In 1924, after multiple petitions from the progressive element (largely Mohawk) at Six Nations, the Government capitulated and substituted an elected band council for of governance for the crumbling remnant of the age old Hereditary Council. Of course the Canadian Government has taken the blame in the minds of many (despite history and the facts), and its actions, carried out by the R.C.M.P. who locked the doors to the Council Longhouse, are deemed to be an act of "colonialism" etc. etc. The fact is that the Government of the day was having difficulty in providing the agreed upon services and funds to Six Nations due to the growing complexity and the inability of the Hereditary Council (Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council - HCCC) to adapt to the changing circumstances.
Today there are two parallel governance systems at Six Nations. The one who does all the day to day work such as ensuring that there are fire and police services, and that seniors needs are addressed and so on is performed almost entirely by the Elected Council (Six Nations Elected Council - SNEC). It has been this way for almost 100 years, and in the meanwhile the Hereditary Council has been a largely ceremonial entity, constantly harping on how they are the only true body that has the right to govern Haudenosaunee / Six Nations people. What seems to get lost in the shuffle is the indisputable fact that times have changed, and we are never going backwards - only in the minds of some hopeless romantics. Not only that, but there are large fracture lines within the HCCC itself, and serious and acrimonious disagreements - for example about the role of the controversial and militant Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI) who claims to represent the HCCC. Factions tear at the fabric of the HCCC, yet they consider themselves the sole legal and moral inheritors of the system in place since well before Henry VIII of England ascended the throne and established the Church of England in the mid 16th Century...................... but which faction has the strongest claim to be inheritors of the "Great Law"? See the blog posting here for further details about the forces that are destined to see the HCCC devolve into a series of squabbling adolescent cliques.
In order to operate a municipality (which is what the Six Nations Reserve is in all but name) requires knowledgeable people who can understand the need to balance the budget, and offer all of the requisite services to the 26,000 or so Haudenosaunee (about half of whom reside on the Reserve). Only a formally educated individual (Grade 12 and preferably some college training) would be in a position to conceptualize the requirements of the issues facing their constituents, and effect a proper solution. Most present Elected Councilors fall into this category. Alas, many in the Hereditary Council do not believe in the value of a "formal" education involving maths and sciences, but rather focus on cultural and language matters as the topics which need to be taught to the youth. The latter simply will not prepare young people for the world that awaits, and by in large will result in their being relegated to marginalized positions by virtue of a lack of skills in the highly technical digital world outside of the immediate boundaries of the insular worlds some create for themselves - or have foisted upon them by well meaning "educators" who will hold back their pupils from competing in a very complex world. Hence "outside advisers" (such as the present legal adviser to the HCCC?) will be needed to bridge the gap. So governing by a group of White folks hired to do the job is the best alternative? What else would work if Six Nations went back to "the old ways"?
So in the following "what if" scenario, what would happen to life at Six Nations if suddenly the Elected Council was replaced by the Hereditary Council? My prediction is utter chaos and a mass exodus - but I guess only time would tell. However this is precisely the specter that hangs over Six Nations at present, since the HCCC are planning a Court challenge to the right of the Elected Council to govern. This is rather ironic since the HCCC do not recognize Canadian or Provincial Courts as having jurisdiction over Six Nations people, the rationale being that the latter are a sovereign people. They have made the assumption, without evidence, that the Six Nations people would rather be governed by the traditional body than the entity recognized by the Indian Act for 91 years, and who have a good track record of being able to manage the many tentacles of a municipal government. So who in the HCCC has knowledge of the water delivery or waste management systems?
Actually one can ask even more fundamental questions such as, "is the HCCC anything more than a shadow or echo of a once powerful system of governing the Six Nations people in place during for example the War of 1812? Is it really the intact lineal descendant of the Councils of that era?" In terms of today, as will be noted, the Mohawk benches are not filled. Those who have been appointed, presumably by Clan Mothers (although many lineages have gone extinct and been replaced by individuals of not only other families, but other Clans) have credentials that are not open to inspection. Hence the is no guarantee that the person appointed is in any way eligible or suitable for the "inherited" role. Most at Six Nations do not know their Clan, and would not know where to turn to find out who represents them in order to petition Council or make a complaint. The old system that served Six Nations well hundreds of years ago is no longer in existence - only a body which most certainly has cultural and linguistic ties to the old ways, but which has not provided effective governance for over 100 years. If it was again parachuted into that role, the harsh reality is that we would not be seeing the intact descendant of that system, but an entity which has of late had only a role (but an unclear one) in pushing forward highly questionable land claims, extorting monies from wind turbine corporations and land developers; but nothing to do with say building a new fire station and ensuring that fire department members have suitable training. That is a whole other ball game and strong arm tactics don't work in these circumstances.
