Friday, 22 November 2013

A Historical Review of the Role of Clans at Six Nations to 2013

I will kick off a discussion of this subject by some historical details, and end with a quote from something Hazel Hill said within a couple of days prior to this posting.  In effect she said that the proper channel for anyone at Six Nations to obtain information about the deals being made by the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI) and its overseer the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC), is to request it of their Hereditary Chief and Clan Mother.  To say that this is unrealistic, would be a significant understatement.  Here follows the reasons why.

First it is important to note that the Six Nations Community is divided in their support for the Elected Council (SNEC) and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC).  The latter has no legal standing with the Federal Government of Canada, but its presence is part of the history (and resilience) of the Six Nations people.  The Hereditary Chiefs, due to a flood of petitions from dissatisfied Six Nations members as well as the local Indian Department representatives, lost their role as the official representatives of the Six Nations in 1924.  In this year the Government sent the RCMP to lock the Longhouse and instead install an elected council.  The move has remained a bitter pill and a thorn to this day.  1924 can be a rallying cry for some, who attribute many of their woes to the "arbitrary" and "colonialist" decision by the Canadian Government.  However, although the Elected Council has remained to this day the official governing body at Six Nations, there is a very determined group that believes that the Hereditary Council, structured on the basis of clan membership, is the only legitimate body.  The reason for this belief, extending to today, is that the Great Law (Kayenashagowa), with roots tracing as far back as perhaps the 12th Century, has ordained that this is the legitimate form of governance for Haudenosaunee people.

In traditional Six Nations society, you were a member of your mother's clan.  So if she was Wolf, her mother was a Wolf, and you were Wolf as were all your siblings and kin in the female line.  This lineage is precisely what is seen in genetics with the inheritance of mitochondrial DNA - which comes from the mother's mother's mother etc. back in time.  However, you were also a member of a particular Ohwashira or family lineage, each with a hereditary chief and clan mother.  In the early days, all would live in one longhouse with the males residing with the wife's kin. 

In for example the Oneidas, there were three families for each clan so a total of 9 chiefs that would attend Council at Onondaga (the "firekeepers").  Since, due to for example wars and disease, some families went extinct, their role would be adopted by another supposedly within the same clan - although that "rule" went out the door a long time ago.  The system, with the comings and goings between families in Canada and the U.S.A., or even within Canada (for example the large number of Bay of Quinte Mohawks who emigrated to Six Nations in the 1830s), ensured that eventually it all broke down and only small parts remained intact.

Realistically the whole system changed with the American Revolution when the "Council fire at Onondaga was extinguished".  Although represented at Six Nations in Canada today, in fact most of the Oneida and Tuscarora supported the Rebel (Patriot) side and remained in the U.S.A. until recent times.  In 1785, there was a very diverse group of people who settled on the Haldimand Tract, and this included many Annishenabe people including a large contingent of Delaware.  They did not fit easily into the system with the supposed 50 Chiefs who represented the Six Nations (however many of these chiefships remained and remain to this day in the U.S.A.) - so there were never 50 chiefs at Six Nations - the numbers varied significantly over time.  Both Marion Chadwick and Seth Newhouse (noted elsewhere) attempted to collect the names of all the chiefs at Six Nations.  The former found many to be vacant, "extinct", or held by a family in the U.S.A.  The latter did attempt to locate all the names associated with each clan and family at Six Nations, and was quite successful - but acknowledged that the system had broken down and what he was writing was basically a history of times gone by (see Fenton, 1949, p. 150).  By then, people (especially the Christian element) had largely lost a knowledge of their clan, and might affiliate with one clan but on the basis of pragmatic reasons.  During the 19th Century there was a lot of turmoil at Six Nations and the family structures became quite chaotic (as seen in the various census records of for example Tuscarora Township from 1851 to 1901).  Broken homes, informal adoptions, illegitimacy and so on were common (see Shimony noted elsewhere) but the matrilineal aspect of Six Nations society tended to keep the society functioning, but the clan system among a large part of the Reserve was defunct by 1890 or so.  The Canadian Government exacerbated the problem in 1869 by changing the definition of who was and who was not a status Indian such that the focus became a definition of tribe or band based on paternal inheritance (following the surname).  Hence by the time of Goldenweiser's important work on kinship at Six Nations in 1914, knowledge of the traditional kinship units was blurry at best (Weaver, 1978, p. 527).

