Friday, 14 November 2014

It is Time to "Repurpose" the Dysfunctional and Disintegrating Hereditary Confederacy Chiefs Council

The following posting was triggered by two events that have occurred this month.  The first is the work stoppage at the Cayuga bridge ordered by the Hereditary Council at Six Nations.  The second is an assessment of the recent state of the depleted Hereditary Council in an Editorial in "Two Row Times" where the writer expresses the hope that young people will step forward to stand in the shoes of those towering figures from a bygone era (one that is slowly slipping away).

The writing has been on the wall for many years.  Despite the fact that today the Hereditary Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC), whose "authority" is only symbolic, is a mere echo of the once powerful 50 hereditary chiefs of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, it has survived - if only in a form that would be unrecognizable to their ancestors.  It is a mere shadow of its former self, but it persists in the face of mounting evidence that it should have folded a long time ago to allow the Reserve to operate as a modern community.  Instead it is little more than a lot of "sound and fury", a thorny entity that attracts militants and ner do wells to its "causes" by billing themselves as the "true" representatives of the Six Nations community.

The HCCC and its "operatives", including the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), have found numerous ways to disrupt the lives of people on the Reserve (by derogating the role of the legitimate governing body, the Elected Council), and the surrounding communities.  The latter have been forced to endure the theft of land owned by local residents who have valid title deeds to their property, accompanied by assaults.  Also there have been acts of vandalism including wanton destruction, arson, trespass, work stoppages, road blockades, extortion of money from land developers and wind turbine "green energy" companies, and numerous other behaviours that have made life miserable for local residents and corporations in Haldimand County and beyond.  Within their own community, they have shown a complete lack of transparency, and a total disregard for anyone's views but their own.  A mini North Korean state with a non - elected leader(s) whose authority is total and whose will cannot be questioned.  Thus many at Six Nations would foist upon the rest rule by a group of poorly educated dictators accountable to no one but their own mothers or aunties (Clan mothers).  How is this even a remotely reasonable proposition in 2014?  Who would voluntarily allow themselves to be duped into accepting governance that does not have room for their own concerns, only the agenda of the "in crowd"?  That is precisely the problem on so many other Reserves as we learn how chiefs and their families are running the Reserves as personal fiefdoms to enrich their own kin, and toss the rest to the winds of fate.

Historically, the governing body of the Six Nations dates to the 15th Century (date unknown, but likely pre - Columbus) when, tired of a state of perpetual warfare (which often involved genocide, capture of prisoners, torture, and cannibalism), the leaders of the day listened to the Peacemaker Deganawida (a probable Wyandot / Huron) who with Hayonwagtha (a Mohawk) convinced the peoples of what is today Upstate New York to metaphorically bury all of their weapons under the great tree of peace and give up fighting with each other.  This did not encompass "outsiders" who were fair game for all.  Ironically, during the 1640s and 1650s, the Five Nations committed a series of unparalleled acts of genocide which included the almost complete destruction of Deganawida's people, the Huron.  The Five Nations were so effective and universally feared because the Confederacy they established worked - at that time and that place - although it was a serious menace to all outside the Confederacy.  It is a leap of faith to assume that what worked 500 years ago during the North American Stone Age, would be an effective form of governance in an age of instant electronic communication, where the complexities of today had no parallel in bygone eras.

Reality set in during the Revolutionary War of 1776 to 1784 when the council fire at Onondaga (near present day Syracuse NY) was covered over and for all intents and purposes, the Confederacy was disbanded, its traditional structure in tatters.  Attempts to revive this system of governance at the Grand River settlement were shaky at best since, for example, many of the hereditary chiefships went vacant since there was no suitable candidate to fill the position.  Some titles that were at one time filled, went insolvent since there was no one eligible to assume the title.  Many titles had candidates available only in the USA.  A solution was to "borrow" chiefs and the system of chiefs and clan mothers became chaotic and arguments broke out over who was "the most eligible". 

