Necan sisters on the road for justice once again
THUNDER BAY – The Necan sisters are on the road once again, determined to find justice.
If Darlene’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the grassroots Indigenous woman who went up against the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry two years ago when they tried suing her for building a cabin on her family’s ancestral land. After 18 months of legal showdowns, and the bringing of increased media attention to her story, the Ministry finally gave up and dropped its suit against Darlene.
Now, the 57-year-old Ojibway woman and her sister Virginia are walking and biking from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Kenora, nearly 500 km further northwest, to draw attention to their concerns with how they say Kenora lawyer Doug Keshen mishandled residential school survivors’ compensation cases, including Necan’s own mother’s file. “I feel her residential school issues were not taken seriously,” Necan said on a phone interview a day before her journey began.
Darlene and Virginia began their journey on Saturday, May 13. They expect to get to Kenora, where Keshen’s law office is located, on Thursday, May 25th and are covering about 50kms a day.
Their last such march took place in February, 2015, when the two Necan sisters braved -8 degrees weather to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis hitting off-reserve Saugeen members.
Keshen had been under investigation for years by the Law Society of Upper Canada after dozens of complaints against him surfaced between 2003 and 2012. Complaints against Keshen included him arranging high-interest loans in advance of their compensation awards, which is prohibited by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
Keshen was also accused of withdrawing legal fees and disbursements from compensation awards and failing to interview or properly communicate with claimants throughout the entire process.
But to the dismay of the many survivors who had to retell their painful experiences in order to build the professional misconduct case against Keshen, his hearing was turned from a disciplinary hearing to an “Invitation to Attend” hearing at the last minute. This meant that Keshen would face no official punishment and there would be no official discipline record.
This was part of an agreement apparently consented to by all involved parties, which included Keshen dropping his “abuse of process” counter-motion against the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Adding insult to injury, the case was eventually dropped at the request of unnamed Anishinaabe Elders, who advised the legal regulator to “practice humility” and “listen better” to what Keshen had to say, according to APTN News.
Keshen has denied any wrongdoing. He has agreed to receive corrective advice from the law society panel and to participate in up to three healing circles with former clients at the legal body’s expense, if elders invited him.
“This system is not working. It’s not working for survivors. They are vulnerable,” Darlene told APTN News earlier this month, shortly after the hearings were stopped in late April.
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations communities in northern Ontario agreed. “I would say the law society was more interested in protecting the interests of Doug Keshen, rather than the survivors,” Fiddler told the Toronto Star.
Kept in The Dark
Machimity, the self-proclaimed Chief of Ojibway Nation of Saugeen #258 was among the leaders who alibied Keshen by providing character references for him. “But us Saugeen people, as signatories to the band, were never even told of this, we didn’t know nothing about it,” Darlene said. “It’s not right what’s being done without the people knowing and so many hurting people in Anishinaabe nation.”
Despite the Law Society’s decision to not discipline Keshen, Darlene Necan insists that Keshen and Chief Machimity have continuously decided the fate of the people without the least bit of consultation.
Unbeknownst to Saugeen members, for instance, Chief Machimity has successfully applied for cutting rights with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for the Treaty 3 Territory near the reserve. He is now working with Resolute Forestry (formerly Abitibi Consolidated), according to information Necan found out.
“When I had asked a year before, nobody told me nothing and they wouldn’t tell us about anything,” Darlene said.
“So (there are) a lot of things that we’re finding out really quickly right now as to how these people have been running the show and how they have been keeping us grassroots in the dark about everything.”
De-horning the chief
Darlene is also leading a group of clan mothers who are determined to “de-horn” the chief and pick new representation from among their families. They are pushing for a review to happen next December, but they are not holding their breath, Darlene said.
Many of the elder clan mothers who live on reserve are constantly intimidated by the Chief and his family, all of whom hold positions of power within the reserve’s governing structure.
“Our elders do get intimidated. The (chief’s son) pushes them around. He’s not in his right mind…He comes across as a bully,” Darlene said. “The sad thing is he can go ahead and do that under the cover of his father.”
Recently, John Machimity, the younger brother of chief Machimity went on the record about the problems of corruption and nepotism on the reserve.
Other difficulties include logistical ones, such as lack of travelling money and time to coordinate given how far everybody lives from each other.
Necan said her sister Virginia will therefore be in charge of setting up a website where people can donate funds towards their cause.
But they’re not waiting for charity. Instead, they march on, determined to find justice for their people.
“We’re doing this and we’re doing it with no money,” she said. “So we don’t know if we’re going to succeed or not, but we’re going to go give it our best.”
Both Doug Keshen and Edward Machimity were contacted for comment on this story. They did not return our calls.
Real People’s Media will continue to cover the walk and provide updates of Necan’s march for justice. If you would like to support Darlene’s walk financially, you can send money via e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the password “moosemeat”.