As we head into 2019, we head into an election year — and unfortunately Six Nations is not immune to the onslaught of dirty politics.
This week, an American news blog run out of Buffalo turned out a post, framing the race of one of Six Nations elected band councillors who is considering running for elected chief.
I say post because what was published by the Buffalo Chronicle wasn’t a news story – yet. Announcements for candidacy at Six Nations have not been made public. And with an audience of 781 followers on social media, many of them centred in the city of Buffalo, the logic of why this subject mattered to the Buffalo Chronicle just doesn’t add up.
Unless you consider that this is an election year. Then it makes perfect sense.
Six Nations elections are a little different than your typical municipal election. The electorate is dispersed throughout the Dish with One Spoon Territory, even further. In order to vote for Six Nations leadership one only needs to be present, at least 18 years of age and have a band number.
The post to the Buffalo Chronicle website published unconfirmed reports that Six Nations elected councillor Mark Hill is running for chief “backed by cigarette money”.
The writer, whose name was not published, says that a Six Nations business, Grand River Enterprises, is funding Hill’s campaign and that this has Six Nations “traditionalists” scared. The writer then suggests the sole saving grace would be if Six Nations “traditionalists” get together and “mobilize” to enter the elected political system and vote.
The writer then spends a long time building fear about Hill’s relationship with his uncle, Ken Hill, an owner of GRE — and adds that several “devout” longhouse followers are considering running for elected chief in an attempt to stop Hill— a move they claim will risk the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee people.
The narrative is weird. It is embarrassing for the Buffalo Chronicle. But mostly, it is shameful for a publication that has nothing to do with the community of Six Nations to insert themselves in the Six Nations political environment and try to disrupt our community’s work towards decolonization.
And if we’re down to the nitty gritty, “cigarette money” has created an industry and an economy on Six Nations that is independent from government handouts. Grand River Enterprises does pay taxes — a long litigated fact that the owners of the company say they were duped into by government officials. But if we’re counting who pays taxes in the cigarette industry on Six Nations — so do three out of the seven other tobacco producers on the territory. For that matter, GRE didn’t bring taxes to Six Nations. The Six Nations Canada Post outlet has been collecting taxes on the territory since it opened.
Cigarette money has funded the creation of other businesses on Six Nations, continues to financially support youth in sports and dance, has grown gas stations, construction companies, and put food on the tables of graphic designers, artists, and more.
Cigarette money has created sports opportunities for indigenous people who otherwise may not have been able to participate in that realm. In part, donations from the cigarette industry built Six Nations a fire station. They have also kept the food bank open and held free community celebrations throughout the year.
To vilify certain people’s “cigarette money”, while boosting another’s as philanthropy because of who holds the wallet is foolish, simple, and not beneficial for the political future of Six Nations.
What purpose does a contribution to our politics like this serve except to fuel the fire of the us vs them polarization of “traditionalist” vs the rest of us. It’s certainly not fair to colour Hill’s campaign for elected chief with this kind of rhetoric.
Divide and conquer was always a popular strategy of the colonizer, and using the written word to scare an electorate a popular tactic.
Hill responded on his social media, saying that he has considered running for elected chief but has not yet put his name forward for candidacy. He says no one contacted him to confirm details of the posting. Hill also says any campaign he launches is funded only by his own income.
What has become apparent is this — Six Nations elections this year are going to be different. The Buffalo Chronicle did not respond to our requests for comment, or answer our questions on who wrote the post.
Oddly enough there are two stories about Six Nations on the website that has been open since 2014 — both revolving around GRE owner Ken Hill — both with unnamed authors.
Of particular note is that the founder and publisher of the Chronicle, Matthew Ricchiazi — who claims Haudenosaunee heritage, previously worked at SNEC as a policy analyst — and is now leading an investment firm hoping to use Haudenosaunee treaty rights to team up with New York’s state governor to launch a tourist attraction in Niagara Falls. That is, according to the Chroncile.
Now I’m not saying that bloggers can’t be accurate. Nor am I saying that journalists can’t be bloggers or that bloggers can’t be journalists. What we need to keep in mind is that if you are going to dip your toe into the world of Six Nations politics — you can’t just come out of nowhere and try to sully a persons journey forward by throwing out an opinion or two based on who’s related to who. Two plus two does not equal fish, my friend.