By Nahnda Garlow
The following story was first published by the Two Row Times in August 2015. It is being republished as part of an archival series highlighting Two Row Times coverage of governance issues and political history at Six Nations of the Grand River.
SIX NATIONS — HDI Board Member Aaron Detlor gave the HDI Report for the month, presenting the Niagara Regional Wind Farm and other matters they are working on. They also included documentation regarding audits from the HDI accounts for what money is coming in and what money is being paid out.
Onondaga Beaver clan speaker Hill spoke to Detlor raising concerns regarding the HDI reporting protocol. Hill said that 28 months ago he was placed in the position of speaker for his clan family at the request of the Onondaga Beaver Chief and Clanmother. At that time he raised concerns that he would like a copy of the Samsung Engagement Agreements but that he never received them and that his questions went unanswered by HDI until documents were leaked to the media and he had an opportunity to raise them at a previous council meeting.
Hill said that he’d asked for copies of the retainer agreement which indicated the terms of Aaron Detlor being secured as the lawyer for the HCCC and for job descriptions of those employed with the HDI. To date Hill has not received those documents. “It’s a bit more clear with these audits,” said Hill. “But I think we need to establish a better reporting protocol with the HDI because today we get these requests and I haven’t even had time to look at it…”
Detlor then stood up, breaking protocol while Council was in session and began arguing with Hill. “Actually you got it some time ago.” Detlor said that the paperwork was in at the HDI office for Hill. Detlor continued to stand from the back benches and attempted to engage in an argument with Hill while Hill was presenting the position of the Onondaga Beaver clan.
Detlor claimed in his outburst that what Hill said is incorrect and that anyone, at any time, can come to HDI and look at the documents that Hill was questioning.
Hill answered Detlor by saying, “And I’m saying that it is incorrect.” Hill said he contacted and followed up with HDI to see how the documentation was coming and that he left voice mail messages with no return contact.
Hill and Detlor were then cut off by a speaker for the Cayugas who addressed the Council. Once that speaker was finished, Hill continued and was then cut off again when he was approached by a speaker from the Mohawk bench. Hill continued still, “These issues are relevant today,” he said.
Numerous attempts were made to get Hill to stop speaking. Hill sat pensive for a moment but then began quietly again.
“The situation is not tolerable,” he said. “You cannot silence the voice of a Hoyane or Haodonyoh, who speaks for his clan by protocol. Everyone of us has a right and an obligation to our families to ask questions at any time and its too bad if you don’t want to hear it. You have to hear it. You can’t try to use this protocol to silence a chief. We all have been given rights and responsibilities to our clan and we must follow those rights.
“Because thats what we were given. I have authority from my clan to say these words. And its your responsibility to hear these words whether you agree with me or not. I have that right to voice those concerns. And now, before I was rudely interupted, I’m going to continue.”
This assertion prompted a group of people to get up and leave the Council.
Hill proceeded to read aloud the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Land Rights Statement, a letter the Council adopted in 2006 – reminding the Council that they have already declared the Council has specific responsibilities defined by our law to protect the integrity of our land in any land use or rights agreement they engage in.
Hill read aloud, “Land is meant to be shared among and by the people and with the other parts of the web of life. It is not for personal empire building. First and foremost is the concept that we are connected to the land in a spiritual way. The earth is our mother and she provides for our long-term well-being, provided that we continue to honour her and give thanks for what she has provided.”
More people, notably HDI Director Hazel Hill got up at this point and left the Council.
Hill read the entire statement aloud and reminded the Council that these are the assertions that need to guide the agreements the HDI are working on for the HCCC. “The Samsung deal does not do that,” said Hill.
Detlor attempted to break protocol at this point and again stood up from the back benches to interrupt Hill. This resulted in a number of women shouting at Detlor, “Sit down or get out,” was yelled and Detlor took his seat.
Another woman from the crowd tried to break protocol to shout at Detlor, but she was asked to sit down and let Hill continue.
When that woman stood up HDI Board Member Brian Doolittle shouted at her calling her one of Hill’s “groupies”.
Hill tried to calm the people. “Let me finish, please. I’ve been waiting 28 months to ask these questions.”
Hill continued saying there was a lot of problems in the Samsung deal and that several chiefs had not seen the documents. Hill said the biggest concern was Section 17 of the Engagement Agreement which surrenders the application of Haudenosaunee Law on Six Nations territory. “To me that is unacceptable, said Hill. “We can never, ever put our lands under provincial jurisdiction under any conditions because this is what we said in this land statement. It has to be under our law. Those agreements have to respect that.”
The conversation went back and forth and HDI agreed to have additional meetings with Hill and any other chiefs to have an opportunity to voice the concerns of their clan families with the work HDI is doing.
The following is the Land Rights Statement read aloud in Council by Hill:
The Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee, Grand River Territory, wish to affirm and clarify our land rights in the tract confirmed by Governor Frederick Haldimand on October 25, 1784. In making this statement, the Council of Chiefs wants to make it clear that we hold certain land ethics and principles that must be respected in any agreements on land use or occupation. The Haudenosaunee, and its governing authority, have inherited the rights to land from time immemorial. Land is a birthright, essential to the expression of our culture.
With these land rights come specific responsibilities that have been defined by our law, from our Creation Story, the Original Instructions, the Kaianeren:kowa (Great Law of Peace) and Kariwiio (Good Message). Land is envisioned as Sewatokwa’tshera’t, (the Dish with One Spoon); this means that we can all take from the land what we need to feed, house and care for our families, but we also must assure that the land remains healthy enough to provide for the coming generations.
