The Tobacco Tycoon

Ken Hill, the millionaire industrialist who built his fortune selling cigarettes on the Six Nations reserve, is in the fight of his life

Ken Hill is the most successful man you’ve never heard of. He’s also mounting one of the most audacious fights for Indigenous sovereignty since the founding of this country. Hill isn’t crusading on Parliament Hill or creating hashtags on social media. His battleground is the courtroom.

Hill is Mohawk, and he grew up with 11 sisters and brothers in a small house in Six Nations, Canada’s most populous reserve, southwest of Hamilton. He has the build of a prizefighter, as big as a heavyweight but with a flyweight’s voice—assured but gentle, unaffected, dropping his g’s. His father worked steel. His mother gave him the advice a fighter needs: don’t think you’re the toughest man around, because there’s always someone tougher. He spent his early adulthood in reserve politics. In 1985, he won a by-election, becoming one of 12 councillors who, along with the elected chief, govern the nation.

Then he went into tobacco. The American billionaire Warren Buffett once said, “I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive.” Tobacco is a $10-billion-a-year industry in Canada. It only costs around 24 cents to make a pack of 20 cigarettes, and that same pack sells for 50 times that amount. But that difference isn’t all profit. Cigarettes are subject to high taxes and duties as part of a government effort to reduce consumption—unless you’re Indigenous. Under Section 87 of the Indian Act, goods made and sold on reserves, including cigarettes, are exempt from taxation. This exemption keeps costs dramatically lower than the competition’s, giving those who sell Indigenous cigarettes a huge financial advantage over every other tobacco company on earth—a business model more disruptive than Uber is to taxis. Indigenous North Americans introduced tobacco to the world, and tobacco is now a way for them to get rich off a society that tried to annihilate them.

In 1993, Hill partnered with Jerry Montour, a fellow Mohawk from the tiny Wahta reserve, to form Grand River Enterprises. Their backing in the Indigenous community was unequivocal and broad, with support from the office of a war chief of the Mohawk Nation, the Six Nations Band Council and the Assembly of First Nations. The company operated as a partnership between Hill, Montour and eight other Indigenous men. They opened a plant in Six Nations, manufacturing and selling their Sago-brand cigarettes on-reserve.

Thousands of people rely on Ken Hill’s company, Grand River Enterprises, for their livelihoods, including plant workers, farmers, and smoke shop owners and operators

GRE’s principals believed that none of them would be forced to pay excise tax and duties under the Indian Act. The minister of national revenue, however, disagreed, and the first of Hill’s many tussles with colonial authority began. In a series of intractable negotiations, the minister said that in order to legally buy raw tobacco from the provincial body that sold it, Hill and the other partners would need to procure a manufacturing licence under the Excise Act and, by extension, pay excise duty and taxes. The partners of GRE, however, refused, considering it a violation of their rights under the Indian Act. Grand River Enterprises was on sovereign First Nations land, and they would not pay excise taxes to their colonizer. Nearby tobacco farmers and local politicians stood with Hill and his partners. As the contentious negotiations ground on, GRE continued to operate without a licence, reportedly purchasing its tobacco from North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The Canadian government wouldn’t relent. In November 1996, the RCMP laid four charges of conspiracy and four indictable offences against Hill and his partners. They all faced the possibility of prison time. The Assembly of First Nations was outraged. None of this belonged in Canadian courts, they countered.

Ultimately, GRE’s partners decided they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—risk prison. Hill conceded defeat. GRE agreed to incorporate and pay excise taxes, and in 1997 it received its licence. Hill’s charges were withdrawn, and he’d capitulated to the demands of a colonial power, but this was only the opening salvo in a contest between the two that would last decades. The government would try to circumscribe Hill’s business, his traditional land and even his love life—and Hill would fight back at every turn.

Hill’s forebears nearly lost everything betting on this country’s government. Their ancestral homeland included what would become upstate New York, where they’d made wampum belts delineating their agreements with the first European settlers. In 1777, the legendary War Chief Joseph Brant and most of his Haudenosaunee Six Nations fought on the side of the British against George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. After Washington’s victory, they lost their homeland. As recompense, in 1784, King George III granted the Six Nations a tract of land along southwestern Ontario’s Grand River extending 10 kilometres in each direction, from north of Orangeville through Kitchener, south and east to where the river meets Lake Erie.