The Hereditary Council was abolished as the legally recognized body representing Six Nations in the year 1924 - the year often being heard as a rallying cry of "look what the government took away from us", the truth is more mundane.  In the years before 1924, the Federal Government was having increasing difficulty in communicating with this governing body due to cultural practices which did not mesh with the need to make immediate decisions and to supply information promptly (so that transfer payments could be made).  However, even more frustrated were those at Six Nations who had a good education and / or were wealthy farmers.  This group was frustrated at every turn by the Hereditary Council and they emphasized the inappropriateness of having a group of what they saw as arbitrarily selected individuals, often with a poor education, put in positions of authority where nothing got done and decisions were arbitrary.  This cluster, led by the "Dehorners Association" and other "progressive" groups of largely Christian members, petitioned the Federal Government to install an elected system.  Ultimately the Indian Department saw the wisdom of the request (although it was resisted for some time), and used their powers under the Indian Act of 1876 to create an elected body that became what is today the Six Nations Elected Council.  This is the only legitimate governing body at Six Nations - the Hereditary Council have kept a shadow council since 1924.

It is important to cite sources.  The most comprehensive book to outline the traditional system among the Six Nations is, William N. Fenton, "The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy", Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.  An excellent source for information the League / Confederacy of the Six Nations, and on this period in Reserve life are two articles by Elizabeth Tooker, "The League of the Iroquois: Its History, Politics, and Ritual" (pp. 418-414) and "Iroquois Since 1820" (pp. 449-465), and most particularly Sally Weaver, "Six Nations on the Grand River, Ontario" (pp. 525-536) all in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15: Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger, Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution, 1978.

Probably the best book to outline the demoralizing decline that had set in by the late 1800s, as reflected in the Council Minutes of the time, is a book by John A. Noon, "Law and Government of the Grand River Iroquois", New York, The Viking Fund Inc., 1949).  By the mid 1900s the internal decay is well documented with examples in the book by Annemarie Shimony entitled, "Conservatism Among the Iroquois at the Six Nations Reserve", Syracuse, Syracuse University Press, 1994 (originally published,1961).

For a contemporary work, sympathetic to the current Six Nations perspective (blaming the British for "Colonialism", and the focus on 1924), is Andrea Lucille Catapano, "The Rising of the Ongwehonwe: Sovereignty, Identity, and Representation on the Six Nations Reserve", ProQuest, 2008 (see here for a pdf copy). 

Until recently the shadow hereditary council only had a role in cultural - ceremonial functions, and in criticizing the elected system and its officers.  Now they want to toss out the Elected Council and reestablish the dysfunctional hereditary system and have full rein to reap the "rewards" of extorting money from land developers and corporations involved in wind and solar energy - and the power to keep all of the transactions opaque so that only those who know their clan have access to the information.  Since this would exclude the majority of the people residing on the Reserve, it is a wonder that they have as much support as they do.  Perhaps many cannot see that if the HCCC got its way, the average resident at Six Nations would be the ultimate loser if the hereditary council replaced the elected one.

The situation (decay, internal dissention) is, if possible, worse today.  There is real concern that despite all the bluster by the HDI and the spin coming from the HCCC, the whole system is ready to disintegrate.  A recent article described the effects of the back to back deaths of both Chief Peter Skye, and activist Arnold Douglas, seen in an Editorial in "Two Row Times", 12 November 2014, p. 8.  Here, following the deaths of these two important figures in the traditional life at Six Nations, the Editor states,

In fact, a goodly number of wonderful, but aged, men and women may not be with us in 10 years time. What then? As we speak, there is no one on the Seneca bench at the Longhouse, and that has been the case for more than a year. The Mohawk bench is sparsely occupied, and that has been the case for some time now as well.

When one scans the horizon over Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, are there any dedicated men and women willing to take on the enormous weight of leadership as Chiefs and Clan Mothers?

Who among the young of today are ready, willing and able to step up to the plate and seek out elders and learn the old ways?  Unfortunately the answer to that question is pretty grim, unless there are many hidden, waiting in the wings ready to be tapped on the shoulder.  So there is a real concern that there will be no suitable candidate ready to fill the traditional (although never in practice) 50 chief's chairs.  There may not even be enough young people who don't have the clan ties linking the past to today to take over the roles needed to be filled. 

