Sunday, 3 November 2013

1924, the Year an Infamous Atrocity was Committed at Six Nations - or Was It?

It is widely believed that 1924 was a year when the Canadian Government, using the RCMP to do their dirty work, without any provocation and without any good reason, attempted to promote assimilation into Canadian society by locking the doors to the Hereditary Confederacy Chief's Longhouse and imposing an elected system.  It would be something of an understatement to say that this event continues to ripple through Six Nations to this day.

So, what are the facts?  First a belief that is very commonly heard at Six Nations.

In looking for a typical view of a Six Nations writer in relation to the subject, I Googled "1924 Six Nations" and came up with a relevant statement from a fellow blogger.  It is as follows:

In October 25, 1924, the RCMP brutally threw out the Confederacy Chiefs from the Council House to install the Indian Act Council and implement the illegal Indian Land Acts throughout the country. A resolution was quickly passed that Deskaheh no longer represented the Six Nations. He was murdered shortly after by agents of Duncan Campbell Scott.  See here (retrieved 3 November 2013).

Now, the question as usual is whether the facts support the beliefs.  So who does one turn to for events that occurred close to 100 years ago when no one is alive who can offer first hand information? I have found that the anthropologists who were trusted by those of the Six Nations to discuss sensitive and even at time sacred things are a good resource.  There can be no better source on the Confederacy Chiefs and Clan Mothers and "Conservative" practises than Annemarie Anrod Shimony, Conservatism Among the Iroquois at the Six Nations Reserve, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1964.

The preamble to this book sums up nicely what I have read in other respected sources.  For example, Shimony wrote, Since there had been decades of agitation to replace the Confederate Council, the Canadian Government now felt sufficiently pressured by the progressive elements to call for an investigation.  The result was an Order in Council which installed an elected body in place of the uncooperative and dysfunctional hereditary chiefs (p.xxxiv).  Shimony goes on to describe the physical violence between the factions that led to the act of locking the Longhouse.  What is true is that after much dissension and acrimony, the Government acted to effect a resolution of the problem that plagued Six Nations by virtue of the constant infighting between the more acculturated elements, and the more conservative elements.

More specifics of the chronology of events leading up to 1924 will help set the stage.  In Sally M. Weaver, Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario in William C. Sturtevant (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast, Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institute, 1978, the author provides a good introduction to the subject based on her ethnographic work at Six Nations between the years 1963 and 1974.  Dr. Weaver describes the general tone of factionalism that was pervasive in the Community for as far back as anyone can recall.  As the years progressed and the Community was divided into conservative / traditional and progressive groupings and it was inevitable that the divisive matters would be formally presented to the Indian Department officials. 

There were elements at Six Nations which wanted acculturation to proceed at a more rapid pace, and believed that the Hereditary Council was dragging their feet when it came to promoting for example agriculture and eduction, hence in 1861 a group of Christian Mohawks petitioned the Department for an elected council - a move that at the time was not supported by the government (p. 529).  They were likely aware that the Hereditary Council at two Seneca Reservations had been abolished in 1848 to be replaced by elected counterparts (p. 436).  The lack of success did not deter the "progressive" element who began to mimic what they saw in the more successful Whites in surrounding communities.  They even formed their own Orangemen's Lodge (a largely Protestant and anti - Catholic benevolent group) on the Reserve in the 1890s.  The "Protestant ethic" was becoming a force at Six Nations, with the consequence that a Farmer's Institute and a Women's Institute was added to the roster of groups who had little to do with the Hereditary Council, and who gained ascendancy (p. 530).  A reform group known as the "Progressive Warriors" believed that the slow progress was due to a closed system of leaders, and hence "education should be a requisite for council office" (p. 532).  In 1890 another petition was submitted by 20% of the male adults on the Reserve, "urging the government to apply the elected system to the reserve".  This attempt went nowhere, but in 1906 a group known as the "Indian Rights Association" or "Dehorners" initiated, a campaign to remove the chiefs from power. 

More petitions followed in 1907 and 1910, however the government, held to its noninterference policy.  As with so many things in Canada, the "Great War" of 1914 served to be a catalyst to change.  The Chiefs refused to participate in any conscription plan, unless asked to do so by the king himself, once again using the opportunity to assert their claim to sovereignty.  None the less hundreds of Six Nations men volunteered, and when they returned home they found the conditions intolerable and petitioned the government, to establish an elected system.  Divisions at Six Nations grew, and the Government of Canada found itself in the embarrassing situation of having Confederacy Chief Deskahe travel to London and Geneva to put forth a grievance of the lack of recognition of sovereignty.  Council was also operating in a ponderously slow manner and frustrating the government officials.  This lack of cooperation was pretty well the last straw.  Since there was considerable agitation at Six Nations to install an elected council, they acted quickly and perhaps somewhat precipitously, in sending the RCMP to lock the Longhouse, and to establish elections at Six Nations which resulted in a new Elected Council (composed largely of literate, Engllish speaking Mohawks) which from that moment became the "official" voice of Six Nations in dealings with the government. 

However the Hereditary Council had no intention of just capitulating.  They refused to disband, and stood firm in their belief that only they were the legitimate form of governance at Six Nations, and continued to agitate for a return to the rule of the Confederacy (p. 532).  Since 1924 they (now the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council or HCCC) have continued to maintain a shadow or parallel council.  Today the schism is as deep as it was in 1924, with the HCCC and their agencies such as the HDI (Haudenosaunee Development Institute) claiming jurisdiction in such matters as determining whether a development within the Grand River Tract will be allowed to proceed unchallenged.

The point here, however, is that it is entirely wrong to blame the Canadian Government for 1924.  This situation was initiated by groups within the Six Nations community who were dissatisfied with the Hereditary Council and for over 60 years had been petitioning the government to install an elected system.  None the less, to this day, "1924" is a rallying cry against the supposed injustices imposed by the Colonialist Canadian Government.  Clearly it is not that simple - but many believe and wish it were so.

The above blogger makes an allegation as to a murder happening, and asserts who perpetrated the act - the then Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  I can find nothing whatsoever that would substantiate this claim so it remains to this day another of the many beliefs that are in common currency at Six Nations.  Duncan Campbell Scott may have been an avowed assimilationist (for the record, a practise that the present author does not condone), but that is as far as it goes in the realm of facts.  See here.

Upddated:  13 December 2013


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