OHSWEKEN — In the Confederacy Council minutes of 1879, Chief George Buck made his feelings known to his fellow Chiefs regarding the internal bickering amongst the sitting Chiefs at Six Nations Council.
“Chief George Buck again rose, and made a complaint against the Council, stating he had been treated with indifference and they, the Onondagas, wish to have a portion of the reserve to themselves.”
At that same council, was discussed the fear that white law would be the new basis of their government, thus kicking sand in the face of the ancestors.
“A question being asked of Deputy Superintendent General touching the law, was, ‘did it apply to Indians:’”
The deputy’s answer was that it did.
“It was made by their Great Mother the Queen, (Victoria) and although they might not like it, they had to abide by it.”
The number of delegations from Six Nations lobbying in Ottawa on both sides of the governance argument, caused the Superintendent to state in Council that “any such coming (to Ottawa) without the consent of the Department, will not have their expenses paid, but be left to foot every inch of the road.”
Chief Joseph Montour, (could be Monture) is recorded in the minutes of Council to have stated his disapproval of the then-current, Confederacy council structure, blaming its slowness in decision making, for the “backwardness” of the Six Nations,” in his opinion.
He asked the Superintendent of Indian Affairs why they hadn’t moved on earlier petitions for an elective system. At that time the government preferred to leave the internal affairs of Six Nations to themselves.
His answer was that he and his government understood the traditional stance of the people and therefore did not wish to force them towards change in government.
In a letter from the Superintendent of Indian Affairs dated April 4th, of 1894, Harper Reed, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs wrote to his superiors the following.
“In reference to the petition, hereunder, from certain of the Six Nations Indians praying that they be given an Elective Council, the undersigned (Harper), would state that the Council of the Six Nation Indians as at present constituted consists of 82 members… This Council, however, in no way is a representative body..”
Co-incidentally today, it’s the Elected Council which is seen by some as not being representative of the Six Nations people due to its poor election turnouts and lack of participation by the Six Nations community. The same can be argued regarding the active support of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council.
After attending and observing a session of Council, Reed concluded that the petitioners for a new way of government were, in essence, right.
“I was convinced that the influence of the present Council did not make for the advancement of the band and that it would be in the interest of the Indians to have an elective Council.”
He wrote again to the Superintendent on April 4th, saying that the department would be very happy if the elective system were adopted, “as it would bring the Six Nations in touch with the spirit of the times and would result in many benefits to the whole band.”
At this critical time in history, a new Superintendent assigned to Six Nations was E.D. Cameron. He was asked his opinion about whether he would consider it would be more desirable to introduce the elective system without consulting the Indians further. His answer is not recorded.
In the meantime, for and against petitions were launched throughout the Six Nations community. There were much more discussion and many more petitions from both sides of the argument until the infamous raid of 1924, when the RCMP was assigned to depose the traditional Council and remove them from the Council house that was erected for them in 1863, four years before confederation.
In 1899, a petition was sent to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, in Ottawa.
The Petition of the undersigned chiefs, warriors and members of the Six Nations Indians, residing on the Grand River Reservation, humbly sheweth:
(1) That the system of committing the Government of the Six Nations Indians to a Council of hereditary life Chiefs is detrimental to the Advancement of the nation for the following among other reasons,
(a) The present Council a majority of whose members are uneducated men, is incompetent to guide a people who are progressive and prepared for still further advancement in civilization.
(b) Under the present system of government no encouragement is extended to young men to devote their energies and talents for the good of the nation.
(c) The present Council is not a representative one as the people have not voice in its selection, nor are its members chosen on account of their fitness or ability
The people therefore have no voice or share in the management of their own affairs nor in the expenditure of their own money.
(d) The present number of Chiefs is too large and involves too great an expenditure of money in the meetings of the Council.
(2) Your petitioners therefore think that an elective council would tend greatly to promote the general advancement of our people.
(3) Your petitioners therefore humbly request that you would submit this petition to the Governor in Council and obtain if possible the introduction of a system of election of chiefs for our nation as provided in the 75th Section of the Indian Act.
And your petitioners will ever pray.”
Included was a petition of 423 signatures.
In the 1890’s, not quite a quarter of the Six Nations population adhered to the Longhouse.