On the morning of Wednesday May 8, Council were meeting in the Council office and were informed by staff that a small group had taken occupation of the Cultural Healing Centre.
A council member attended the scene and reported back that the group had no intention of leaving the premises. It was agreed by Council for the safety of the staff members doing their work, and to ensure the building remains in public service, that the Wahta Mohawk Trespass by-law 1.18 be put to effect. This by-law is to ensure that designated areas are not be occupied by any individuals or groups that interfere with the designated purpose. As per Band Council Resolution 2019/2019-37 – the Wahta Mohawk Cultural Centre is designated for providing community programs and a variety of other social support services and the carrying on of activities that interfere with this designated purpose are prohibited.
A call was made to Ontario Provincial Police by the administration to request assistance in enforcing the by-law. The initial police response then prompted the OPP to assess the situation and consider how they would react.
Contrary to many social media posts, Council did not indicate to the police that there were armed persons in the building. As the day progressed statements were taken from Council members and those staff who had contact with the initial occupation, no one indicated they saw any firearms, but could not say for sure given as current information suggested the group was comprised of both community members and those from other communities
The OPP assessed the situation for risk. Such an assessment includes public safety and any background information they have on the subjects at hand. This would fall in line with the police protocols to ensure their personal safety as well as the general public’s safety. Subsequently they mobilized to this area the resources that were fitting including the tactical response unit.
Muskoka Road 38 was closed and community people had to take a long detour to get to their homes on either side of the affected area. Wahta staff devised a plan to meet school buses and shuttle students around the affected area so those students could return home. As evening progressed near by residents were told to leave their homes. Council approved expenditure of two hotel rooms for those who had no where to go.
After 12:30 a.m. on Thursday morning I was informed that the building was clear and the persons had left earlier unnoticed. As we now know they had left much earlier in the day misleading the police as to their location, blocking the road for several hours needlessly and preventing people from returning home
First and foremost, Council is grateful this event ended the way it did with no altercations. We regret that community members were subject to the disruption during the day and night.
The occupation is claimed to have been based on Indian Act effects on band councils across the country whereby misdoings have occurred. First Nations have operated under an imperfect legislation called the Indian Act, however, I assure our membership that accountability and policy adherence have always been at the forefront.
As events on Wednesday were fluid, Council or myself did not respond to local media requests as an investigation was ongoing with no solid facts. If there are takeaway lessons from this event, one might be improved communication to effected residents. We had a community radio station at one point that was discontinued some years ago, instead we will strive to utilize increased modern technology as well as other means to inform people of emergency events given they might not have internet connection.
Finally, a renewed call for members to voice their opinions in an amicable manner, at council meetings or various methods of correspondence, so that any differences or misunderstanding can be cleared up.
Nia wen for everyone’s patience on this matter.
Chief Philip Franks