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A little story about direct action against the third largest corporation in Canada

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Issue: 35 Section: Features Geography: West Topics: Indigenous

April 5, 2006

A little story about direct action against the third largest corporation in Canada

by Stewart Steinhauer

In May of 2003, Stewart Steinhauer informed the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) that he was stopping his payments on $150,000 of loans. By "playing the credit game just right" and "looking white," Steinhauer had acquired unsecured credit "unheard of on reserve in Canada." Why did Steinhauer decide to give up the line of credit he had gained through years of work?

Steinhauer writes that "After 'discovering' genocide in Canada, I searched for the villains, and my search led from my reserve, here at Saddle Lake, to the top of the international financial community." As the primary beneficiaries of genocide and the expropriation of indigenous land that continues to drive it, Canada's financial institutions had to be held accountable.

"Unable to ignore, or deny, the incredible suffering being visited upon my family, friends, and all of the rest of the peoples who make up indigenous nations within the boundaries of Canada," wrote Steinhauer, "I began to look for something that I could actually do to affect the situation."

In the exchange of letters that follows, Steinhauer lays out his case for withholding payment, and the CIBC responds to his demands. The conclusion to the saga? "The power guys," Steinhauer later wrote, "like to bluff." But as it turns out, the same power guys are quite aware of international law as it relates to them.

The letters, with Steinhauer's original introduction, can be found on Steinhauer's website, www.indigenius.biz.

Stewart Steinhauer Stone Sculpture
Onicikskwapowinihk, Saddle Lake Cree Nation
May 21st, 2003

John Hunkin, CEO CIBC
Toronto, Ontario

Dear John,

I regret to inform you that today I am asking my local accounts manager to freeze activity on all my CIBC accounts. This seems to me to be an extreme action, given the fact that I owe your corporation $150,000. It's also extreme given my personal history; you can look up the record of my performance while a client of the corporation that you manage, a record spanning the period 1980-2003.

Like my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, I have worked hard all my life, tried to make a meaningful contribution to society, done as little harm as possible, have no criminal record, and have tried, in my own small way, to build social bridges between Euro-Canadian society, and indigenous society.

However, like my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-greatgrandfather, I have lived my whole life under the colonial rule of the nation of Canada, and, in 2003, am still dominated by Canada's "Indian Act". This is a piece of colonial legislation coined during a period of open genocide, intended to oversee the "extinguishment" of my people, a piece of legislation which the U.N. calls "atrocious".

I live and work on reserve, and I see what goes on here every day, and in my opinion, the genocide continues. In the 1990's, Canada officially apologized to indigenous peoples for having committed a long list of atrocities, and commissioned a 58 million dollar study, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). The leading recommendation from the study was the immediate repeal of the Indian Act, and the beginning of a new relationship between Canada, and indigenous Peoples.

In 1998, the U.N. released the findings of a 25 year study, "Treaties, Agreements, and Constructive Arrangements Between Indigenous Peoples and States", affirming, for the first time, at the international level, that some minimum requirements of democratic process must be met in order for nations, for instance Canada, to be able to legally claim title to lands and resources, and sovereignty over such territories. In other words, fully informed indigenous nations must freely give consent to such, before it can become legally binding. No such action has yet occurred.

In 2000, Canada's leading indigenous legal scholar, John Borrows, published a paper on the Law Commission of Canada's B.C. Treaty Forum, titled "Questioning Canada's Title To Land: The Rule of Law, Aboriginal Peoples, and Colonialism". In this paper, which, by the way, has not been refuted, Borrows argues that the Indian Act, and Canada's entire relationship with indigenous peoples, violates the international rule of law, and both the 1867, and 1982 Canadian Constitutions.

In 2003, directly contrary to RCAP recommendations, the U.N. position, the virtually unanimous opinion of indigenous peoples trapped inside Canada, and the principled view of the rule of law, Canada is forcing legislative amendments to the Indian Act, (First Nations Governance Act, and up to eight other pieces of legislation), without consultation with, or consent of the group of people who will be affected by this legislation. A 10.3 million dollar smokescreen has been floated by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to persuade the Canadian public that this action is in the best interests of grassroots indigenous peoples.

