A resident of Six Nations, Ontario, the indigenous sanctuary where a US event company hosted a controversial lantern festival last weekend, says local land-use laws are different from other jurisdictions and must be respected.
“These organizers must understand that the lands of the indigenous peoples cannot be considered as a desert. [where] our territories and the safety of our people are irrelevant,” Rick Monture, a spokesman for the Mohawk tribe from the Turtle clan, told CBC Hamilton on Thursday.
The Festival of Lights took place at a farm in the Six Nations on August 20 despite community concerns about permits and security. Many ticket holders, some of whom came from over 100 kilometers, were returned by the Six Nations Police, while others were able to reach the property and turn on the lights.
Monture said that while some municipalities, such as Toronto, have banned sky lanterns, Six Nations is among the reserves that do not have the same laws, “creating a loophole” for event organizers.
“They don’t care if it causes any potential harm or threat to the community… I would put the full responsibility on the organizers of the event,” said Monture, who is also an assistant professor at McMaster University in the departments of English, culture. and indigenous studies.
Following requests from many ticket holders for refunds and a more detailed explanation, the festival organizer told CBC Hamilton this week that it relied on the venue to ensure last weekend’s event could take place.
“We did everything the venue told us to do,” said Drew Dunn, manager of US-based Viive Events.
An event held at the same facility in 2019 raised concerns among members of the Six Nations community before it took place again this year. The Six Nations police, who called the event “unauthorized”, blocked the area, and, according to one of the neighbors, it turned into “mayhem”.
“They said they would take care of it,” Dunn said of the property owner. “I’m the first to admit that things didn’t go the way we wanted.”
The CBC was unable to contact the owner of the property, and Dunn did not provide more information about the venue.
How was the night
Viive Events is the Utah-based company behind The Lights Festival, where people light a lantern and launch it into the sky.
The festivals take place in the US and Canada and used to cause concern. The Six Nations event, which will reportedly take place in the Toronto area on August 20, was hosted remotely, Dunn said.
The company held the event on the private property of Johnson Farm.
The First Nations Reserve is also home to the largest Caroline forest in southern Ontario.
Terry Monture lives near the farm and described the scene of Saturday night’s “mayhem” – darkened roads filled with cars, people trying to get to the place despite the police blocking it.
She said she spoke to at least one person who did not know the area was a nature reserve. She told them that they shouldn’t be there, and “the council of our group and our hereditary council condemned [the event].”
At least one official letter from the community, signed by Mark Hill, head of the elected council, was sent to the organizers ahead of the event stating that it was too dangerous to run the lanterns and that the organizers were not authorized to do so.
When asked if Viive Events had contacted the elected council or the Haudenosaunee Confederate Chiefs’ Council (HCCC)—the traditional hereditary leaders in the reserve—Dunn said he wasn’t sure and should double-check.
The HCCC declined to comment.
While there was an announcement from the organizers on the day of the event asking about 5,000 ticket holders not to launch the lanterns, some were floating in the sky on Saturday night.
Others have been turned down by Six Nations Police, who said this week they are investigating and may file charges.
Dunn said organizers were unaware that police were arriving at the event and turning people away. He said the company was unable to contact the police, which he said was the reason for their delay in making a public statement. On Sunday evening, the company posted a note online apologizing “for any misunderstandings and inconvenience.”
“We were confused as members … no one wanted to talk to me,” Dunn said, adding that he had not heard of any potential allegations from the police.
Six Nations Police did not respond to questions from CBC Hamilton.
Event company says it follows ‘correct protocols’
In a statement released Tuesday, Hill said the event represents “a callous disregard for the safety and well-being of the people of six nations.”
According to him, one family had problems traveling to a relative’s funeral due to traffic jams at the event.
“It is unacceptable that third parties think they can use our sovereignty to their advantage by hosting activities on the territory that bring little or no benefit to our community,” he wrote.
Rick Monture said he was particularly upset about one part of the organizers’ statement Sunday, which said they were happy for those who released their lanterns.
They were essentially saying, “Good for you people for disobeying the police and endangering the lives and well-being of people in the community,” Monture said, calling the company’s actions and reaction to the fiasco “extremely racist.”
When asked about the concerns of both the community and ticket holders, Dunn said that there had not been a single fire in the event’s five years.
The company is going through “all the right protocols,” he added.
“Not everyone likes this event, it’s like everything in life…it’s part of hosting a special event,” Dunn said.
“People don’t realize that thousands of people go there because they lost a loved one or they start working… that’s what we give people.”
He said the venue itself is private property and they can hold events whenever they want. He also said that the event went well when it was held there in 2019.
Terri Monture previously told the CBC that the event raised some concerns.
Organizers issue limited refunds
Dunn said Viive is working with customers to refund some of them for tickets, but not all.
“When a musician goes on tour and an artist loses their voice, they don’t give everyone their money back, they reschedule the show,” Dunn said.
The company has 52 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), many of which are about access to refunds and/or events that don’t happen.
“Consumers are turning to businesses for refunds, but without success,” the website says.
However, Dunn said, “We’re not here to steal money, we’re not here to be scammers, we’re here to give people an amazing experience.”
The festival’s FAQ section states that tickets are non-refundable unless the customer opts for a refund protection plan.
Another chance for a refund is if the event is canceled and a new date is not set within 90 days of the original event.
Dunn said Vive hoped to host another event in Ontario by October, but said it would not take place at Johnson’s farm.
Instead, it will be in the municipality that supports the event, he said.
“We’re working day and night to find another place to do it right so these people can feel what a great event it is.”