Phil Monture was summoned to a hotel in the city of Brantford, Ont. in early July and told his services were no longer required after 27 years as the director of the Six Nations Land Claim Research office.
He was dismissed without cause on behalf of Chief Roberta Jamieson and her council by the band's director of operations, Dr. Paulette Trembley. Band lawyer Dan Shields was also present.
Monture was long seen as a prime asset by a succession of chiefs and councils in Canada's most populous First Nation community. He was also active at the national level as a member of the Assembly of First Nations' lands and trusts technical team. He was the architect of Six Nations' ground-breaking court action, a demand for an accounting from the government of Canada for the loss of nearly one million acres of land, which Six Nations believes it can prove was wrongfully alienated from its possession.
When the band launched the lawsuit in 1994 and the government cut off its research funding, Monture laid himself off and worked without pay in order to keep his staff on the job. Later he took out a $35,000 mortgage to make payroll.
The land research staff documented the entire history of every plot of land within the Haldimand tract, a million-acre homeland deeded to the Six Nations in exchange for their loyalty to the British Crown during the American revolution. The present-day reserve is just over 40,000 acres. In many cases, the staff invented their own computer software to make their research job easier. Many members of his staff led the outcry in the two local weekly newspapers when news of Monture's termination was made public. Other department directors complained publicly about the move.
Many in the community believe Monture is the personification of the lawsuit and success in court is unlikely without his participation, although Jamieson and lawyer Ben Jetten appeared at a public meeting to reassure the community members that the lawsuit would continue.
Many don't buy it. A petition calling for the removal of Chief Jamieson is being circulated.
Steve Bomberry, a local businessman, helped set up the committee that's organizing the recall petition.
He said just over 900 signatures are needed and slightly more than 500 have been collected so far. The community's election code allows for impeachment of an elected chief or councillor if a majority of the people who voted in the last election sign a petition for removal.
"We've just got volunteers right now so it's going pretty slow but every week a new petition comes in," he said. "Half the signatures I've got were people who voted for her."
Bomberry said many people in the community are dissatisfied with their new chief even though she's only been in office for nine months.
Under the previous council, the community was rocked by scandal when Grand River Mills, an economic development project, went bad and lost a significant amount of money. Since Monture was relied upon heavily by the council, he was involved in some of the planning for the project and was criticized by some Six Nations members.
The Ontario Provincial Police conducted a forensic audit at the request of community members and laid charges against one non-band member. When Monture was fired without cause, some observers suspected he was being let go because some irregularities had been uncovered. Bomberry's convinced that's not the case.
"She promised everybody on Aug. 12 that she's got all the dope on Phil, what he done wrong. Nothing. There is nothing. If there was anything the OPP would have found it a long time ago, last year," Bomberry said.
Bomberry, who served one term on Six Nations council in the mid-1990s, said his chief has shot herself in the foot with this move. Since being elected chief, Jamieson has become quite visible on the national First Nations political stage by arguing strongly against the First Nations governance act. A part of that act contains amendments to the Indian ct that aim to improve the quality of the First Nation public service by protecting band employees from being fired at the whim of chief and council.
"Her and her government right now is a classic case study of why changes need to be made to the Indian Act," he said.
Monture said he had to be careful about what he said since his lawyers are attempting to negotiate a financial settlement from council, but he agreed to an interview when contacted in mid-August.
"I asked what I did wrong. What's the reason? They said it was without cause," he said.
Asked if he expected there might be a reason disclosed in the future, Monture said he didn't know.
"I asked what I did wrong. If there was anything I could discuss with them," he said. "I did three presentations with the new council. They said fantastic. Even some of my critics from the Grand River Mills stuff came out and said 'Phil, I didn't realize this.'"
Attempts to reach Chief Jamieson were not successful.