Recently, some of the hereditary chiefs and their supporters came out to condemn the elected leadership’s use of language and the word Haudenosaunee in their identification.
It was confusing. Why would the hereditary leaders, who are keen on preserving the language and want people in their own community to know and embrace who they are, publicly announce that it was undesirable and improper for certain community members with certain political ideals to use the indigenous languages and cultural symbols that identify us as Haudenosaunee?
Sadly, this is part of an ongoing revisionist effort to corrupt our Six Nations origin stories and obfuscate the truth of our history in a battle of semantics and religious perspectives by attempting to re-write and re-define what it means to be Haudenosaunee.
The word Haudenosaunee first showed up in the writings of Henry Lewis Morgan in 1904 as a term the Iroquois Confederacy used to refer to themselves. It was set apart from the term “Iroquois” which was how settlers described the people of the Confederacy or League of Nations as it was also called — the Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, and Cayuga.
In Morgan’s notes, he says the translation for the term Haudenosaunee was closer to “people of the extended house” and explains that the name describes the Confederacy’s political structures and principles of inclusion and diversity for those who enter the League properly, first through the Mohawks.
Today, those who represent the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council are attempting to claim ownership over the term Haudenosaunee and teach that the term means “people of the longhouse”. Sometimes, hereditary leaders have used that translation to rationalize excluding the concerns or voices of Six Nations people who don’t follow the Gaiwiyo longhouse tradition or politically support the HCCC.
In fact, some people have gone so far as to say that anyone who does not attend longhouse ceremonies is not a Haudenosaunee person.
This is a painful act of lateral violence. It is discrimination. It’s painful to watch, and painful to experience.
Any differentiation between Haudenosaunee and non-Haudenosaunee that excludes the indigenous families of the warriors who were rewarded the Haldimand Tract and set up Six Nations, is an act of disinheriting the descendants of those who built this community.
And disinheriting indigenous people from their right to their traditional territory is an act of colonial violence.
It is widely known among the Iroquois communities that Six Nations is not a traditional settlement. It is known as a warriors settlement.
The people of Six Nations are the descendants of the warriors who fought, and then fled the United States for being persecuted for loyalty to the British Crown.
When our ancestors received the Haldimand Tract through the Haldimand Proclamation, they were predominantly Mohawks along with other nation warriors the Proclamation calls “Such Others”.
Over time, many non-warrior families of the Iroquois Confederacy who were looking to settle with the Mohawks and Such Others were invited to come and live in peace along the Grand River.
This is a proud heritage that many people who currently live at Six Nations hold sacred. It’s a part of our individual and collective origin stories.
However, when it comes to asserting jurisdiction and the struggle that the HCCC is finding itself in — revisionist history is being utilized to gain a foothold with governments, corporations and developers seeking to make reconciliations toward Six Nations. And it is coming at the expense of harming the very people they claim they must represent.
How are non-Indigenous or non-Six Nations people supposed to know the difference? From the outside looking in, those wearing ribbon shirts and large gustowahs must know what they are talking about, shouldn’t they?
Indigenous regalia aside, are they speaking the truth? And how would anyone from the outside world be able to tell that someone claiming to represent the whole is actually representing the people?
There is too much misinformation afoot.
Part of that is opportunity, taking advantage of a situation where far too many of our people do not know their traditions, and don’t have the choice to participate in civic issues under the hereditary structures that prohibit leadership to certain families passing down titles.
This is part of the reason why a contingent of Six Nations people lobbied the federal government in the early 1900s to implement elected leadership titles in the community and do away with the hereditary system.
However today revisionist history is again taking advantage of the void of information and instead spoon feeding the trauma porn of a gun touting band of RCMP installing elected leaders at gunpoint down peoples throats.
Is that the whole truth? How are non-indigenous people supposed to know the difference?
And how are the people of Six Nations supposed to speak out against revisionist history and bring fact and truth forward when they are accosted for using the language and cultural symbols if they aren’t toting the HCCC line?
The history of Six Nations is multifaceted and diverse that it gets heated, and because we’ve lost so much of our culture, people are afraid to question what they are told by those wearing the oldest gustowah.
As Haudenosaunee we are supposed to have buried the weapons of war against one another — but misinformation, battles of semantics and religious rhetoric are all weapons of war. Relying on a void of facts is divisive. Attacking people for speaking their truth is also a weapon of war.
It’s time people start asserting truth, without fear of being disinherited by anyone. All of the descendants of the warriors who came to Six Nations have a stake in the Haldimand Tract. No one entity speaks for us all.