Land is meant to be shared among and by the people and with the other parts of the web of life. It is not for personal empire building.
First and foremost is the concept that we are connected to the land in a spiritual way. The earth is our mother and she provides for our long-term well-being, provided that we continue to honour her and give thanks for what she has provided. We Haudenosaunee have upheld our tradition of giving thanks through ceremony, and in the cultural practices that manifest our beliefs, values, traditions and laws. Planting, cultivating, harvesting, gathering, hunting, and fishing also have spiritual aspects that must be respected and perpetuated if the land is to provide for our future generations, and the future generations of our neighbours. We are stewards. Our spiritual obligation is part of that stewardship.
Second, according to our law, the land is not private property that can be owned by any individual. In our worldview, land is a collective right. It is held in common, for the benefit of all. The land is actually a sacred trust, placed in our care, for the sake of the coming generations. We must protect the land. We must draw strength and healing from the land. If an individual, family or clan has the exclusive right to use and occupy land, they also have a stewardship responsibility to respect and join in the community’s right to protect the land from abuse.
We have a duty to utilize the land in certain ways that advance our Original Instructions. All must take responsibility for the health of our Mother.
Our ancestors faced overwhelming odds and relentless pressure to give up our lands. We all know that unscrupulous measures were employed to seduce our ancestors into “selling” the land. At other times, outright fraud took place, as was acknowledged in the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The agreements we recognize reflect an intention to share land, and to lease land, within the context of the Covenant Chain relationship that our nations maintain with the Crown.
Our wampum belts, treaty council documents and oral history inform us that we always retained the right to hunt, fish, and gather upon all of our lands. This reflects the spirit of sharing that we expect to continue, and is another example of the Dish with One Spoon.
We seek justice in our long-standing land rights issues. We seek an accurate accounting of the use and investment of the funds held by the Crown on our behalf, and land transactions conducted by the Crown involving our lands. For nearly two hundred years our Chiefs have been asking for such accounting and justice. Generations of our elders have passed away with these matters unresolved. It is time to end the injustice.
Our faith in the Canadian people is strong, as we feel that the majority of Canadians also want to see justice on these matters. However, their elected representatives and public servants have failed to act effectively to address and resolve these matters. It is time to lift the cloud of denial and to wipe away the politics that darken the vision of the future. It is time we are heard clearly, and our cases should be addressed with utmost good faith and respect. We firmly believe that if we have respect and trust, we will find mutually agreeable solutions that will reflect our long-standing friendship
We want the land that is ours. We are not interested in approving fraudulent dispossessions of the past. We are not interested in selling land. We want the Crown to keep its obligations to treaties, and ensure all Crown governments – federal, provincial and municipal – are partners in those obligations. We want an honourable relationship with Canada.
That relationship, however, must be based on the principles that were set in place when our original relationship with the Crown was created. That is the rule of law that we seek. It involves the first law of Canada – the law that Canada inherited from both France and Britain. It is the law of nations to respect the treaties, to not steal land, or take advantage of indigenous peoples by legal trickery. As the Supreme Court of Canada has frequently stated, where treaties are involved, the honour of the Crown is always at stake.
We seek to renew the existing relationship that we had with Crown prior to 1924. That relationship is symbolized by the Tehontatenentsonterontahkwa (“The thing by which they link arms”) also known as the Silver Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship. Our ancestors met repeatedly to repolish that chain, to renew its commitments, to reaffirm our friendship and to make sure that the future generations could live in peace, and allow the land to provide its bounty for the well-being of all of the people. The Covenant Chain symbolizes our treaty relationship, also symbolized by Tekani Teyothata’tye Kaswénta (Two Row Wampum) which affirms the inherent sovereignty and distinctness of our governments. An essential part of the relationship is our commitment to resolve matters through good-faith negotiation between our governments, including consultation on any plans which might affect the other government or its people.
In any land issues, we want it understood that the following principles will govern any actions taken by the Haudenosaunee Council of Chiefs of the Grand River Territory:
1) The land is sacred to us. It defines our identities, belief system, languages and way of life.
2) We hold the aboriginal and treaty title to our lands collectively.
3) Our treaty relationship with the Crown is still alive and in force and directs our conduct in our relationship to Canada. Within this relationship, the terms of the treaties continue to bind both our government and the Crown.
4) We require a careful accounting for the Crown’s dealing with our lands, and the return of any lands that were improperly or illegally taken from our ancestors.
5) We require an accounting for the funds administered or held by the Crown for the Six Nations people, and restitution of any funds unaccounted for.
6) It is not only within the context of our treaty relationship with the Crown that we see justification for such accounting and restitution. Canadian and international law is clear on the right of the Haudenosaunee to seek justice on these matters.
7) In any agreements with the Crown concerning land our goal is to promote and protect a viable economy for our people on our land – an economy that will be culturally appropriate, environmentally sustainable, and not injurious to our people and our neighbours.
Our fundamental approach is that Six Nations lands will come under the jurisdiction, management and control of Six Nations people. The federal and provincial governments must not impose jurisdictional, policing, taxation, and/or economic activities as part of the land rights settlement.
Our people, our laws, and our government have survived by being thoughtful, respectful, diligent and practical. In our relations with the Crown, and in any negotiations concerning land and the resolution of land-related issues, we will continue to apply those principles.