It is all a bit ironic. Many, such as the editor of Turtle Island News (one of two Reserve newspapers), are calling for the replacement of the Elected Council (SNEC) with the traditional Hereditary Council (HCCC) - yet the latter has disintegrated to the point that the head Chief, the Mohawk Tekarihogen, is refusing to show up for meetings at the Longhouse - and that's just for starters.
Some may be familiar with the historical underpinnings of how the HCCC was removed and SNEC installed. Those who are only concerned with what is happening today can skip down to the heading "today".
History: Since time immemorial (hence the nostalgia about the hereditary form of government), the HCCC has acted as the governing body for the Five (now Six) Nations. Since the Five Nations were at constant warfare with each other (yet some insist that there was some sort of Heaven on earth here until Columbus came to upset the apple cart), the "Peacemaker" Deganawida (a Wyandot - Huron, Mohawk or Onondaga depending on the version) was able to convince the Mohawk Hayenwagtha (a Mohawk or an Onondaga depending on the version) that burying the hatchet with their enemies and meeting regularly to discuss issues that would ensure that the peace be kept, was the path to future stability. Each Nation in turn came to see the wisdom in a peaceful union through the symbolic tree of peace (white pine), under which the hatchets and implements of war would be buried (symbolically since there were still plenty of other enemies out there). After Thadodaho of the Onondaga Nation finally had the snakes combed out of his hair, the Onondaga were made the fire keepers of the Five Nations Confederacy, with the Mohawk being the metaphorical (and geographical) keepers of the eastern gate, and the Seneca being the keepers of the western gate. The Mohawk and the Seneca were known as the "elder brothers", and as those who respectively regulated the eastern and western doors, held considerable esteem and power among equals. 49 or 50 (viewpoints differ) Chiefs made up the Confederacy, for example 9 came from the Mohawk (3 Chiefs for each of 3 families - Ohwachira in each of the Turtle, Wolf and Bear Clans).
This system survived until 1777 when the American Revolution dictated that the council fire at Onondaga be extinguished. The Mohawk, some or the most of the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca all supported the British. The Oneida (with the exception of the Aughquaga branch along the Susquehanna River), and the Tuscarora fought along side the Rebels ("Patriots"). When the Six Nations moved to the Grand River in 1785, the Oneida, some Onondaga, and most of the Seneca remained within American territory and came under control of the American Government and the State of New York. The Mohawk, the Aughquaga (known at Six Nations later as Oneida), most of the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and a few of the Seneca were joined by scattered allies and refugees such as the Nanticoke, Tutalo and Delaware (the latter were actually residing at the Grand River prior to 1783).
A serious problem for any attempt to re-establish the Confederacy was the fact that most of the Seneca were residing in New York State and many Seneca chiefships were not filled at Six Nations from 1785 onwards. There was never a full compliment of hereditary chiefs at Six Nations, although attempts to fill the void were enacted through "borrowing" from other clans or even nations. Chadwick provides a glimpse of the chiefs in 1894 and many Seneca (and other) chief positions were not filled at Six Nations. Instead Chiefs from the smaller, often non Iroquoian, groups were allowed seats at the Onondaga Longhouse (near Middleport, Brant County). The Delaware (who amalgamated with the Nanticoke and Mahican - Stockbridge) were one of the largest groups at Six Nations - but were of Anishinabe ancestry and never historically members of the Confederacy. At one time the Delaware were accorded a position of "women" or "wearing skirts" - a sexist put down at the time - ironic considering it was the Clan Mothers who installed Confederacy Chiefs and could dehorn (remove) them.
Thus things were always very "fluid" at Six Nations and the true historical Confederacy was never reconstituted except in modified form (there were never exactly 49 or 50 Confederacy Chiefs because there were never eligible candidates to fill each position). Today chaos reigns supreme in the world of the Confederacy. One example being that a key Mohawk Bear Clan position is filled by someone from the Ball Clan - the Mohawk never had a Ball Clan. I would venture to say that few today at the HCCC could prove that they occupy a position that was derived through descent in the direct maternal line. There has been too much borrowing and shuffling around over the years and the bald faced fact is that the vast majority of people at Six Nations don't know their Clan, and those who claim to know could not prove it via recitation via oral or written history of the names of the Clan Mothers back to the American Revolution. What is important to note here is that the Confederacy as it was established prior to the American Revolution has never been reconstituted in full since the extinguishing of the Council Fire in 1777, so what has appeared at Six Nations is merely a vestige of that once powerful institution as described in the Kayenkerigowagh (many other spellings - this is a phonetic rendition of what I heard) or Great Law.
So in effect, the Hereditary Council is a fiction, a group of traditional people who claim to be the direct lineage descendants of the original Confederacy devised by the Peacemaker. A sensible question to ask any Chief is to tell how he obtained his role back through the generations to 1916. Few if any could go as far back as 1816 - if they can, I would delight in seeing the evidence. Over the years White anthropologists have taken snapshots of those who held a Chief's position in say the 1960s (Shimony), the 1920s (Goldenweiser), and the 1890s (Chadwick). Land deeds of earlier dates often include an individual's White name and their Haudenosaunee name (although groups such as the Lower Cayuga were slow to adopt White surnames - often not until the late 1800s) - but sometimes their Chiefly name and sometimes their commonly used name.
