AKWESASNE MOHAWK TERRITORY — At the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne’s General Meeting on January 28th, the Mohawk Elders in attendance provided direction for a settlement offer from the Government of Canada to resolve issues involving their Old-Age Security Benefits. Mohawk Elders indicated their desire to conduct a consultation process that would entail sharing and thoroughly reviewing the terms of the proposed settlement with community members.

“Our Elders have spoken and provided us a clear direction on how best to handle the settlement offer,” stated MCA Grand Chief Mike Kanentekeron Mitchell. He noted, “This is a positive and logical step forward in settling our Elders’ grievances against Service Canada. Following several years of negotiations, our Mohawk Elders now need time to review, understand and decide whether to give their approval to the Agreement”.

On April 1, 2008, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) filed an Application for Judicial Review against Service Canada in Federal Court on behalf of the Mohawks of Akwesasne, which included 28 Mohawk Elders. The purpose of the Application was to address our community’s concerns over Service Canada’s investigation into claims that some Elders in Akwesasne were receiving Old Age Security Act benefits that they were not entitled to receive.

The Application also addresses the treatment Mohawk Elders received from Service Canada’s investigators, the repayment of benefits requested by Service Canada, and the effect of Service Canada’s actions upon the entire community of Akwesasne; including our Elders. To resolve these issues, the matter was discussed using the dispute resolution services offered by the Federal Court and overseen by Justice François Lemieux.

Some Mohawk Elders participated in the discussions on a regular basis and many attended an important meeting held at the St. Regis Recreation Center on October 24, 2008 with Justice Lemieux and Service Canada. It was an opportunity for Justice Lemieux to hear first-hand from Mohawk Elders about the problems they experienced with their Old-Age Security Benefits and the conduct of Service Canada investigators.

The development of a settlement agreement lasted for two years. The Mohawk Representatives in the process insisted on respect for the spirit of the Political Protocol signed between the Government of Canada and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne onJanuary 14, 2005 and Akwesasne Mohawk’s asserted right to cross the international border and to work in the United States.

The result was a settlement agreement that addresses the grievances of Mohawk Elders involving their OAS Benefits, which was reached on November 3, 2009 and approved on January 19, 2010 by the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. To MCA’s knowledge, the proposed settlement is one of the first successful conclusions of a Federal Court Dispute Resolution Process that dealt with complex First Nations issues.

According to the Grand Chief, “During our discussions with the Government of Canada, all of our Elders’ concerns were raised and addressed, including that many of our Elders and their spouses have worked in the United States and have a right to draw from that pension”.

“Because we felt the rights of our Elders and their spouses to draw a pension were put in jeopardy, the Mohawk Council took Canada to court,” stated the Grand Chief. He added, “The Federal Court asked Judge Lemieux to bring both parties together and mediate the issues. It took two years to thoroughly discuss the matter, but a conclusion is now within reach for our Elders. The settlement offer clearly shows that mediation does work.”

The settlement offer is now ready for ratification by the Mohawk community, with the participation of the 28 Mohawk Elders named in the Application for Judicial Review, if they wish. In advance of receiving their approval, an internal consultation process will take place to discuss the terms of the settlement offer with Mohawk Elders.

During the next few months, Elders will be able to learn more about the settlement terms through focus group discussions, special meetings and radio updates. If approved, it will be followed by a signing ceremony that will be held in Akwesasne and attended by Justice Lemieux.

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