Anyway, the present author could go on ad infinitum about this matter, but in a letter to the Editor of Two Row Times, Elected Councillor Helen Miller has once again been able to "hit the nail on the head" - so here is her take on things, in her own words:
We all know our community is divided when it comes to governance. But is getting rid of the elected council and turning governance over to the HCCC in the best interest of our community? I don’t mean any disrespect to the HCCC, but it’s been 91 years since the HCCC (a.k.a. Hereditary Chiefs) governed Six Nations. According to the HCCC’s recent newsletter, there’s a move afoot to re-establish some of their own governance structures that existed pre-1924 in preparation for the removal of the elected council. Do we really want our governance to go back 91 years? In all likelihood the governance structures that worked back then won’t even be relevant today.
Six Nations is a completely different world from what our ancestors lived pre-1924. We have a population of over 26,000 people. The elected council has 750 employees to deliver the various programs and services. The elected council monitors the management of an $80 million budget. To protect the interests of Six Nations, the elected council has to keep on top of all the local, regional and national issues. Is the HCCC prepared to do all this?
Furthermore, we know the traditional system of governance is broken. The benches aren’t full and the chiefs who do sit on the benches are divided. It’s the same small group of chiefs and clan mothers who hang around with the HDI. The clan mothers are divided. The Mohawk clan mothers are not even given recognition. When I asked the Haudenosaunee Resource Centre for a list of the clan mothers there was no Mohawk clan mothers listed. Right now the only governance system that is working for the betterment of our community is the elected system.
I’m surprised the HCCC wants to remove the elected council. Since 1991 they have maintained they only wanted to govern the 8 Points of Jurisdiction. The HCCC would certainly have to change the way they do business. No more taking six months to a year to make decisions. No more shutting down for 10 days when someone dies. The HCCC can’t do that if they’re responsible for 750 employees and an $80 million budget. And for sure the HCCC would have to meet more than once a month and treat people equally and justly no matter what their political and religious beliefs and practices. Are they prepared to do all this?
People will tell us they support the traditional system. They support the ceremonies and the longhouses, the mid-winters, etc. But does that mean they would support the HCCC taking over the governance of Six Nations? Detlor claims it does. I disagree. Two years ago, Hazel Hill started a petition asking people to sign in support of the HCCC and very few people signed the petitions that I saw. After a while Hazel pulled the petitions from the stores. Somebody else tried to start a petition but it went nowhere. Some people say the overwhelming support for the land reclamation in Caledonia proved the majority of people supported the HCCC, but far as I know people were there to support the land. That’s why I was there. Other people will say because so few people turn out for the elected council election proves people support the HCCC. I’m of the mind the majority of people don’t support either council. As long as their life is good and their families are taken care of, that’s what matters.
Some people may not like the elected council and the elected system but we need only look around the community to see what the elected council has done for Six Nations. We have a wonderful community, lots of good services and facilities. We have our own Police Service. We have paved roads. We have a housing system that is fair to everyone. We have everything for our young people. Once the Youth & Elder’s Centre is completed we’ll have even more. Our seniors are taken care of.
Clearly the Haudenosaunee people Detlor speaks of are not looking at governance realistically. There would be more benefit to our people and community if the two councils worked together. But if the HCCC’s plan is to launch a court challenge to remove the elected council then our community members deserve to be consulted and deserve nothing less from the HCCC than a comprehensive Plan of Action as to how they plan to govern and to manage the administration.
Councillor Helen Miller
2251 Chiefswood Rd, Ohsweken ON 519 717 2565
2251 Chiefswood Rd, Ohsweken ON 519 717 2565