“And so, the people are afraid”: A discussion with the Men’s Fire about standing up to the HCCC and HDI

Rotiskerekete is a disputed term. Some say it means, ‘they carry the soil’. Some say it means ‘they carry the red/ochre’ or ‘they carry the bones’. Whichever translation you cling to, the reference is to the medicine pouch carried by Rotinossioni men, which is given after a coming of age ceremony.

Some say the men, at that time, are given the ‘burden or responsibility of carrying the peace’.

The Men’s Fire, as they are referred to on Six Nations, recently spoke to 2RT about their decision to participate in the Six Nations land claim intervenor hearings to talk about why they put forward a motion to stop the Haudenosaunee Development Institute and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council from Six Nations from claiming itself as representative for the entire Haudenosaunee world.

On June 14, HDI lost its legal battle to be named the representatives for the HCCC, after changing their original request to be named the representatives of the entire Haudenosaunee Confederacy. That loss came largely in part, from the Men’s Fire’s case — which Justice JT Akbarali accepted as fact in her ruling — that the HCCC and HDI do not represent the people of the Confederacy.

“It was a good win, but I don’t think it is the end of the problem yet,” said Loran Thompson, one of the Rotiskerekete. “I think they’re gonna keep going. That guys got a reputation to find other ways to do what he’s doing and I think we have to be alert to that.”

That guy, is Aaron Detlor. A mixed Mohawk and Dutch lawyer from Toronto who arrived at Six Nations during the land reclamation in Caledonia. Sources told 2RT that Detlor, who is not from Six Nations, originally showed up at the negotiations meetings for the land reclamations with the Governments of Canada and Ontario when the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs and the Six Nations Elected Band Council had agreed to sit as an amalgamated group and negotiate terms to settle the land dispute.

Participants in those meetings told 2RT that Detlor’s first appearance at Six Nations was as a driver for another lawyer who was present. Eventually he would offer his opinion from the side of the room and began offering to do pro-bono legal work. Detlor reportedly then moved his way directly into the meetings and by the end, was serving as a proxy for HCCC Secretary Leroy Jock Hill, leading the negotiations and bringing in other high paid Toronto lawyers to help out.

The Rotiske, as they are called, have stood up to the HCCC and HDI systems for generations. In part because of an ongoing work of erasure by the HCCC to remove the original accountability roles of the ‘Aunties and Uncles’ or Women and Warriors, from the Great Law of Peace — the foundation of the Confederation of the Six Nations.

“From our side we need to get our history down the way it should be from our point of view, with how our history is with the oppressor, invaders, the settlers, all of those things. But it seems like we keep putting ourselves in a situation where his terminologies always come out on top.”

“We did have a justice system but it didn’t copy theirs. We used the clan system and the Kayeri niyoriwage – the elders. The jihstahongonha that have been through life. That’s the system we used. But people don’t understand that anymore. We still have it its never been done away with its just the oppression, it has just drowned it out.”

Bill Monture, another Rotiske, added, “When we went to court for Detlor — when the judge made that comment he said, ‘this shouldn’t be in my courtroom but this man here brought it into my court and now I have to deal with it. It should have been dealt with back home.’ Thats what he said.”

“We keep failing in that area,” added Thompson. “Failing to understand what that judge means or failing to take the responsibility of what that means and what he was saying — at home. We have to deal with it. It’s easier to let a judge deal with it.”

Entering the Ontario court system as a people who consider themselves to be politically separate and distinct — even foreign to Ontario’s jurisdiction — was a complicated process. In her ruling, Justice Akbarali said that the HCCC was abusing the courts by using a delegate to attack the Six Nations elected leadership and the Six Nations elected leadership alleged the HCCC was using the courts to attack the Six Nations people themselves.

When the Men’s Fire stepped in, they brought in an expert, Tekarontake Paul Delaronde, to give testimony about the ‘Great Law of Peace’ and traditional protocols to demonstrate that the HCCC and HDI did not have the authority to get the kind of representation order they were seeking. In response, HDI got a local historian, Rick Hill, to submit an affidavit that criticized Delaronde’s beliefs and reinforced the rhetoric that Warriors do not exists in the Haudenosaunee worldview.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Delaronde, when asked how he felt about the criticisms. “One of the things in our culture. One of the first instructions that we are given is to never to listen to rumours and gossip. What HDI did is they were grasping at anything and they took a whole lot of rumours and gossip and they tried to interpret it to their own benefit. But the thing is that, it’s rumour and gossip – its not based on truth. And so when I got asked to testify, all I did was testify to what the old people have taught us. About what our Kentyokwanhasta means and what its all about. Our instruction was always to adhere to that. That is what I focused on. The Truth. They could not dispute the truth. So all they could do was they could try to attack my character.”

“They thought by attacking my character they wouldn’t have to deal with the truth. If you’re just going to pull all of your information off the internet, which is most of the time just a lot of garbage,” said Delaronde. “All I had to do is focus on the truth, tell the truth and explain things. Explain things to the court and say how our formula works, how our constitution works.”