Today the clan system is in disarray.  The Clan to which my family belongs is Bear but the position is now held by a member of the Ball Clan.  Since there was never a Ball Clan among the Mohawk, this situation makes a mockery of the once viable system.  Also today, most at Six Nations do not know their Clan, inherited only one way - from their direct maternal line.  So there is a real problem with the Confederacy Council in that today and tomorrow the number of correctly filled positions continues to diminish with no hope for remediation.  Why should a group of pretend chiefs rule at Six Nations?  Why would anyone wish to consider this a legitimate situation with the ability to deal with the immense destructive factions at Six Nations, and to have the knowledge of the modern world to interface with Federal Government in order to address even mundane topics such as sewage disposal.  Extorting more money from land developers and "green energy" companies will not address those topics, only line the pockets of the few while the rest are in the dark and without a say in how things are run.  That would not last long as people would demand to be heard, and the claim by the Director of the HDI that Six Nations members should speak with their chiefs is absurd since most don't know their clan let alone their lineage (in the Mohawk Bear Clan there are 3 lineages) or owachira.

Despite the obvious fact that the HCCC is on the doorstep of collapse, they and their supporters behave as if all is well and that they are in a position to assume the duties of managing the intricate duties of running the Reserve - which may be totally unrealistic - but that does not in the least deter them.  This group, particularly the HDI, claim authority to enact the provisions of the fraudulent "Nanfan Treaty of 1701" which in their minds gives them entitlements to "accommodation" (payola and the right to hunt) across Southwestern Ontario.  The second "document giving authority" is the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784 which initially gave the Six Nations the right to "occupy" (not ownership of) six miles on each side of the Grand River - although every last acre of this land except that which remains within the bounds of the present day Reserve had been surrendered to the Crown who own or owned title to the land, including the present day Six Nations Reserve).  The land outside the present Reserve had been surrendered, alienated, ceded by 1848 with the ceding of the Burtch Tract lands as shown in the Council Minutes of the time which includes the signatures of upwards of 48 chiefs.  Facts have never stood in the way of the HCCC and their enforcement and extortion wing the HDI, the later bolstered by advice from a non - Native legal representative (a licensed lawyer in Ontario) who sensed the smell of money in the air, and they have forged ahead as an unholy alliance of bullies making absurd claims and demands.

For some reason the Six Nations community contains the seeds of its own destruction housed within.  If they are allowed to germinate by permitting the Confederacy to take over governance, this would result in the growth of a self - destructive force which would lead to internal implosion and the demise of the community as we know it.  Reverting to an autocratic inherited authoritarian rule would provide fertile ground for the "seeds of destruction".  Autocratic inherited governments such as one finds in North Korea are economic disasters where human rights are subverted to keep the establishment in power.  While most societies who are "successes" have long dispensed with inherited governance, some have not and we need look no further than Great Britain, the English Crown, to see a modern version of an inherited order and its role in governance.  While England may have an inherited establishment including landed gentry with the Monarchy at the top, this group has nothing more than ceremonial functions.  It gives a sense of continuity with the past without disrupting the future of the country.  The power lies with the English people, in its parliament which is elected in a democratic fashion - there is really no other system that will work in any modern democracy.  Since Six Nations have since 1664 had a special relationship to the Crown, should all not look to this entity for guidance?  However some at Six Nations want to turn back the hands of time to a romanticized era and re-install an inherited council, when their only hope lies in an effective Elected Council.  If the HCCC were to usurp the role of the Elected Council it would be an unmitigated disaster, and could potentially result in the disbanding of the Reserve and dispersal of the community.  Is it worth the risk?

It is my sincere hope that the HCCC can play a role at Six Nations, not in the capacity of a "shadow cabinet" bent on usurping the role of the legitimate Elected Council, but in other ways.  Perhaps their focus to return to emphasizing the Longhouse way with all its ancient rituals and customs which can show the young people that there is continuity from pre - Columbian times to today.  This message is being lost, especially on the young people, who will see the HCCC as a militant group tilting at windmills Don Quixote style.  They need to find their niche within the fabric of the community, but not by aligning themselves with radical elements and non - Native "support" groups.  They can teach by example that the old ways, including the language and culture, are worth preserving - and they are the font of knowledge in this area.



  1. Thank you for your blog. We own The Neat Little Bookshop beside the Cayuga bridge.

  2. Lorna, I remember the Neat Little Bookshop when Herb Martindale owned it (30 or so years ago), and when it was situated at the old train station in Jarvis a few years back. Best of luck with your venture in Cayuga.