The chief and his 'children'

A native man from Sarnia is 'adopting' desperate migrants to save them from U.S. deportation and make them citizens of his private tribe.

Andrew Duffy
The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, May 16, 2002

The Hartford Courant Chief Maynard George, a Chippewa native from Sarnia, and Chen Xue Zhen, one of his 80 adopted immigrants, are fighting the deportation of Zu Jian Zheng -- the chief's adopted son and her husband. He's being held in a detention facility in Connecticut.

Desperate migrants facing deportation are turning to a self-proclaimed Chippewa chief from Sarnia who has taken to adopting them in return for gifts such as cars and plane tickets.

Maynard Travis George contends that as chief of the Stoney Point First Nation -- which he considers a sovereign country -- he can legally adopt anyone he wants, even full-grown adults, and make them citizens of his nation.

Mr. George's provocative gambit has drawn headlines in Connecticut, where he recently adopted Zu Jian Zheng, a 42-year-old Chinese migrant arrested in March for loansharking and conspiracy by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Mr. Zheng, who had been in the U.S. illegally for eight years, faces immediate deportation since prosecutors have evidence that he ran a violent loansharking operation that preyed on Asian casino gamblers.

But Mr. George has thrown a monkey wrench into the case by claiming to be the adoptive father of Mr. Zheng, whom he met in January through "mutual friends." At the time, Mr. Zheng was trying to gain status as a legal immigrant in the U.S.

Mr. Zheng, who speaks no English, is only seven years older than Mr. George, who speaks no Chinese. Mr. George said he adopted Mr. Zheng only after meeting him and his family and being impressed by their sincerity.

"You can't accept everybody at their word, or simply because they have a financial capability," he said yesterday. "I like to see the need; I like to meet the family; I like to find out why they want to be here."

After Mr. Zheng was charged with loansharking, Mr. George, 49, said it was his duty to stand by his adopted son.

"I had to step in as a material witness to say that he's my son. But we're not trying to hide him, or extend diplomatic immunity," Mr. George said.

Mr. Zheng's lawyer, Thomas Simones, of Waterford, Connecticut, said he will argue before an immigration service panel that his client should face criminal trial in the U.S. since he has worked and paid taxes in the country for years. If Mr. Zheng is ordered deported, however, Mr. Simones will argue that he should be sent to the sovereign "Chippewa Nation," where his adoptive father lives, rather than to his native China.

Mr. Zheng is now being held in a Connecticut detention facility.

His immigration case faces several hurdles, including the fact U.S. courts do not recognize adult adoptions. Mr. Simones said he will ask the immigration service to apply native Chippewa law. "If you go back in history, the Chippewa would adopt young males and adult women into their tribe from other tribes."

Mr. George claims he has adopted 80 illegal migrants in Canada and the U.S., most of whom were from China and the Middle East. Although Mr. George is hazy on the issue of whether he charges money for his adoptions, he admits to accepting gifts from his new children -- things like plane tickets, travel expenses and cars.

"It's not beads and blankets anymore, I can tell you that much," he said.

The Canadian government, however, does not recognize Mr. George as a chief, nor does it buy into his claim that the Stoney Point First Nation is a sovereign country capable of conferring citizenship. "You can include anyone you want into any organization you create, but you can't confer citizenship in Canada," said Michael FitzPatrick, a spokesman for Indian and Northern Affairs. "There's no power conferred on a First Nation anywhere to confer citizenship through their adoption of someone into their band," he added.

In a Connecticut courtroom, however, Mr. George will argue the Stoney Point First Nation has no valid treaty with Canada and, as such, remains a sovereign country capable of conferring its own citizenship to members and adoptive members of the band.

Mr. George's case will add another chapter to the long and controversial history of the Stoney Point Reserve.The reserve was expropriated by the Department of National Defence in 1942 under terms of the War Measures Act and the Stoney Point natives were removed to the nearby Kettle Point Reserve. After the war, the site became home to a summer cadet training camp.

In 1980, the federal government negotiated a $2.4-million settlement with the Kettle Point Reserve, but refused to recognize the Stoney Point people as a separate community. The federally recognized band became known as the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation.

In May, 1993, a small group of Stoney Point natives, including Maynard T. George, reoccupied their old reserve, insisting they had never renounced title to the land. Mr. George's mother had been one of the natives removed from the reserve. Two years later, some members of the band also occupied nearby Ipperwash Provincial Park, which was home to a Chippewa burial ground. Demonstrator Dudley George (no relation to Maynard T. George) was killed on Sept. 6, 1995, when the Ontario Provincial Police confronted the natives at a barricade.

Today, the old military base remains occupied by a small group of Stoney Point natives, including Mr. George, who lives in Building 40. His former home, Building 39, burned down last year under mysterious circumstances.

The community does not have an official leader, which is why Mr. George -- known widely as "Mr. T" to distinguish him from two other band members with the same name -- was able to declare himself chief. But few band members recognize the designation.

"He's not my chief. He might be looked upon in his family as a chief, but he's not my chief," said Marcia George Simon, a Stoney Point band member.

Ms. Simon said she was concerned when she heard about Mr. George's involvement in adoptions. "I had concern he's getting money from people," she said, adding: "This is the kind of stuff that is happening when you do not settle and get the community restored."

The federal government, Mr. FitzPatrick said, remains in negotiations to settle the issue of the Stoney Point reserve.

While he admits some of his own people do not understand what he's doing, Mr. George said he intends to create an economy for Stoney Point natives, one that does not rely on federal handouts. "I gave the government back their pension, their Indian status card, everything," he said. "What I live on is what I make on my own."

Mr. George hopes his adoptions will bring legal recognition to his First Nation claim, while providing a steady source of income down the road.

"I don't want just money. I want recognized authority," he said. "I've told federal immigration people, 'If you really think I'm doing something bad, let's go to court.'"

Mr. George said he decided to get into the immigration business after reading about the plight of Chinese migrants. He felt sorry for those people who paid $50,000 to be smuggled into Canada or the U.S. "I thought, 'What a terrible waste of time, money and effort, doing something illegal, when we can do it legally."

He concedes, however, that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 were a "wake-up call for everyone," including his fledgling adoption agency.

"I can't just adopt anyone," he said. "I'm not going to allow terrorists to come here or use our government to create a haven. So what I've done is I've told Canada and the U.S. that it's better that we co-operate and share accountability. That way we keep a close eye on any illegal activity."

Mr. Zheng's case is expected to be heard later this summer.

Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen

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