The View From Here
By Don Norman
It’s difficult not to applaud what the actions of Sagkeeng in evicting the residents and tearing down the houses suspected of housing drug operations – either dealers, manufacturers or users of methamphetamine.
We all understand what living in small communities is like. Secrets are hard to keep. The information on the houses they targeted reportedly came from former addicts. But in a small community, it’s not just the addicts who know where the drug houses are. Chief and council consulted with the Sagkeeng elders and all agreed on this course of action. There were nearly 60 people in that meeting. Each of those people consulted with all the people they knew. There is a high percentage chance that the information they had about these houses was accurate.
High percentage chance, but not proof. If these houses were in Pine Falls, what happened wouldn’t be possible. The community wouldn’t have the authority to evict the tenants. They have rights under the tenancy act. And the landlords would certainly not cooperate with authorities if it meant the demolition of their properties.
The Indian act states that Chief and Council have absolute authority over housing. That includes evictions and demolition. And besides, no one’s life or freedom was taken away. The occupants of one home moved to Winnipeg and the residents of the other remain in Sagkeeng. According to a story on the CBC website, the band reached out to those people to offer treatment options. And it turns out they found chemical residue consistent with the methamphetamine manufacturing process. So, it appears the assessment by community members was correct.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a big advocate of due process. I’m glad that people are protected from authoritarianism. And make no mistake, what happened on Sagkeeng was authoritarian. But sometimes good leaders need to be heavy-handed. And let’s be honest, this strategy is likely to be highly effective. It is true that another drug house could pop up and take the place of these two, but the risk of being shut down by a band council decree, will likely discourage it. It’s far more likely that the next drug house will be located off reserve, where tenants can enjoy the freedoms and assurances that the rental tenancy act provides them.
This was an extremely creative use of the tools the band has to deal with this problem. In a crisis situation, sometimes there is no easy solution following the traditional course of action and people need to think outside the box to find a solution. That is what the leadership of Sagkeeng did. The resources that the Canadian government provides – like the RCMP and the court system, are often powerless and uneffective in these situations. What Sagkeeng did was a heartening example of self reliance, defiance and sound leadership.