However, as one little "grassroot", with 28 years experience of being self-employed, on-reserve, I see this action as Canada's ignoble attempt to ease itself out the backdoor of the Indian Act. This legislative train contains the mechanisms to bring to completion what John Chretien started to do in 1969, with his infamous "White Paper". He now seems determined to push through with it, and has instructed his General, Robert Nault to "wage war on Indians".

Canada could be a great nation. Canada could be an international leader. The question is how can democracy take root on stolen land, where genocide has taken place, and where shattered nations of peoples are held prisoner, in torturous conditions.

I feel that there is a huge crisis of democracy in the world today, directly attributable to the distorted view of democracy held by Ancient Greece, and passed on down to Western Civilization. A privileged, propertied group of males of a certain age and skin colour hold political power, and use this power to fulfill their desires, at the expense of the overwhelming majority of humanity.

My indigenous ancestors had real council democracy, an economy based on sharing, and a spiritual relationship with the universe for guidance. That the colonial forces out of Western Europe, now in the form of modern nation states, for instance Canada, still hold us prisoners in our own lands, in direct violation of their own laws, and the "rule of law", while preaching to the world about the values of democracy, is the height of hypocrisy.

I've studied Western Civilization, out of the sheer necessity to survive, and I've discovered that, indeed, there is a privileged group of propertied males who wield political power, and who have devised a malignantly clever system for "manufacturing consent" amongst populations in so-called "liberal democracies". This elite group also specializes in manufacturing war, and requires war as a means to drive their economic structure.

Now we wind around to the relationship between what I'm doing today, at the local level, and the "big picture". Watching the events on the global stage, I can't help but notice the similarities between, say, the recent events in Iraq, and the events in what is now western Canada, 127 years ago. Starvation and war, forced subjugation of a peoples, stripping of resource, colonial rule, all under the guise of bringing civilization to a "lesser" people. Who benefits? I can see only one group of people who can possibly benefit, and then only in the short term. This group is the people you work for, John, a group whom I'll call the investor class. I don't mean the mass of small or institutional investors, like the ones ripped off in the Enron scandal; I mean the 100 million dollar plus net worth investors, but really concentrating in the billionaire league. So I raise my concerns to you, using the only thing you are obligated to care about, money. By Canadian law, I owe your corporation about $150,000.00. I'm formally refusing to repay that debt, and I draw your attention to the relationship between the Indian Act and Canadian banking. That debt is fully unsecured.

Doug Reynor, at CIBC risk management in Toronto, pointed this out to my local accounts manager, Lorie Hartley, St.Paul, Alberta CIBC, in a tone and manner which can only be described as humiliating, both for Ms. Hartley, and for myself. To her credit, Lorie Hartley has chosen to see me as a human being, caught in an unjust situation, and has done exactly as all my previous account managers have done for the past 23 years; found ingenious ways to bend, not break, unjust regulations. I've legitimately qualified for all the credit that CIBC has extended to me, and, over the years, have probably paid more in interest to your corporation than the principle amount I currently owe.

If I was to assess what CIBC has "earned" out of the Canadian economy, and assess my legitimate share, as one of 600,000 "registered Indians" who still legally hold title, I'm sure it would be much more than $150,00.00. If I was to assess what Canada has drawn, illegally, from my land, at the cost of much death and suffering to my people, this sum would be staggering. This wealth is accumulating in the hands of the investor class, the group you are obligated to serve.

As the Noble-prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, says, CEO's have one obligation only, and that is to their shareholders. Shareholders, in turn, want one thing, only, and that is "profits". The "invisible hand" of the market place is supposed to magically turn the grossest form of personal greed into a greater good for all humanity. Somehow, market economists like Milton Friedman forget to mention the accompanying "invisible boot" that holds us "grassroots peoples" down by our necks. It's the heel of the conqueror.

I may be absolutely powerless in your world, the world of "real people", but I still have my one little voice. I'm asking you, in the most humble way possible, to bring my message to your "large" shareholders. Genocide is an unacceptable "market externality". Wholesale destruction of the planet's ecosystems is an unacceptable "market externality". If Margaret Thatcher's famous TINA acronym, about capitalism, (There Is No Alternative) is true, then it's not cause for rejoicing amongst wealthy elites, and their "hired guns"; they should be weeping with the rest of us because it spells suicide for the human species.