According to Shimony, as a result of all of the above changes and factors, it became impossible to retain the old organisation under present pressure.  Thus what we see today is not a direct link to the revered and idealised past.  At the time when Shimony made her well respected study of conservatism at Six Nations (in the 1950s), it was not uncommon for families to claim the right to appoint a chief, and would, often make false claims of lineage affiliation, with the result that controversies have been in progress on this matter as long as can be remembered.  Shimony further said that, even Longhouse participants often do not know their lineage and clan affiliation, and when asked will simply name the leading clan on their moiety side, assuming that to be their own clan.  Furthermore, as a result of the confusion and breakdown of information, children are not told accurately what their clan affiliation is.  Hence, the supposedly consanguineal kin groups sometimes define themselves through ceremonial or political affiliation rather than through known or putative matrilineal descent (p. 27). 

The rules and functions of the clan had yielded to various pressures at different times in the past, long before the Canadian Government could be used as a lightening rod for blame.  Clan exogamy was the rule.  A Turtle does not marry a Turtle - even if of a different tribe.  Numerous examples can be found of this practise being ignored before the Six Nations set foot on the Haldimand Tract.  Thomas Davis (after whom Davisville on Hardy Road in Brantford was named) was a Wolf, as was his wife Hester (as seen in various deeds they signed in the early days of settlement).  They married about 1760, and this violation of the "do not marry within the same clan" taboo was being ignored for a long time.  So the importance of clans has slowly been sliding downhill relative to the early Confederacy ideals - and so the statement below, this week, has to be seen from the view of beliefs (or ideal or long time ago ways) versus what is truly the case in 2013.

According to Turtle Island News, November 20, 2013, p. 7, Money is flowing into Confederacy Council coffers as the first annual payments for a green environment deal with energy giant NextEra come in. Legal Adviser for the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI, Aaron Detlor, stated that the monies received are going into an account that the HDI "has no access to". Hazel Hill, Director of HDI, said that the chiefs don't know what they will do with the money, adding that, HDI will follow through on post construction monitoring of all the sites.  When asked about how people at Six Nations could obtain more information, Hill replied that, "the Confederacy process flows through the clan system, 'The people have the opportunity to participate through their chief and clanmother'".  Considering that the majority of people at Six Nations have no knowledge of the identity of their clan mother, or chief that is supposed to represent them, this is a rather evasive answer.  I am guessing that if people really did this, and asked around, they would find the quest impossible - and even if they did find the name someone, and they were savy about the problems, they would rightly ask by what right did so and so obtain the title - is the assigned chief truly a member of a lineage whose maternal line can be traced back to the ohwachira, or even the clan, or tribe for that matter.  Reading pages 26 to 34 of Shimony's book would add a note of reality to the question - she shows how many of the supposed clan functions have gone by the wayside over the years.  Many wish it were not so, but there are good reasons why the system that was could not be maintained intact over such a long period of time, and over a time of great change.

The facts are that as far as clans go, things were derailed in the 19th Century.  There is a renewed interest in learning one's true clan among some Six Nations members.  The study even has a name, "Clanology", and at least one book has been written on the subject.  This would involve interviewing elders, and searching for any scraps of material that might be available on the subject from, for example, totem signatures on old deeds.  In fact the only, or most reliable, way whereby at this point in time one could be sure of a common maternal line inheritance would be a simple genetic test that will spell out with a reasonable degree of certainty (the match could be coincidence) the facts.  Either  the chief who is supposed to be your representative shares precisely the same set of harmless mutations on the mitochondrial DNA molecule, or they do not.  If there is a sharing of this pattern, it would suggest descent from the same female maternal line ancestor back hundreds if not thousands of years.  I have the distinct impression that this route to clarity will never be introduced among the conservative minded Confederacy Chiefs and Clan Mothers - although who knows unless the subject is broached, and the benefits explained.  However, if one only wants to maintain a fiction of kinship, then the scientific facts will never supplant the deeply ingrained beliefs that they already "have it right" and no test of any sort is needed - just the memory of someone loyal to the Confederacy system as it now stands.


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