Will Six Nations trust an HCCC internal investigation?

Editorial by Nahnda Garlow

Since the launch of the Two Row Times in 2013 we have repeatedly hit a brick wall when trying to cover issues of governance involving the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) and the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI).

Additionally, HCCC’s decision to utilize Turtle Island News publisher Lynda Powless as its communications officer put our journalists at a loss.

In no other industry or community would you find the government hiring a newspaper publisher to be their official spokesperson. Nor would you find one newspaper required to contact another just to get answers to simple questions — but this is the rez and TRT respected the decision and dealt with the hand we were given.

While covering the expulsion of HDI lawyer Aaron Detlor by the Men’s Fire at the GREAT building — the HDI/HCCC Communications Officer Lynda Powless shouted at our publisher, Jonathan Garlow, in front of a large crowd accusing him of somehow manufacturing the moment.

Further to that, Ms. Powless published letters by HDI Executive Director Hazel Hill alleging that the Two Row Times was somehow a part of a great conspiracy to destroy the Confederacy by orchestrating Detlor’s removal from Six Nations.

The story presented the Two Row Times and our publisher Jonathan Garlow as part of a large conspiracy to usurp traditional leaders from their jobs. This is a narrative that is untrue.

In response to the allegations against Garlow and the Two Row Times in the Turtle Island News, publisher Lynda Powless is being sued for defamation.

Hazel Hill reiterated this conspiracy during an assault trial in 2017 against the Men’s Fire. Hill said under oath that Powless was employed by the HDI for publishing the HDI’s perspective in the Turtle Island News and running the HCCC’s Facebook account.

Hill said, “Our community has two local papers and one is very directly negative towards the confederacy and HDI, and the other one, which is owned by the Communications person that was hired to work for HDI and the Confederacy — is supposed to get the Confederacy’s voice out.”

To be clear — the Two Row Times is not ‘the band council paper’. We are editorially independent, grassroots, indigenous-led and proud to be asking hard questions and getting answers for people on the news that matters.

We also disagree with the statement that we are negative towards the Confederacy.

Our journalists presented fact and evidence based investigative journalism — breaking the story that HCCC’s Chiefs and Clanmothers didn’t know HDI agreed to waive the sovereign immunity of the Haudenosaunee with their acceptance of a million dollar deal with the Samsung for wind and solar farms.

Our coverage further pursued the story when clan families from across the Haudenosaunee territories and HCCC’s Chiefs and Clanmothers were unaware HDI started a numbered provincial corporation on their behalf.

We told the stories of the clans and families demanding Detlor be removed from the territory and HDI shut down for a forensic audit. Voices of members of the Confederacy — from Chiefs, Clanmothers and members of the body that were not being heard at HCCC meetings and voices that needed a megaphone. So we used ours.

We have not been negative towards the Confederacy. Rather we have amplified the silenced voices of the people of the Confederacy, including those critical ones, as best we could.

Our journalists would attend the monthly HCCC meetings at Onondaga Longhouse, engage in local reporting and take notes.

But getting answers to questions or getting interviews with officials wasn’t easy. At times our emailed questions to HCCC’s press person were not replied to until the last minute — often with quotes that could not be published.

For example, at the May 2016 HCCC meeting a community member accused Powless of being in a conflict of interest in her work for the Council. TRT emailed Powless looking for a response to that allegation. Her answer was an emailed 250-word advertisement of the Turtle Island News.

Our reporting covered the public outcry that HDI was overreaching their authority and making decisions without the proper consultation or approval from the Chiefs, Clanmothers and clan families.

In our defence, reporting all sides of a situation on the matters of HCCC has been difficult.

HDI hired Powless giving her exclusive access to HCCC meetings and resources — and then put her in charge of fielding our questions. We were positioned unfairly and that was the choice HDI made, sanctioned by the HCCC.

Now, the narrative is changing. Powless has left her position with HDI in an apparent dispute with HDI’s Director. And suddenly HCCC is calling for an internal investigation of HDI’s finances — with the scope on decisions made by Hill and Detlor.

Wait — what? Now?

In truth, the Haudenosaunee people have been calling for a forensic audit of HDI and calling for specifics on its finances for years.

Those cries have long included public disclosure of how much Powless was being paid by HDI for her work as their press contact — something Hill revealed in her December 2017 HDI report to the HCCC along with the details of that dispute between Powless and Hill.

If you look back through the coverage on this issue in the Two Row Times, you will see that Cayuga Wolf Chief Sam General made the first public call for an external investigation, at the request of his clan families.

In 2014 he stood up in council and called for HDI to be dissolved immediately and for Detlor to be removed and a forensic audit of the HDI.

Later attempts were made to silence General’s opposition and “dehorn” him as Chief of the Cayuga Wolf clan without consensus from the families he represents.

Clan families from the Mohawks, Onondagas and Oneidas have signed cease and desist letters, made proclamations and demanded their position known — that HDI has created an imbalance of authority, silenced entire families and distributed power to those who are abusing it.

With their complex past and more recent controversial history in mind — what will an internal investigation of the HDI’s finances look like now? The question remains unanswered: who has gotten paid what for what? And who does the money belong to?

It is unclear what the HDI, Detlor, Hill, or anyone else at the level of HDI has done — good or bad — on behalf of the Haudenosaunee people. Ironically, this is something good writing, limitless resources and efficient coverage of HDI or HCCC should have accomplished.

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