I, for one, do not for a moment believe that the current economic structure is the only possibility. We humans need to overcome our institutions of racism, gender oppression, class division, and "human-centricism", in order to survive on into the future. We already have everything we need to build "share" economies, true democracies, and other features of sustainable living systems. Everything is at hand, in abundance. We just need to shift our perspective. I invite you, John, to join myself, and many others, in reenvisioning a world which humans are part of, not dominant over.

I will be delighted to repay my debt to your corporation in full, when these structural issues briefly mentioned here are addressed in full, and to my complete satisfaction. Please help me stop the genocide of my people. I can no longer continue to live as a tactic collaborator in that genocide. Can you, and the shareholders you represent, continue to "profit" from our death and destruction?

In friendship,

Stewart Steinhauer

c.c.: Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Honourable Robert D. Nault, Future Prime Minister Paul Martin, David Dodge, Bank of Canada, Gordon M. Nixon, Royal Bank of Canada, W. Edmund Clark, Toronto Dominion Bank, Peter C. Godsoe, Scotia Bank, Tony Comper, Bank of Montreal, Globe and Mail, CBC, Amnesty International, Special Rapporteur For Indigenous Rights Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Permanent Forum On Indigenous Issues, U.N.


The CIBC responded:

cibc_letter_steinhauer.jpg


Steinhauer's second letter:

Stewart Steinhauer Stone Sculpture
Onicikskwapowinihk
June 9 th, 2003

Clarence Layne
Senior Manager
Director's Office, Customer Care

Dear Clarence,

The empathy which your corporation has for my plight ignores the fact that your corporation is a third party to an international agreement between Canada as the second party, and my nation, the Cree nation, as the first party. That agreement is known in Canada as Treaty 6, and both Canada, and the U.N. have recently acknowledged that this international agreement is valid, and currently binding on all parties.

Any contract which I have signed with your corporation hinges on your corporation, and the country of Canada, abiding by the spirit and intent of Treaty 6. As the country of Canada (second party) is seriously in breach of its' obligations under international treaty, all third parties are automatically so. Unfortunately for your corporation, and your shareholders, you do not have legal title to any of the Canadian-based assets which you claim to have title to. I should think this would be of real concern to your major shareholders.

Perhaps inside your "world" of "rational wealth maximizers", you see my actions as an attempt to "maximize" my own profits; I realize that what I am motivated by is completely obscure to you, and I'm not trying to blame you, or anybody else, for this state of affairs. It is a truly unfortunate situation which has been allowed to arise. The question is: Who will have the courage to make the changes needed to "rationalize" human existence, here on our beautiful Mother Earth?

Although I am a Cree man, that doesn't make me "child-like in perpetuity". At the time of Treaty 6 signing, my ancestors recognized the absolutely essential need for learning "the cunning of the white man". We had 100 years of residential school.....imagine having your children forcibly removed from your home by the RCMP, placed in institutions where they were subjected to every possible form of abuse, where annual mortality rates ranged from 30% to 60 %, and, when they were returned to you at age 16, they were permanently traumatized, spoke a foreign language which you didn't understand, and they hated you, and everything about your way of life. 100 years, Clarence. When I say Canada is in breach of Treaty 6, I mean genocide. Genocide is not a "slight" breach, and I think your major shareholders should be very concerned about that, too.

I'm going to stop beating around the bush, now, and get to my point. You can jail me, you can kill me; if it was good enough for Big Bear, it's good enough for me. Canada is not a democracy. Canada is a plutocracy run by people like the major shareholders in your corporation. They also run the U.S., U.K., and all other so-called liberal democracies. I realize that you aren't allowed to agree with me, but I also realize that you know I'm telling the truth.

Yes, my concerns are political, and that's why I am trying to bring them to the attention of the real rulers of the world. Ask John Hunkin to tell his bosses that they are endangering their own future existence by their current actions. It's not too late. My people have survived 510 years of genocide, and we can't be killed off. In signing Treaty 6, my ancestors agreed to share the richness of our lands with your ancestors, the Europeans. In spite of all that your nation has done to us, we still agree to share. We await your decision to join us on the next evolutionary level.