“It is not individuals that are our leaders. It’s the families, it is the clans. They’re the ones that have the final say on anything. And here, HCCC and HDI — they weren’t following our system. All they were doing is window dressing saying that they’re Confederacy and all that. They’re not Confederacy,” said Delaronde. “They’re a communal organization, that’s all they are. They’re not a government because they don’t govern. All they try to do is use fear mongering to try to control people and say ‘oh, you can’t do this — and you can’t do that — you have to obey the chiefs’ and all this stuff. I mean, what is this? Christianity? Because that’s what Christianity does. It uses fear mongering.”

“And so, the people are afraid,” he added.

The fear he is talking about is a deep seeded fear amongst all Haudenosaunee — fostered by the cultural gatekeeping the HCCC has initiated. Things that are birthrights for all Haudenosaunee people have become cultural prizes doled out for obedience and surrendering to the authority of the system as it is. There is a real fear of not having access to ceremonies, to speakers for funerals, for being ostracized and disconnected from learning the language or having traditional names being given to their children. Fear of being othered by the people that are supposed to be guarding the community, our traditions and our way of life.

“The people have never had the real opportunity to listen to a recital of the Kayenerahgowah. And to understand what their place is, what their responsibilities are. Instead all they’ve ever been told are fairy tales about the Peacemaker’s journey and all that stuff. I’m not saying that we should not learn about the Peacemakers journey, but I’m saying that we should learn it as it was told. They’ve modified it so that they can keep that control. They always end their so-called Great Law recital, which is just the Peacemakers journey — they never address what is the responsibility of the clans. What is the responsibility of the families, of the individual? What is the responsibility of the Yorane, the Yakoyane? They never talk about the specifics. So people don’t understand. They never explain to the people what the formula is. Where they can express their opinions,” said Delaronde.

“It was always a republic. It was a government by the people and for the people. It was not where individuals, a little regime, would control. They’ve been using HDI and a corporation to supposedly take control of our lands and lease our lands so that they could personally benefit,” said Delaronde.

“The land they have acquired, it’s all in individuals personal names. Where is the people? There’s no such thing as the people in their system. They use the titles, they use symbols to pretend — to pretend that they are the legitimate body — but they’re not.”

The HCCC has a history of making declarations that people cannot use Iroquoian languages, symbols or colours without their consent — laying claim to all Haudenosaunee visual cultural expression and using that manufactured authority to further ostracize any institution that uses those symbols without their permission.

“They think that they are putting the ceremonies through. The thing is, these are not Thanksgiving ceremonies, they are religious ceremonies. Our people never believed in religion. How we believed and what we believed came from the natural world,” said Delaronde. He is speaking now about the separation in the Haudenosaunee world between those who follow the traditional belief system in the Great Law of Peace, and those who follow a reform religion called Gaihwiyo that was picked up by mostly Seneca and Cayuga people in the mid-1800s following the break up of the Iroquois Confederacy after the American Revolution.

“The belief they created is only in their minds. There is nothing in nature to support anything in it. That reality of theirs only exists in their minds. This is why they require the people to have faith. To have faith and not knowledge. And this is what is important. Our people must gain this knowledge because it’s the knowledge is that what will help to empower them,” said Delaronde.

“One of the things they like to go on about is that our people need to be healed. No! We’re not a sick people. We’re an oppressed people and we need to re-empower ourselves. No one is going to empower us. We have to re-empower ourselves,” said Delaronde. “That’s not ours. All it is, is a newly formed Christianity. All is does is it’s got an Onkwehonwe flavouring to it — but it’s still Christianity.”

“Theres two ways of speaking our language. There is the old way and the new way that has the influence of the Europeans. Its been modified to meet the worldview of the Europeans. It is not based on the natural worldview of our people anymore. We still have people among us who do understand the old language. Our language is so descriptive, that even if you heard the word the first time you would understand what it means,” said Delaronde, now speaking about the changes to the language that have further separated the people from being able to contextualize the Great Law.

“They’re more comfortable allowing the courts to deal with this. You look at who is spearheading it is Aaron Detlor himself. The only training he has is the European system. The thing is, in that system they recognize individual ownership of property and all that. Whereas in our system — no! You don’t own your mother, you’re a part of your mother. No one can own. We have use of our lands, of our mother. Like every child has the opportunity and so on to benefit from their mothers. These guys – the system — is all based on how good a lie you can tell. After all, the word ‘lawyer’ comes from the latin word ‘liar’.”

Wilf Davey, one of the Rotiske, added why he filed a motion to stop HDI. “I speak for the ones that can’t speak, don’t want to speak, don’t understand and are not here yet,” he said. “I’m not as versed as Paul in the Gayaneragowah but I have been taught a lot.”

“When this came about, it aggravated the fire right out of me that if he [Detlor] got a scheme up to litigate land we would not have anymore land. We would have taillights. They would dump that residual income, whatever they negotiated, and they would sell it in a heart beat and they would dump it into the numbered company. What they have been doing for the last 8 years is the exact same thing. Signing contracts, creating residual income, dumping it into a numbered company. Nobody’s seen any amounts of money. We’ve been heard and read stupid,” said Davey.

