Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why Things Don't Get Done at Six Nations - the Role of Factionalism

There is generally the belief that the reason why land claims do not get settled and disputes with the Canadian Government are still lingering, is entirely the fault of the Federal or Provincial Governments.  In fact, in many or most instances, the Government would be only too happy to get things settled - it is to their advantage - but they run up against what can become an insurmountable barrier - factionalism at Six Nations. 

It should be noted that factionalism is not something seen only or largely at Six Nations.  From the earliest of days of settlement, soon after 1784, factionalism reared its ugly head at Tyendinaga, Mohawk Territory (near Deseronto, Hastings County).  It came to a head when in or about 1800 the parties supporting Chief John Deserontyon and those supporting Chief Isaac Hill got into a series of physical altercations, which on one occasion resulted in the murder of three members of one family (Claus). The then Indian Agent, John Ferguson, was called in to investigate the matter and the lengthy proceedings of this work illustrate perhaps better than any other document, the extreme factionalism there at that time. Many Band members, disgusted at the dissension, eventually moved to Six Nations, the largest of these migrations being in the 1830s as "Bay of Quinte Mohawks".  The problem was, things were not much better in their new home.

Serious schisms and disagreements between groups are nothing new to Six Nations either.  As a matter of fact, evidence of it can be found as far back as the records go, for example between the supporters of Chief Joseph Brant and the young warriors who disagreed with his policies (e.g., allowing Whites to settle on the Reserve).  An example of the constant fractiousness pertains to the events of 1817 where riots and recriminations peaked (another "peak" period being the 1830s).  A litany of complaints were flooding into the offices of the staff of the Indian Department.  In 1815 Chief Francis Cotter and others of the Upper Mohawks formerly of Canajoharie, NY complained to the Government Indian agents and Council that the Lower Mohawks, formerly of Ft. Hunter (Tiononderoge) NY were discriminating against them.  It was at this time that his mother was visciously assaulted.  Acrimonious disputes arose time and time again and it is hard for someone at present to get a good handle on the true reasons.  Things became so serious that two years later, in 1817, the grandson of Chief Joseph Brant, Isaac Brant Jr., was killed when one of these disputes got out of hand.  Cotter became so disenchanted with matters that he and his family picked up stakes and moved south to join the Wyandots of Anderdon Township near Detroit. 

From what the records can tell us, it seems that in the early days of the Confederacy there were few major disputes between the Confederacy Hereditary Chiefs who were representatives at the Grand Council in Onondaga near Syracuse NY, and the local chiefs.  The Village (Pine Tree) Chiefs such as Joseph Brant tended to hold power at the local level, and this was not challenged by the Hereditary Chiefs - but throughout time, various groups would emerge to support one side of a dispute or another - say one chief over another.  When the Six Nations moved to the Grand River the disputes were present, but kept under control by having one Chief assigned to speak for all Six Nations (he was given power of attorney in 1796 over land and financial matters).  Such was the respect by all parties, both Native and non-Native that Chief Joseph Brant commanded.  This in part may be because he was married to the daughter of Tekariogen, the head Chief of the Turtle Clan, and whose name always appeared at the top of any deed from the Six Nations.  When Brant died, a power vacuum resulted and there was no single individual who could in even a modest way command the respect that followed Chief Brant. 

Chief Brant led more by charisma than force, but when the powerful leaders were taken out of the equation, their respective societies fell back into factional disputes.  An example of where factionalism can take us, can be found in the events at a Mohawk Reserve, Akwesasne, in 1990.  The events are best described by a witness to the conflict, Douglas M. George-Kanentiio in his book, Iroquois on Fire: A Voice from the Mohawk Nation, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2006, describing the "civil discord caused by infighting".  Basically for years the people had been arguing over any of a number of issues, but some "debates" were so heated that the "pot boiled over".  There were more casinos at Akwesasne than anywhere but Las Vegas and New Jersey.  There was an anti- gambling and pro-gambling faction, and the acrimony grew since organised crime had followed in the wake of the introduction of slot machines, and drug wars were also on the horizon.  Thuggery, bribes, coercion, payola, vigilantism reigned supreme there.  Then "drive - by - shootings, physical assaults, and constant verbal threats" (p. 104) became par for the course.  Some had no qualms about using extreme violence to press their case.  Things came to a head in 1990 when anarchy replaced the rule of law.  Then out came the automatic assault weapons.  George-Kanentiio lists the weapons available at Akwesasne in the 1990s. These included, "weapons ranging from Uzis to at least one .50-caliber machine gun, modified Mini-14s, AK-47 automatics, grenades, and a host of handguns" (p. 108).  No one was safe.  Many went across the River to Cornwall Ontario to seek the protection of the Government.  Others watched as the fabric of their community was torn apart as arson and gun battles intensified, and people died in the contest.  George-Kanentiio described it as "the curse of factionalism" (p. 127). 