The "party line" at Six Nations is that in 1924 the "colonial" Canadian Government ordered the RCMP to lock the doors to the Longhouse where the HCCC met, then replaced the latter with a council elected by the people (with generally poor turn outs for elections). In fact it was a group of "progressives", largely Mohawk and those from the upper parts of the Reserve, who sent a series of petitions to the government requesting that the (to them) dysfunctional hereditary chiefs be replaced by an elected council. Ultimately the Canadian Government gave in to the "progressives" as they too were finding difficulty in getting things accomplished (decisions made), and so "took the heat" for what was really a factional dispute at Six Nations. To this day the Canadian Government is blamed for ousting the traditional hereditary council and contributing to "cultural genocide". The facts mean nothing, perception is all.
After 1924 the hereditary council continued as a parallel governance agency but with only moral not legal authority. They claim to be the only true governance body at Six Nations but are not recognized as such by the Canadian Government, and it is anyone's guess as to how many at Six Nations support the HCCC. All services from road maintenance to mortgage loans comes via SNEC - the HCCC has no role in the day to day operations on the Reserve. However in 2006 during the Caledonia crisis, and subsequently, they along with SNEC were invited to the negotiating table by the Ontario Liberal Government. Alas, the Elected Council members became so frustrated over the antics of the HCCC (specifically their "enforcement" wing the HDI) that they bowed out leaving only the HCCC at the table to negotiate over land claims. This was problematic since by law (Indian Act) the Government can only make agreements with the legitimate governing body at the table - and that would be SNEC.
Today: Over the past few years I have reported on the deteriorating situation with the HCCC, who are entangled in factional disputes involving groups from within such as Men's Fire and the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI). If possible, recently things have taken a turn for the worse. Recently I blogged about the attempt by Men's Fire to physically remove the lawyer for the HDI from the Territory. That did not go well, and nothing has been resolved other than further acrimony. Now there is more trouble within the Longhouse, and whether it is reparable is anyone's guess. It is not looking good.
It is important to note that the Mohawk Chief Tekarihogen is and has always been considered first among equals. He initiates meetings and sets the tone of the proceedings. Lately Tekarihogen has been a little disgruntled about this and that, and has on a number of occasions caused dissension within the Longhouse. He has been known to simply stand up when frustrated and leave the building. At the most recent meeting he (AMac) and other Mohawks simply failed to show up at all, leaving all Chiefs who did show to look at their watches and after it was clear that he would not be coming, closed the meeting and rescheduled for another day - and this is the group who aspires to take over the day to day running of the Reserve! To make matters worse the bench of the other elder brothers the Seneca also failed to be filled.
How can anyone place any reliance and grant authority to a group who takes their role in such a cavalier fashion? That is the question that is being asked by individuals such as CG who wrote a Letter to the Editor or Two Row Times of 8 June 2016, p.7, entitled, No Chiefs Council. An article in the same issue entitled HCC Council rescheduled, the reported stated that the June 4th meeting had to be re-scheduled to June 25. Since the requisite group of Chiefs was not present, those who were there, in what seems a state of bewilderment, stated that this need to reschedule cannot be allowed to continue, and something must be done - that the principal that, we all move forward as one mind is not coming to fruition and it is a key factor in the Great Law. All this yet the Editor of Turtle Island News in the 8 June issue of the newspaper continues to give unreserved support to the Hereditary Council, as if they can rescue the Six Nations people from bad things such as "colonialism" and "factionalism". Apparently, There is no question land and treaty rights belong to the HCCC to negotiate (p.7). Apparently the Editor does not realize that the HCCC does not have a research department with anyone who is known to be competent to assess the records that will need to be discussed with the Federal Government. Both PM and LB of the Elected Council's Lands and Resources Department do have access to the records, and have the skill to know how to interpret them. Without someone who can speak with authority about the surrender of 1841 or the Nanfan document of 1701, the HCCC would be seen as simply those who hold strong beliefs but no actual knowledge. This will simply not work, especially in 2016.
Thus in reality, the HCCC is a large part of the problem, and that simply handing over they keys to them would without a shadow of a doubt result in a major disaster for all Six Nations. The ramifications should be clear, but apparently they are not - so blame blame blame ................ The ONLY hope for any progress would be for the members of SNEC and those of the HCCC to meet. Alas, they will not even agree to be in the same room together at the same time as seen in the recent attempt of the Provincial Government to get the land talks moving again. The HCCC via their "negotiating" wing the HDI waited (I was there) for the Government to come and meet with them separately. It is no surprise that this did not happen. The Six Nations have to get their act together and act with once voice (as is dictated in the Great Law) for progress to be made - either in negotiations with the Government, or in meetings at the Longhouse.
According to the above Editorial, three members of SNEC have in utter desperation decided that the only way forward is to meet with members of the HCCC at the Longhouse. They are willing to do that despite the history of extreme acrimony. There has also been an extraordinary amount of negativity enveloping the Reserve within the last few weeks and days - including the Reserve account running out of money to be used to fund mortgages, horrible auto accidents, suicides, a revenge killing of one and wounding of two by three neighbours all apparently over a $40 debt and earlier assault incident - to name but a few wounds that the community is dealing with. Indeed something must be done. Someone or some group(s) have to budge - for the common good. All the idealism in the world will not work against the realities that are facing Six Nations today. Everyone knows that things are moving to crisis levels. Hopefully the hands extended across the table will result in a positive response from the HCCC. The ball is in their court. The latter simply cannot rebuff the members of the Elected Council this time - the stakes are too high.
Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.