In friendship,

Stewart Steinhauer

c.c. Paul Martin, future Prime Minister of Canada, David Dodge, Governor of Bank of Canada, Gordon M. Nixon, RBC, W. Edmund Clark, TD, Peter C. Godsoe, Scotia Bank, Tony Comper, BMO, Rudolpho Stavenhagan, Special Rapporteur to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the U.N.


The CIBC responded:

Dear Mr. Steinhauer,

I refer to your email to Clarence Layne August 21, 2003 regarding collection of your CIBC debt. I have been asked to respond in his absence.

CIBC has contacted the bailiff service and the collection agency that is acting on CIBC's behalf, to ensure that they are aware of Section 89 of the Federal Indian Act and to notify them that, in your case, your loan does not fall within the parameters of the act. Therefore, CIBC has requested that they close their file and CIBC's National Recovery Area will send your file to lawyers, to pursue legally.

Mr. Steinhauer, CIBC does not accept your offer to repay the principal of your debt only upon the establishment of a Cree Business Development Bank but will continue to pursue the debts owed to it, as allowed by law.

Thank you for making us aware of your concerns.

Yours truly,

Joanne MacLeod
Senior Manager, Director's Office, Customer Care


Steinhauer's account of what happened next:

Then the bailiff called. I warned him over the phone that he had no legal right to enter my reserve. A week later he drove into my yard, accompanied by a tow truck. I wrote up this report immediately after he left:

Report on attempted seizure of personal property, August 22, 2003

At about 6:00 P.M., a small grey car approached my home, somewhat hesitantly, stopped, backed up, drove forward, and finally pulled up behind my pick-up truck. A man, who subsequently introduced himself as Dick White, from Serv-It Bailiff Services Inc., headquartered at 9844-106 St. Edmonton, AB T5K 1B8, was writing on a piece of paper as I approached him.

As we talked, he walked to my pickup, and placed the paper under the windshield wiper on the driver's side. I began our discussion by informing him that he was trespassing, and could be charged; he seemed nonchalant about my statement, and described what he was about to do. Then a tow truck pulled up along side my pickup, awaiting Dick's orders.

A long discussion followed during which I made my position as clear as possible; finally Dick White phoned his superior at head office, and after a long conversation with him, asked me to talk to his boss. The phone man introduced himself as Martin, and we engaged in a long discussion of my purposes for refusing to make current payments. I referenced genocide, and gave examples of what sort of conditions we face, here on reserve.

After my long phone conversation with Martin, Dick sent the tow truck driver away; I reiterated the illegality of his presence on my reserve several times. He chose to ignore my comments about trespass, but eventually began to ask for help with formulating a response to give to CIBC. I asked him to write up a request to meet with the regional director general of Indian Affairs, whoever the bank wanted to send, and my legal counsel. He refused to write that request down, but instead tried to get me to name a time of repayment. I stated several times that I intend to repay in full whatever I owe CIBC, when I am satisfied with Canada's actions in relation to Indigenous peoples, specifically the immediate repeal of the Indian Act, and the honouring of Treaty Six, including back payments, royalties, up-dated annuities, and whatever may be necessary to reverse the genocide.

At about 7:00 P.M., Dick White left my residence, to return to the city. He seemed tired. He did at one point have a short private conversation with the tow truck driver, and I did feel that they where planning something for later. Later when? At one point, early in the confrontation, I dialed 911, and reported a trespass; the operator asked if I felt that my life was threatened, and when I said "No" she asked me to phone the RCMP complaint line for non-life threatening events. I was searching for the local RCMP number when Dick invited me to talk to his boss.

I'm not sure what caused them to change their minds about repossessing the truck right there and then. In part, it must be because I look white, in part it must be that, even though they aren't sure of my position, they may be concerned, for themselves, that I'm right.

The whole event felt very confrontational, although Dick's manner was "professional" at all times.

End of report. A week later, I visited the local CIBC (St. Paul), on a separate matter, and, in conversation with the local bank manager, heard confirmation that the bank does indeed, know all about how Canadian law relates to Indian reserve lands. Bluff. I'm not interested in stealing money from the CIBC, I'm interested in stopping Corporate Canada from "making a killing" off of indigenous lands, and indigenous resources.

And that's my little story.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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