A century and a half later, Six Nations’ Chief Deskaheh shamed the Canadian government in front of the entire world when he tried to lobby the League of Nations to recognize Six Nations as an annexed country unto itself, adrift in a hostile sea of settlers. In retaliation, the RCMP staged what was effectively a coup (although some progressives in the community had asked for Canada’s intervention). The Mounties invaded the reserve, creating an elected band council answerable to Ottawa on which Hill would later serve, distinct from the traditional Haudenosaunee council. The police confiscated many of the Six Nations’ wampum, their sacred documentation of treaties with the West, later destroying them. Canada and its king, for whom they’d bled and died, had betrayed them, all but eradicating their way of life, their institutional and cultural continuity. Any goodwill between Six Nations and Canada’s institutions went up in smoke.

Hill’s Six Nations house is reportedly 22,000 square feet, with two pools and a patch of concrete that he has, on occasion, used as a helipad

Today, circumscribed and shrunken to one-twentieth of its original size, Six Nations is Canada’s largest reserve, with 27,000 members, 12,000 of whom live on-reserve. There’s no border where the western edge of the town of Caledonia meets another country; there isn’t even a sign to indicate you’re in Six Nations. Turning onto the country road where Hill lives, you wouldn’t know at first that it’s a rich man’s street. There’s the Sit-N-Bull gas station and variety store. There’s an old RV with a porta-potty outside. On one lawn, there’s a fallen tree fort, and on another, there’s a big dog on a chain. Then there’s Hill’s house, which looks almost alien in its opulence—a mansion that’s reportedly 22,000 square feet, and a garage the size of an airplane hangar. There’s a huge metal gate out front embossed with KR, the initials of Hill’s first and middle names. And just a little way down the road is Grand River Enterprises, a massive compound that includes five A-frame factory buildings. Its only distinguishing mark is the giant mural of a Mohawk man in a headdress, who bears a striking resemblance to Hill.

In 1997, when Hill received his licence, GRE began selling its cigarettes in smoke shops on reserves across Canada. Its brands, like Sago and Putter’s, are sealed with the peach-coloured tear tape that indicates they are Indigenous cigarettes, exempt from taxes. They sell for about $30 a carton, each of which contains 200 cigarettes. The average price for the same number of cigarettes in the rest of Canada is roughly four times that. You can even buy plastic bags filled with 200 no-name GRE cigarettes for eight bucks.

Hill sells his cigarettes at smoke shops on reserves across Canada, as well as in the U.S., the Caribbean and Germany

By 2002, GRE was a staggering success and a financial engine in the community. It reportedly had annual sales of $86 million, and that year Hill received a $1.9-million bonus. By 2005, according to an investigation by the Hamilton Spectator, GRE’s sales were north of $300 million. Only 25 per cent of its products were sold in Canada: it was selling some six million cigarettes every day in America alone, more than 2.2 billion per year. The company moved to a new Six Nations factory 25 times the size of the original. By the end of its first decade, it had sold $1 billion worth of tobacco.

GRE is now the largest private employer in Six Nations, with thousands of people relying on it for their livelihoods, from factory workers to farmers to store owners. The company exports to the United States through two distributors and also sells its cigarettes in the Caribbean. In 2006, GRE secured a $70-million contract to supply tobacco products to the German army, opening a new factory near Berlin. Grand River Enterprises is now the single largest exporter of tobacco in the country, and Hill himself is a very, very rich man.

And he lives like it. Hill refused to be interviewed for this story, but multiple court documents describe his opulent lifestyle. His home in Six Nations reportedly has two pools and a patch of concrete that he has, on occasion, used as a helipad. It has a colossal garage equipped with a 40-foot full-service bar and at least one stripper pole, plus an enormous collection of cars and motorcycles that, over time, has included a Lamborghini, a stretch Hummer, two Range Rovers, two Bentleys, two convertible McLarens, at least two Ferraris, three Porsches and four Rolls-Royces. He has property in Turkey Point and travels regularly to L.A., Atlanta, Miami and the Bahamas.

Cigarettes aren’t Hill’s only source of income. He reportedly owns or has a stake in as many as 40 businesses, including a snack bar, a pizza and wings joint, a dollar store, sports teams, gas stations, restaurants, a construction company, a flying school, a spa, a motorsports racetrack, an insurance brokerage, an investment company, a golf course, a gym and a newspaper. In 2003, his spring water company, Wahta Springs, won a contract to supply bottled water to concert-goers at Toronto’s SARS-Stock, a fundraiser headlined by the Rolling Stones. Another of Hill’s businesses was SixNet, operators of a computer server system that hosted gaming sites including Absolute Poker, one of the Internet’s biggest online gambling forums. To give back, he also co-founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation, a charitable organization that provides grants to the Indigenous community in the fields of arts, culture, education, sports and health.

