly toxic dirt excavated from an ancient coal and gasification plant in nearby Kingston and purportedly never monitored for the migration of scores of possible pollutants.
Brant is not seeking monetary damages, at least not yet. Instead he is demanding the band council provide a full accounting of all money spent during the closing of the Tyendinaga Landfill, as well as all funds budgeted specifically for the implementation of the Health Canada-required closure report, and that includes the monitoring that was purportedly contracted when the site closed in 2007.
“All that documentation, which should be readily available, has never been found,” said Brant. “It’s either been hidden or destroyed.”
After Brant’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer, a sympathetic administrator at the band’s office slipped Brant the “brown envelope,” two bankers’ boxes filled the documents from the band’s archives that, according to lawyer Stephen Reynolds, lay waste to the band’s claims of transparency and due diligence over the state of the water on what is the third-largest reserve in Ontario, with 2,145 current residents and a membership of 8,895.
Those bankers’ boxes, in fact, represented the “smoking gun” that Brant needed as hard evidence to launch his lawsuit.
It is expected to go to court late next month.
The band council has yet to respond with its statement of defence.