Half traditional, half not
I was very disappointed to learn the court ruled against me and for the Ta’an Kwach’an Council in the recent court case Bonnie Harpe vs. Ruth Massie and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.
This case is filled with truths, half-truths and no truths.
Some would like you to believe that I challenged the authority of elders. This is simply not true.
The fact is, I challenged the rights of cousins, relatives, supporters of our current acting chief Ruth Massie and (non-traditional people) to appoint her under Southern Tutchone Traditional law.
Others would like you to believe that I am just “mad” because I lost the election on April 30, 2004.
This, again, is false, as I believe the Ta’an Kwach’an Council’s judicial council decided, exactly one year after I filed the first of my five appeals, that the election was void.
It ruled in my favour and ordered a new election.
This court case is about everything that occurred after the ruling came down from the judicial council on May 16.
On May 18, the board of director’s of Ta’an Kwach’an Council and its legal council met and were trying to decide what to do as they now found themselves in a “pickle” (their word).
They no longer could make quorum for any meetings because the Ta’an Kwach’an Council’s constitution states, very clearly, that a chief or deputy chief must be present at all meetings of the board in order to make quorum.
It had neither. The deputy chief resigned in June 2004 after only three months in office.
No byelection was called, according to a provision within the constitution, and still hasn’t to this day.
The board of directors and its legal council devised a plan to call elders’ meeting for the next evening and convince the elders that they had inherent rights, above the constitution, to appoint Ruth Massie as acting chief.
The elders were told they had these rights under Southern Tutchone Traditional law.
Ta’an Kwach’an Council consists of 432 citizens all of whom are supposed to be Southern Tutchone and direct descendents of chief Mundessa and his wife Lande.
At the May 19 meeting of 10 elders, only one could speak our language, the Lake Laberge dialect.
Not one of the elders present brought up the issue of whether or not they had inherent rights.
After the resolution was passed, one of the elders asked what was going on. Other elders expressed concern about the lack of elders present at a meeting where such a big decision was going to be made.
They were ignored.
Another traditional elder had lost a member of her family the night before the meeting and asked that it be postponed until after the burial. Her request to was ignored.
It is important to note that only three elders present that day have followed their mother’s lineage and are true traditional Ta’an Kwach’an Council citizens.
So how is that the remaining seven elders’ profess to know anything about their inherent rights under Southern Tutchone traditional law?
In the court case, Massie herself admitted that she is not a direct descendent of chief Mundessa and his wife and that her ancestors on her mother’s side were from Angoon, Alaska.
I believe that this admission makes her Tlingit, not Southern Tutchone.
I also believe that admission makes all of her relatives, who sit on our board, Development Corporation and all committees, Tlingit also.
It is important to note that one elder testified that he did not know where his grandmother was from —we had to tell him that he is Northern Tutchone.
And Massie admitted that another one of the elders present at the meeting is Northern Tutchone and married Massie’s Tlingit relative.
All of a sudden these two elders are experts on our traditional laws.
One thing for certain is that, long ago, our people passed laws down through the language.
They were not written laws, so you would think that one would have to speak our language in order to know what the traditional laws were back then.
You would also think that in order to pass Southern Tutchone traditional laws you would have to be Southern Tutchone, at the very least.
I am really struggling with the sudden enactment of our traditional laws.
I believe that you either practice traditional law all the time, or not, and everyone should know what the laws are.
You cannot sway back and forth when it suits the situation, like they did in this case.
I believe the true traditional people should be the only ones who have the authority to teach and enact the laws, not someone from another First Nation or who marries into the First Nation.
The Ta’an Kwach’an Council elder’s council has only dealt with two resolutions in the past, one was ignored and the other Massie’s family defeated at the last general assembly.
The court ruling states the TKC elders acted appropriately in a time of crisis. They were in this crisis because they breached the constitution in 2004, when they did not hold a byelection for a deputy chief.
Now, all of a sudden, the court says that the elders’ council has the right to fill in gaps in the constitution.
Then I have to ask myself, why do we even have constitutions when elders have so much authority? And why do we have chiefs and councils?
The elders can now pass a law, call it traditional, and that is that.
Maybe it is time to define what an elder is. Can they speak the language? Are they traditional to that particular FN, or they simply and elder because they are 60 years old?
I would like to appeal this case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary, as I believe the ruling will impact Aboriginal people across Canada.
However, the cost would ruin me financially.
It is difficult to fight a government that has millions of our land claim dollars to fight their own citizens.
It does not make my cause wrong, it just makes me more oppressed and silent.
Bonnie Harpe, Susie Jim family,
Ta’an Kwach’an Council
With the Arctic Winter Games just ahead and the Canada Games on the horizon, There’s a Torino success story that I hope many people have noticed.
It’s not Canada bringing home a record number of medals but rather the positive atmosphere generated by the athletes and their families.
Yes, their families. In a very short time, people will have forgotten about most of the performances, many of the names and much of the fanfare that was so evident at Torino.
What people may not forget was how Brad Gushue’s father supported his son from the stands and how Brad’s first action on winning Gold was to ignore everything else and call his mom at home.
People will possibly remember how Canada’s superlative speed skater, Cindy Klassen, credited her faith in God and the support of her family for her success.
An image that stands out in my mind from Torino and from the Salt Lake City games, four years earlier, is how Hayley Wikenheiser received her Olympic Golds with her son held proudly in her arms.
What will she remember and what will he remember?
Torino offered many examples of proud parents and spouses supporting their children or of partners and of athletes honouring their parents.
Who could forget Duff Gibson’s emotional dedication to his father?
I’d argue that those moments of humanity were, by far, the most important element of the Games.
For Yukon coaches who encourage the participation of family in their children’s sport, kudos.
You will help make their games experiences truly memorable, whether they win or lose.
For those “team-oriented” coaches who actively work to exclude every outside influence in their hunt for some fleeting victory, I’d ask, “what kind of person are you trying to mould?”
Long after Torino’s Olympic medals are dusty reminders of a forgotten competition, the legacy of love shown by one person to another will live on. Think about it.