Hill has stakes in some 40 businesses in Six Nations, including Village Pizza and Sit-N-Bull Gas and Variety

Audrey Hill (no relation) is a retired social worker from the Children’s Aid Society and a Mohawk from the Turtle Clan who’s spent most of her life in Six Nations. She says Ken Hill’s success is a mixed blessing on the reserve. “On the one hand, his plant employs a lot of our people, and he has brought economic development to our community,” she says. “On the other, he operates with a white man’s licence, and he’s taxed, so he’s brought taxes to the reserve. Nobody likes that. The tax benefits don’t come back to us.”

Celebrities seem to love him—he’s partied with Tommy Lee, Mike Tyson and Rod Stewart. He’s also friendly with the guys from Trailer Park Boys and visited the show’s set the day Snoop Dogg filmed his cameo. According to someone who was there that day, Hill schmoozed his way through the set, asking what crew members did—“Uh, I’m a gaffer”—and tipping them in cash. He rented a trailer across the street from the set so he could watch the filming from its living room. The Trailer Park Boys later appeared with Hill and Webster star Emmanuel Lewis at a customer appreciation event in Six Nations, signing autographs in character and posting photos to Instagram, posed behind the wheels of luxury cars parked row on row.

In 2009, Hill built his own recording studio, which he called Jukasa, down the street from his house, where Mobb Deep and Alexisonfire would record on one of Abbey Road’s old soundboards, and where Hill’s son Josh, an occasional rapper, would partner with Snoop in 2013 to record “Blowed,” Josh’s one and only single under his stage name, “Chief.” The video for “Blowed” opens with Josh and Snoop smoking weed and dancing with a group of women known as “Pocahotties,” dressed in bikinis, feathered headbands and headdresses. At one point Josh rhymes, Me, I’m Native American royalty / So she feel obligated to spoil me / And that’s kush in my peace pipe / Shorty lucky ’cause I’m not the cheap type.

Getting rich allowed Hill to get even with the Canadian government. In 2008, he and GRE filed suit against the Crown for $3 billion. Since GRE was forced to incorporate in 2006, it had paid $400 million in Canadian excise taxes and duties. With a huge war chest to finance litigation, GRE’s lawyers argued that taxing the company was a violation of the Indian Act, but also alleged that the Canadian government had been derelict in its duty to fight GRE’s competitors: criminal gangs who were peddling contraband tobacco on Six Nations soil. The suit was enormous, wending its slow way through the system. (According to Hill’s representatives, the matter is no longer before the courts.)

 


By the end of its first decade, Grand River Enterprises had sold a billion dollars worth of tobacco

 

Hill’s controversies extended across the border. GRE refused to sign the landmark Master Settlement Agreement, or MSA, an American accord that required large tobacco companies to pay a projected $206 billion for health costs inflicted by their industry over 25 years. Yet, in 2011, GRE was forced to pay the state of Ohio close to $1 million under the MSA. A few years later, California’s attorney general charged that in a three-year period, GRE had failed to pay $13 million owed to the state, where it was selling hundreds of millions of cigarettes per year without adhering to the MSA. And in 2013, the New York attorney general sued GRE for allegedly violating federal contraband law through a business model engineered to avoid sales and excise taxes. The New York and California cases are still before the courts.

But Hill is a born scrapper. He launched countersuit after countersuit against the colonial powers whose hands, he contended, were unduly in his pockets. In 2004, Hill and GRE sued the American government for $310 million (U.S.) through NAFTA’s Chapter 11 arbitration tribunal because several states forced GRE to comply with the MSA. Scheduling conflicts dragged out the NAFTA proceedings, and in 2011 the tribunal decided it didn’t have jurisdiction over GRE and dismissed the suit.

Hill is in a position unlike that of any other Indigenous activist: he has the financial resources to fund questions of Indigenous sovereignty through the courts, regardless of costs. In an op-ed published by the Brantford Expositor, he wrote: “In this global age, so full of conflict…why are so many people afraid to open their minds to the fact that [Six Nations], perhaps one of the smallest nations, has its own government and its own citizens who follow a Great Law of Peace? Why do we have to be considered Canadian to be considered deserving of respect or recognized for our contributions to comforts and benefits that you enjoy as our welcome guests and our neighbours?”