Factionalism is nothing new to the Mohawk community of Kanesatake (Oka), in the 1880s the problems became acute enough that some families left Kanehsatake to move to Gibson (Wahta) in the Muskoka District on Ontario (where their descendants live to this day). As George-Kanentiio notes, in the same year as the Akwesasne flare up, 1990, the Kanehsatake (Oka) Mohawk community was riddled with the same problems, and the factions enlisted the assistance of the experienced Akwesasne warriors.  The result, among others, was the shooting death of Corporal Marcel LeMay of the Surte du Quebec.  If Six Nations is not careful, the effects of these sorts of internal divisions may be replayed here.  We need to learn from history.

So, given the pervasiveness of factionalism in Iroquois communities, is it any surprise that to this day, at Six Nations, there is a chaotic set of groups each claiming that they should have the say in relation to this or that issue?  By far the most serious split is between the elected council of chiefs and the hereditary council of chiefs.  If one were to point to the most pressing split which has most adversely impacted the ability to deal effectively with various Government agencies, these two stand out head and shoulders over all the rest.

In 1924 after a flood of petitions from the "progressives" at Six Nations, and realising that the council then in place seemed unable to work with officials in a productive way, the Federal Government used the provisions of the Indian Act to put locks on the Longhouse and oust the Hereditary Council who were spokespersons for the "conservatives".  They were replaced by an Elected Council.  To this day both groups still exist and each claims the right to speak for Six Nations on all important matters.  The reality of this situation is that the Government and others do not know who to negotiate with.  The Elected Council is the legal authority according to Canadian law, but the Hereditary Council claims a moral right in that they have never accepted the authority of the Elected Council.  To them, they possess authority from the Great Law, and the "Good Message" (Gaiwi:yo:h), which supersedes all else.  See, William N. Fenton, The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

This factional dispute did not go away after 1924, it escallated where members of the Hereditary Chiefs padlocked the Council House where the Elected Council met.  Apparently things became very heated, and ultimately the two groups resorted to the Courts.  In Isaac et al. vs. Davey et al., 4 October 1974: This action requires the resolution of a dispute between two groups of Indians of the Six Nations residing on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. The plaintiffs, who are or were members of the elected Council of the Six Nations Band, support the form of government by elected Council pursuant to the Indian Act, R.S.C. 1970, c. I-6, and claim that the Council is lawfully entitled to govern the reserve. The defendants support the traditional form of government by hereditary chiefs and claim that the hereditary chiefs are still the lawful government of the Six Nations Confederacy, which they assert owns in fee simple the lands occupied by its members.  See here for the complete document.  Despite the ruling that, Considering the powers of Parliament to legislate in relation to
Indians and lands reserved for Indians under head 24 of s. 91 of the British North America Act, 1867, I find no provision in the Indian Act relevant to this case that is rendered inoperative by the kind of discrimination to which the Canadian Bill of Rights relates. In particular, its provisions for the election of councillors and for government of the band by the elected Council are in my opinion valid and operative the HCCC continues to ignore any ruling that is not in its favour - even from the Supreme Court of Canada.

So to this day the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) continue to "duke it out" in almost every conceivable matter.  Over the years there have been repeated attempts to find common ground and to get the two groups to sit at the table together and agree on something.  Generally one or the other party walks away, and nothing is accomplished.  So it generally falls to the Elected Council to somehow try to do everything from try to find an acceptable way to get a water filtration system established, to putting forward initiatives such as the McKenzie Meadows Project, to negotiating with the Federal Government over land claims.  With few exceptions, either the NCCC or one of their "agencies" will try to thwart the work that SNEC has done or is attempting to do.

