“Don’t forget who you are” — Chief Arnold General

SIX NATIONS – This story is too close for me to write as a non-bias reporter. It’s far too personal. Onondaga Chief Arnold General was this reporter’s first friend when I started to work at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, in 2001.

He was always at the lacrosse games I was covering and I immediately recognized the respect being afforded him by seniors, elders and young people, especially young children.

It wasn’t until 2002 that I began to understand why there was a certain power that walked with him. It was at the Red Hill Valley Expressway protests in Hamilton.

He and Norman Jacobs were assigned by the Confederacy to try to save what was one of Hamilton’s only substantial green space to make room for a highway.

With known native habitation living on this same stretch of land for thousands of years, it was felt that negotiation with the closest first nation, that being Six Nations, was appropriate.

After the sudden death of Jacobs, General took on the whole role and fought with then Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni to protect the obvious grave sites from 10,000 years of occupation, although archaeologist hired by the city of Hamilton found nothing but arrow heads and pottery.

I recall at one such gathering in the valley, Chief General asking him about the special and in some cases endangered species of animals that would lose their habitat. Di Ianni replied, “If there is such thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a fish. They seem to have more rights that I do.”

Such was the nature of the Red Hill Valley protest. It was during that time as well he and I would talk about his culture, the Great Law, and the concerns of his people. We kinda bonded during that time and I would visit him from time to time at his Sour Springs home. To say he taught me a lot would be a gross underestimation.

The next vivid memory I have of Arnie, as his friends were used to calling him, was a predawn phone call the morning of April 20, 2005. The February occupation of the Douglas Creek Estates had been heating up despite negotiations to de-escalate the growing tension between the townsfolk of Caledonia and “land protectors” of the Six Nations.

When I answered the call, it was Arnie. He didn’t say “hi”, or “good morning” or “sorry for getting you up so early” all he said was, “them bastards are going in.” I knew what he meant immediately.

My son’s Grade 5 class was learning about Six Nations and he asked if Chief Arnie would come and talk to the class. He agreed immediately and the kids, 100 per cent non-Native, were thrilled and said they learned a lot.

In more recent years, our meetings were at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena where we would sit in that familiar chair, right in front of another great man in Chief Pete Skye. Now both are gone.

With his full knowledge and approval, I did a couple of interviews with Chief General about his life and his hopes and visions for the future generations. The agreement was that it would not be published until after he crosses over so he could be even more blunt and honest as he usually was. Watch next week’s Two Row Times for that interview.

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