In 2008, Hill met a woman who would spark his greatest government battle yet. At the time, Brittany Beaver was 21 and had just left her job as a waitress at a Shoeless Joe’s in Cambridge. She’d grown up in Six Nations, Tuscarora on her father’s side. Unemployed and hat in hand, she got in touch with an old classmate from high school who she thought might be able to help—Josh Hill, Ken Hill’s eldest son, the one who’d go on to rap with Snoop. She asked if his dad was hiring.

Brittany Beaver is suing Ken Hill for child support commensurate with his income. She believes he is a billionaire

A week later she was face-to-face with Ken Hill, 50 at the time, at Six Nations’ Village Café, which he owns. He explained his business to her and looked her over. She was a statuesque brunette with long hair, a narrow face and a sprightly, ebullient voice. He took her for a ride in his car to tour some of his businesses. “Do you have a passport?” Hill asked. She didn’t. “Get one,” he said.

He hired her as one of his promotions girls. She’d never had a passport, never been on a plane. Suddenly, she was jetting off to Las Vegas with Hill, who surprised her at the airport brandishing two first-class tickets for just the two of them. In Vegas, they slept together for the first time. On a trip to the Bahamas, she claims, he took her shopping at Gucci and Versace. He gave her an $8,000 Breitling watch and a five-carat diamond ring, a solitaire worth about $70,000, as well as some walking-around cash. For Christmas, Beaver says Hill bought her an Audi S5 and $40,000 worth of jewellery. He called her Stinky; she called him Tubby. By January, she was pregnant.

Beaver gave birth to their son in August 2009, and Hill bought her a $283,000 house in Waterloo. They were a couple, as far as she was concerned, though they have conflicting accounts of how much time they were spending together and what, precisely, it meant to share a bed. Beaver says they “slept in the same bed,” “spent nights together” and “conducted ourselves as a couple.” Hill later described their relationship, in altogether less romantic terms, as “fundamentally sexual…with no cohabitation.” He was liberal with his cash. In 2010, Hill paid for Beaver and their son to take trips to Costa Rica, Florida, Hawaii and the Bahamas. Sometimes he would go with them, and other times he’d send them off alone. Beaver says he paid off her mother’s $100,000 mortgage. She also says he bought her a Turkey Point cottage for $380,000, although he kept Beaver’s name off the title and later said it was never meant to be hers.

If he was generous with his gifts, he was stingy with anything like sustained affection for his newborn son. For the first 18 months, Hill only saw the baby once every three to six months, and only for a few hours at a time. On the boy’s first birthday, Beaver drove him to Hill’s house in Six Nations, only to be left in the driveway when Hill texted to say he was unavailable.

But by 2013, things were starting to look up for the little family. That July, Hill seemed to have turned a romantic corner with Beaver. He texted her: “Let’s get married you,,,..i love ya Britt <3.” It was four in the morning, mind you, but he texted again: “Baby really, let’s do it!!” He added: “I’m ready.” So by the time they arrived in the Bahamas in November, Beaver was optimistic. They were there for a GRE promotion, and it was also Beaver’s birthday, which she says they celebrated with a $75,000 dinner. They stayed, as they always did, in the Bridge Suite at Atlantis, sometimes called the Michael Jackson suite after one of its more famous guests, which rents for $25,000 per night with a four-night minimum. Ken took Beaver on a $12,000 shopping spree at Versace and put it all on his Black Amex.

One afternoon, during a fishing trip on Hill’s yacht, the 76-foot Jukasa III, Beaver and two friends were talking to the ship’s captain. She says Hill emerged and told her to stop dancing. She wasn’t dancing, she said with a nervous laugh. She was just talking. Then, according to Beaver, Hill grabbed her around the neck and put her in a chokehold, his arm flexed against her throat. Hill, through his lawyer, later denied that this had happened at all. She booked a flight back home for herself and their son, left the Michael Jackson suite, and decided to end her romantic relationship with Hill.

She says Hill never apologized about what she claims happened on the yacht, but the month after the disastrous Bahamas trip, he took her for a shopping spree on Bloor Street’s Mink Mile, spending between $70,000 and $80,000 at Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Holt Renfrew. It doubled as a chance for Hill to see his son. He made overtures of reconciling, but she wanted nothing more to do with him romantically. He bought Beaver a new house in Waterloo for $895,000, with her name alone on the title, though she says Hill made her sign something that will transfer the home to their son when he turns 18. According to court documents from Beaver, Hill was giving her $10,000 per month for her and their son, bags of cash filled with what she describes as “old 20s.”