In considering the role of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, one must understand that many groups claim authority under the HCCC, then become virtually autonomous groups that develop their own agenda and act accordingly.  I have already blogged about the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI) who claim the right to negotiate with any party whomsoever in not only the Grand River Tract, but all of Southern Ontario, and to collect "fees" and assert their authority with a bulldozer or whatever will get the job done.  If the developer has been told that SNEC is the body who has legitimate authority, and they decide to try and circumvent the HDI, they do so at their own risk.  Then, even when a developer attempts to play by the Six Nations "rules", it guarantees little.  In 2008, as reported by Turtle Island News (see here) while attempting to develop lands in the Johnson Settlement, developer Steve Charest, while attempting to get the HDI to outline precisely what was required to avoid a work stoppage, another group known as the Men's Fire stepped forward and claimed jurisdiction.  They, as with the HDI, are affiliated with the HCCC.  So even if one were to accept that it is necessary to deal with the HCCC as opposed to SNEC (the latter having largely turned land development matters over to HCCC after the "Caledonia crisis"), which group affiliated with HCCC is the "proper" and "authorized" party with whom to open discussions?  It is interesting to note that right up to November 2013, the same Steve Charest is still a land developer in Brantford, but has allied himself with two Six Nations members, Bryan Porter (architect) and Steve Williams (former Six Nations police officer), but is still facing protests from Men's Fire and others re his Birkett Lane (Erie Ave.) property.  What a confusing situation.  Would any of this be faced by developers in say Richmond Hill.  The answer is no.  This begs the question as to why developers would bother with attempting any project in the Grand River Watershed (especially in communities surrounding the present day Six Nations Reserve), when costly work stoppages could occur at any time at any stage in the work.

Another group claiming authority under the HCCC are the Mohawk Workers who have taken over Kanata Tourism Village site, a former educational center located across from the landfill "mountain" along Mohawk Street.  It is unclear who is paying the rent, or utilities or even whether their occupation is legal - but they soldier on.  Their primary focus at present is in overseeing the return of the Burtch lands (a contested part of the Surrender of 1841, 1844), including the perceived Government responsibility to clean up the site of any environmentally hazardous materials that is part of the plan.  They appear to be proposing that the Mohawk have special rights beyond those of general Six Nations members.  Bill Squires and Jason Bowman (latter non-Native as far as I know) are the major players here.  See here for the dissension being caused by the actions of this group.

This brings us to the Men's Fire, also a group claiming authority under the HCCC.  The above article and comments give a flavour as to what the group is about - what its supposed mandate was, and how their "work" has morphed.  The most recent effort was to support a young woman who was a probationary employee (now former) of the Niagara Penninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board (NPAAMB) with offices at the Oneida Business Park along Highway 6.  G.T., who had three weeks service, claimed that her firing was due to the executive director punishing her for attending the 17 October 2013 blockade.  G.T. left during work hours.  The director claims this is "insubordination".  G.T. put up signs in front of the business park such as "Extreme Abuse of Power!"  What I cannot understand in all this though is that, "Six Nations Men's Fire helped Gina Thomas shut down NPAAMB offices" (Turtle Island News, October 30 2013, p. 7).  The Men's Fire are also known as Hodiskeagehda.  A statement of their perceived role and rights can be found here.

A good example of the militancy and intransigence of some of the members of the Men's Fire can be seen in the article, "Six Nations blocks Highway 6 in support of Elsipogotog FN" (Turtle Island News, 23 October 2013, p. 2).  Here the reporter said that, Bill Monture, a member of the Six Nations Men's Fire, said the situation reminded him of the support that went out across the country when Six Nations was raided by the OPP during the Caledonia reclamation in 2006.  'We are standing with our brothers and sisters in New Brunswick', he said.  'We all need to be unified at this point.  People have got to realize, the government's not our friend.  Never has been and never will be'The bold print is that of the present author.  Now the above Bill Monture (not to be confused with the incumbent Bill Montour), although a member of the Hereditary Confederacy Chief's Council, is running for Chief of the Six Nations Elected Council.  One wonders what would happen if a radical member of the Hereditary faction were to become chief of the Elected faction.  The mind boggles.

Another complication arose very recently in relation to the development on Erie Avenue in what was the "Eagle's Nest Tract", one of the areas suject to a Six Nations land claim.  Protocol now demands that everyone go through "due process" (the HCCC and the HDI) before proceeding with new development of this nature.  So here, The Men's Fire, made up primarilly of Mohawks, were upset that another Mohawk group, the Mohawk Workers, was securing a deal without their involvement (Two Row Times, November 6th, 2013, p. 3). 

