Original Published on Jul 28, 2022 at 18:18
By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Who speaks for the Haudenosaunee?
That question is at the heart of a decades-long dispute between the elected and traditional governments on Six Nations.
Both councils say they are the sole authority on the reserve and beyond, with the exclusive right to meet with political leaders and developers looking to build on traditional Haudenosaunee territory along the Grand River.
“The law is clear that it is the elected government of the Six Nations of the Grand River with whom any consultation concerning development in the Haldimand Tract must occur,” Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill wrote in a July 11 letter to municipalities along the Grand.
Hill said the Supreme Court has “confirmed and recognized” elected council as “the only legitimate government of our Nation.”
But the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council — the traditional government led by hereditary clan mothers and chiefs — rejects that view.
“The elected band administration only belongs here on Reserve No. 40, and that’s it. They don’t go any further than that,” said Cayuga Chief Deyohowe:to (Roger Silversmith) outside the Onondaga Longhouse on Wednesday where he responded to Hill’s letter.
Deyohowe:to accused the elected council of co-opting traditional Haudenosaunee symbols “and the power Canada gives them through the Indian Act to give the impression they have authority.”
The band council system was created by the Indian Act of 1924 in what the Confederacy says was a move by Ottawa to supplant the traditional leadership.
“We will not be silenced or accept this latest attempt to eradicate our existence,” Deyohowe:to said.
“The elected council does not in any way, shape or form represent Haudenosaunee people on any issue.”
Hill could not be reached for an interview. In his letter, he blamed “certain provincial officials” for creating “confusion” for developers regarding who on Six Nations to consult. The elected chief said his council must be involved in all conversations, saying it would be “unacceptable interference in our affairs” for builders and politicians to hold “separate parallel discussions” with the Confederacy.
“We hold our traditional leadership in high regard, maintaining ties of respect and frequent communication,” Hill wrote.
“But our reverence for their position and our traditions must not be used against us by external parties. The very idea creates suspicion and is seen as a ‘divide and conquer’ approach.”
Deyohowe:to said despite Hill’s claim of “frequent communication,” the two councils barely speak. “There’s really no communication at all,” he said.
To Deyohowe:to, the elected council is trying to get in on the development action. “They’re trying to get people doing business on their side. It’s about business.”
In April 2021, the Confederacy declared a moratorium on building within the Haldimand Tract lands — roughly 10 kilometres on either side of the full length of the Grand — unless developers and municipal councils consulted with the Confederacy’s development arm, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute.
That led to developers calling HDI and making environmentally responsible changes to their building plans, said Confederacy secretary Leroy Hill. “We’re not entirely against development. We’ve said that all along,” Leroy Hill said. “But it has to be responsible, and we need to be at the table.”
This item reprinted with permission from The Spectator, Hamilton, Ontario