In January 2014, Beaver retained Harold Niman, one of the city’s top divorce lawyers, to negotiate with Hill on child and spousal support and come to an agreement as quickly and amicably as possible. She began a relationship with a guy named Alex who made $45,000 a year. They had a son together. Beaver was a full-time mother to her children and didn’t work outside the home. She also says that, in February, the president of Grand River Enterprises, Jerry Montour, called her and told her that suing Hill would be “fruitless because all of Kenny’s assets were hidden and/or on a reserve.” (Montour didn’t reply to interview requests for this story.) She’d later swear in court, with the accompanying texts as evidence, that Hill himself wrote her, “Bring it on dumb dumb….I don’t have an income to file income tax, haven’t for 30 years! Ha, bring it on!”

Hill tells a very different story about his time with Beaver. He says their relationship was an affair of no real permanence. They were never exclusive, according to Hill. He denies ever assaulting her or behaving in a controlling, abusive or demanding way. He says they never lived together, and that theirs wasn’t the sort of relationship where he had to tell her where he was. Sure, they’d go on trips together, but it was all more casual than Beaver was making it out to be. He told the court they’d broken up because “their sexual relationship had run its course.”

He says that he paid Beaver $10,000 per month, every month, for four years, and that he did it to “quell, to the extent possible, [her] persistent demands for money.” She was relentless, he claims, trying to fleece him “to the point of harassment.” He’d pay her so that she’d back off. He denies ever showing any intention of treating their son as a member of his family, and says he wasn’t even sure, at first, if he was the father—at one point, he asked for a DNA test. And he says that although he has a 12.5 per cent stake in GRE and lives a privileged lifestyle, he’s nowhere near as rich as Beaver says he is.

Hill wasn’t pleased that a colonial court would get to determine who was telling the truth. The way he saw things, the Canadian government had come for his land and his wallet, and now it wanted to arbitrate his personal life. In December 2015, after almost two years of expensive, fruitless legal correspondence, Beaver filed a lawsuit against Hill. You may ask yourself: why would Brittany Beaver sue Kenneth Hill? He had supplied her with two homes, luxury cars and a huge-by-any-standard monthly cash allowance. He paid her dental bills, her property taxes, her utilities. You could argue that Hill wasn’t just being fair but generous. Hill would say in one of his court filings that he supports his five other children and their mothers without the need for intervention from the court. Why risk all that support and sue? Because Beaver believes that Hill is worth billions—that his fortune is so vast that the upper-class lifestyle he afforded her looks like penury in its shadow—and she’s convinced that the courts will agree with her. “I keep tellin you,” Hill texted Beaver, according to her filings, “bring on the court, maybe u’ll finally see u dumb c…nothin’ in my name bring it on!!!”

Hill’s car collection is epic: his colossal garage is equipped with a 40-foot-long full-service bar and at least one stripper pole

When Hill finally made his financial disclosure, it listed a single income source: his 2015 T4 from Grand River Enterprises, which paid him $2,109,504. He denied her allegation that he’s a billionaire, and she had no way to prove it: under the Indian Act, Hill isn’t required to file tax returns for income made working on the reserve. His disclosure lists no bonuses. The total value of his properties in Six Nations is expressed simply as “nominal,” with a subtotal of $0.00. He names his “car collection,” but says its value is “to be determined, as required.” “I own two suits and wear Costco jeans on a daily basis,” he says. The document lists no other possessions, investments, bank accounts, savings plans or life insurance. Under business interests, the document says Hill holds stakes in various on-reserve concerns, which aren’t freely transferable due to restrictions under the Indian Act, as well as a one-eighth interest in Grand River Enterprises, which can’t be freely sold and whose shares aren’t freely transferable, since it’s a licensed on-reserve tobacco company. Business interest subtotal: $0.00.