Factionalism runs so deep and criss crosses in so many directions, it is difficult to see any sort of calm resolution to such matters.  This was precisely what all candidates for the role of Elected Chief said in a recent candidates debate with, all five candidates calling for unity and an end to the factionalism (Two Row Times, November 6th, 2013, p. 4). 

Earlier, on 14 July 2009, Councillor Helen Miller, penned a Letter to the Editor of the Brantford Expositor, wherein she argues that indeed factionalism is at the root core of the reasons why developers and more or less everyone else are confused as to who speaks for Six Nations (see here).  Surely any rational person would agree that the old expression, "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians" applies here.  At any time anyone may pop out of the woodwork and claim that they are "in charge".  This is sheer chaos. 

Miller believes that, "Only elected council can speak for Six Nations".  Of course this makes excellent sense because these individuals are accountable to their constituents and can be voted out of office if their performance is substandard.  In theory the Hereditary Council is responsible to the Clan Mothers who appointed them.  In practise, various subgroups from within the HCCC tend to go their own way, and there does not seem to be any monitoring or accountability.  In days gone by, a Chief would be "dehorned" by the Clan Mother who appointed him should he act in a manner unbecoming a chief, or prove lazy or ineffective.  However today, appointments tend to be for life.  How can one trust the "product"?  If one were to be a bit cynical and a bit blunt, then when putting the Hereditary system of today under the microscope, it has in many ways fallen apart.  Chiefs are being borrowed from ineligible families and even clans.  One of the chiefs of the Mohawk is of the Ball Clan.  The traditional Mohawks had a Turtle. Wolf and Bear Clan only.  The old ways are eroding, the lament being that it is just not like it was.  Finding suitable people for all roles in the Longhouse is more and more difficult, and who is overseeing the process? 

One cannot legitimately compare the Hereditary Council today to what would have been in place say in the mid 1800s.  Even a casual reading of Shimony's well respected work on conservatism at Six Nations in the mid 1900s shows how far the system has strayed from earlier days.  See Annemarie Anrod Shimony, Conservatism among the Iroquois at the Six Nations Reserve, Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1994 (reprint from 1961).  Even when Seth Newhouse wrote his history of the Six Nations Confederacy, some of the practises of the day (e.g., ceremonies) were remembered differently by different informats - such as John A. Gibson (Seneca).  See, Seth Newhouse, Cosmogony of DeKanawidas Government of the Iroquois Confederacy.  The Original Literal Historical Narratives of the Iroquois Confederacy (National Archives, MG19, F26, 1885).  Even here though, there were "vacancies" and chiefships that belonged to families in the U.S., so the process of moving away from the "old ways" had begun a long time past.  This is evident in Edward M. Chadwick, The People of the Longhouse, London, Church of England Publishing, 1897 with his list of all 50 chiefs (or chiefly positions) circa 1870 to circa 1895.

Returning to Miller's above letter, she states boldly, every week a different group of people springs up claiming to speak on behalf of Six Nations.  She emphasises how for example the Men's Fire, or Ruby Montour were not elected or authorised by Six Nations to speak on their behalf.  Nor is the HDI supported by the elected council or the community at large.  Councillor Miller believes that it is the media who give these people coverage on the front page, and it becomes essentially attention seeking behaviour.  She believes that the majority of Six Nations are fed up with protests, the smoke shops along Highway 6, and so on.  She described the process whereby after Caledonia, the Elected Council gave over the mandate to negotiate for the Plank Road lands and other claims, and to take responsibility for the barricades at Douglas Creek Estates - thus the Elected Council had largely backed away from matters involving land claims.  However by 2009, when no progress was forthcoming, the Elected Council reinstated the 1995 land claim litigation, but also wished to negotiate at the same time - seeing these as not being mutually exclusive.

The mind simply boggles at the "complexity" at Six Nations, and it is understandable why so many on and off the Reserve are left scratching their heads time and time again.  Who is in charge?  Who does one go to when one wants something done?  And this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the cross current of factions at Six Nations!  I have not yet mentioned the Mohawk Warriors since this group is largely centred elsewhere (e.g., Akwesasne) - but arrive at Six Nations when their "special talents" are needed.  Their flag, a common sight at Six Nations, has come to symbolize resistance, armed or otherwise.  Perhaps they "deserve" their own blog post.


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