He is one of the plaintiffs in a class action civil suit against HDI, now moving into the certification phase.

Davey says, “There is a lot more behind the scenes that has not yet surfaced, and we have been vigilantly scratching around behind the scenes finding more and more. Land that they own, properties they own, farms that they own. They’re buying this, they’re buying that. We don’t know the exact number. But we do know that they have found a considerable amount — millions of dollars in a bank account. Add that to the properties — its significant. We don’t have access to it. HCCC might have access to it but I don’t think so, because there is only a handful of people associated with that numbered company. Tomorrow — if they chose to unload it we would have no recourse whatsoever. The courts would say sorry about your luck but you should have been more careful.”

Delaronde says he disagrees that there would be no recourse.

“This land is our mother. It doesn’t matter how many times they traffic her, it’s still our mother. Everything that they’ve done has been illegal. All the times they bought the same land, sold the same land, and possess the same land over and over — its always in dispute. Everything that they’ve done has been fraudulent. This is why we’re still here. This is what our ancestors told us. The can sell the land, but as long as there is one of us that still speaks our language and believes in who we are — they can never own the land. As long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the water flows we will always hold up our end of everything. We still hold the fact that this here is our land and that their system of buying and selling and the culture of possession is not applicable. It is illegal. Even by their laws — everything they have done is illegal. Just because they pass something within their congress or their parliaments does not legitimize it. They tried to legitimize it but they cannot. There is no statute of limitation on theft.”

Delaronde said, “If we accept their court decisions. If we accept their legislation and everything else than we have lost. We don’t have to accept it. It’’s an illusion. What we respect with this land — the air, the sun the moon, the plants, the trees, the animals, the insects —  that’s what we know is real. That’s what we know is our relations, and thats where our minds should be. Never allow them to disconnect us from the Creation.

Davey added, “We were successful in getting a judge to see what we saw 8 years ago and we have not brought it to the forefront so the rest of the people can see what we saw.”

Delaronde said, “It’s a process. All my life we been talking to people. My parents, and grandparents and the ones before have talked to people. But the thing is if you don’t show them — you have to show them! If we’re just gonna talk about it, it’s a religion. But if we start pointing them to clearly look at that forest, clearly look at that river, clearly look at this land. That they know is real. Now you have to start teaching them how they are connected — how they are a parent — there are no longer any orphans in our own homelands. Now you connect them to where and what they belong with.”

That re-engagement with the people, giving them the knowledge that they belong to the land and have a relationship and role in protecting it is the very foundation of what all land protectors stand upon. Sadly, the HCCC has come against the Rotiske for their work in reconnecting the people with that message even issuing an open statement to all Haudenosaunee people that specific Men’s Fire members are ‘outside the circle’ and relying on a rhetorical othering point the HCCC have used time and time again — saying they ‘have no voice’.

“The thing is that they keep telling people you have no voice or we’re taking your voice away and all this kinda stuff. I mean, that’s a crock of bullshit. That is a crock of bullshit,” says Delaronde. “The thing is that Creation gave you your voice. Creation gave me the opportunity to exercise ongawa. Creation gave you the right to an opinion. No one has the right to tell you you don’t have a right to an opinion. That’s what the clan system is for. So you can express your opinion. Just because you don’t like the opinion of someone doesn’t give you the right to put them down so you hate them. This is what they have been promoting. They’re causing division among the people. Instead of saying, ‘well lets try to understand why this person has this opinion’ — maybe this person is the one that has the right opinion.”

Delaronde explained the facts around the concept of a person having no voice. “A lot of times one person, because they were thinking, and they exercised the right to voice their opinion is not a reason to take away their voice. The thing is — you can’t take a way a persons voice. If a person deliberately violates our constitution then we say they have no voice in our system. That’s all that means. You cannot take a person’s voice away. They will always have that. Creation made sure of that. That is not our way of life. We have procedures and protocols there are expectations of each and everyone of us. We are not a people of law we are a free people that is why we have a way of life and not a life of law. If we have a life of law then we are not a free people. There is this expression — they keep saying the great law. It is is not the Great Law — it is about a way of life. We’re trying to mimic the very thing that is destroying us. That is a sad thing.”

Davey added that the Rotiske from all territories participated in the Mens’ Fire motion to intervene. In particular, men from Oneida were instrumental in bringing together elders, wisdom and knowledge that helped put together the case.

Monture said, “When we do this for our people it’s not about pounding our chests — it’s about helping our people, We have a lot of knowledge carriers with us. It’s not about us, it’s about helping our people to have a better understanding of where we are going as a people.”

Delaronde added, “It’s about carrying out our responsibility to our future generations . To our own children and our grandchildren. We are fighting for the ones who cannot fight for themselves. That is our responsibility to protect and defend the ones who don’t know how to. This one action has helped to empower our people. The wrong is wrong. That’s all there is to it. They lie and they will always lie. We can’t expect anything different from them. People need to start relying upon ourselves and relying on our ways.

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