His filing was part of a grander change of tack. To fight Beaver and the government, he fought the fundamental authority of Canadian law. He filed a Notice of Constitutional Question challenging the jurisdiction of the court itself and arguing that the Family Law Act, the legislation the court interprets, shouldn’t apply to him at all. Instead, he argued, he had a right to have his dispute resolved in Six Nations—where he is a former elected band councillor, the largest private employer, the most prominent citizen and likely the richest person. In many ways, Hill’s constitutional challenge is a 21st-century update of the Two-Row Wampum, which held that our two civilizations might travel the same living river but in separate vessels—on parallel courses that don’t interfere with each other. “Mr. Hill considers himself to be governed by Haudenosaunee law and the authority of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council of Chiefs,” his legal team wrote. “The right to self-government…has never been surrendered nor extinguished by constitutional or treaty instrument.” His representatives told Toronto Life that “Mr. Hill is not seeking to change anything. It was the government of Canada that changed his way of life and the dispute-settlement [processes] that were in effect before settlement started…Fundamentally, he is asking for a reset.”

Hill argued through his lawyers that Indigenous methods for resolving family disputes existed long before what he calls “colonial legal systems,” and that the people of Six Nations had their own way for families to reconcile their aggrievements. “To win his constitutional challenge, Hill would have to prove in court that there’s a functioning body that can hear and adjudicate his dispute,” says Hadley Friedland, a scholar of Indigenous and family law at the University of Alberta who’s been following the case. “He would also have to link any current Indigenous laws to a pre-contact institution or practice.”

But after the RCMP raids in 1924, would it be any wonder if the bodies that mediated family disputes had also been decimated? And even if Hill could prove that there was a functioning body, what enforcement power would it have? Could it garnish the wages of delinquent parents? Could it be impartial to a man as prominent and economically vital as Hill? And if the statute was overturned for Indigenous families, would that void all existing arrangements under the statute—everything from child support to visitation privileges to custody orders—or at least leave them all vulnerable to appeals? Martha McCarthy, one of Beaver’s lawyers, worries that if Hill’s claim succeeds, all future litigants who seek family justice and live on-reserve would be required to pursue those claims in an as-yet-unknown system. “The thing that’s so problematic,” she says, “is he’s suggesting that if your heritage is different, you shouldn’t have access to the machinery of family justice that everyone else has.”

 


“When you give a team of very talented and expensive lawyers a blank cheque to dredge up every conceivable argument and motion you can think of, this is what happens”

 

In 2017, a motions judge in the Superior Court dismissed Hill’s constitutional claim in a document that ran over 40,000 words. It awarded Beaver $33,000 per month in child support on an interim basis, as was due to her under the Family Law Act. Hill appealed, and in 2018 the Court of Appeal reversed the Superior Court’s decision in part—it allowed Beaver’s child support to continue, while Hill’s constitutional question could also go forward. There’s no doubt that Hill has now managed to escalate his dispute with Beaver to strike at the very heart of the country’s jurisprudence. Niman has said he believes that one side or the other will eventually appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Court of Appeals judge wrote: “This case has developed into a procedural morass, to which both sides have contributed. A phalanx of lawyers appeared before us…Mr. Hill can easily afford constitutional litigation, it would appear. Not so Ms. Beaver.” Beaver, who still has no source of income beyond Hill’s payments, now owes her lawyers more than $1.2 million and puts her total debts north of $2 million. “[Our son] should receive the benefit of full and fair financial disclosure and child support from his father, at least equal to that received by other children in Canada,” she states in her court filings. “[We] should not receive less, wait longer, or spend more on litigation costs than any other mother and child claimant in Ontario simply because of our status under the Indian Act.”

The most recent judgment in the case comes from Justice Alex Pazaratz. “When you give a team of very talented and expensive lawyers a blank cheque to dredge up every conceivable argument and motion you can think of,” Justice Pazaratz writes, “this is what happens.” It’s hard to tell where Hill’s high-mindedness ends and where his plutocratic impunity begins. Is his pursuit of a constitutional challenge a good-faith endeavour for his people’s best interest? Might it be better for Indigenous families to return to dispute resolution systems that predate Western courtrooms? Or, as Beaver argues, is this all just a rich man’s way to circumvent financial disclosure and avoid paying her the sums she says she’s owed? “Whether you call it oppression or a war of attrition,” the judge writes, “it’s basically one side trying to avoid the real issues by creating as many legal hurdles as possible.”

Hill has continued to fight, pushing his constitutional challenge through the Ontario courts. His is a vision of Indigenous resistance born not out of penury but out of plenty, allowing him to stand toe-to-toe with the rule of law, and with the cash to see it through to its rightful end. He wants to be left alone, to live in peace, to be governed in his own vessel unmolested by the white man’s boat. And if Joseph Brant can take on Washington, Ken Hill can take on Ottawa.


This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.