The 1909 debate to elect or not to elect

1909 Council minutes – from handwritten document.

SIX NATIONS — One man’s agitation is another man’s progression. It depends on many complicated factors at a number of levels. Over simplifying it would be either disingenuous or naive.

At the Six Nations or the Grand River, October 25, 1924, was its Day that will stand in infamy, to borrow a phrase from American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. That was the day the Canadian government sent RCMP Officers into Ohsweken to take over the ages-old traditional government of Six Nations, replacing it with a puppet regime.

But the push towards an electoral system of government to replace or at least modernize the traditional hereditary Chiefs Council began to surface in the very early 1880’s, and continues to ferment through early 20th century, as indicated by the minutes of a Confederacy meeting of March, 1909.

The points of discussion included ways to streamline the old system to keep up with the rapidly changing world around them and speed up decision making.

We pick up the story from the official minute of that meeting of the Council. Because it was originally hand written there are a few words that I was not able to decipher. Those words are in brackets, sometimes including a “best-guess”.

March 8th, 1909
Six Nations Council Hall, Ohsweken.

“The Council decided to accept the application of Warriors, Women and people of Six Nations to submit certain grievances to the Superintendent General of Canada (upon) the unpleasant (question and) agitation by the so called Indian Rights or Warriors Association (?) who are doing all in their power to induce the Department of Indian Affairs to change the hereditary system of government into an elective system.

The Council, after a few short speeches by the Warriors and some of the Chiefs it was decided to appoint the following Chiefs and Warriors to prepare a petition to be completed by next Tuesday when the same will be reading (returning?)

Chief J. W M. Elliott, A.J. Smith, Josiah Hill and Wm. D. Loft, William Sandy, Thomas Longboat, Alex Bomberry, Joseph P. Monture, and Isaac C. Hill.

The Council decided to confirm the petition of the Warriors and people of Six Nations to the Honourable Frank Oliver, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs on behalf of the present (system) of Government by the Chiefs of the Six Nations Confederacy and also the request of the said petitioners that a Department of Chiefs and Warriors to be chosen by the said petitioners will at once proceed to Ottawa to submit this petition for the consideration of the Supt. General.

The following Chiefs and Warriors were appointed a deputation to await upon the Supt. General and present the petition of the people of the Six Nations.

Chiefs Wm. Smith and A.G. Smith, William Sandy, Isaac E. Hill, Joseph Monture, and Fred O.Loft, or Wm.D. Loft.

With reference to the matter (frauds) and misrepresentation practiced by the Indian Rights or Warriors Association in the obtaining of names on their petition against the Chiefs of the Council of the Six Nations Confederacy.

The Council decided to appoint Chief J.W.M. Elliott, to take the complaints fo all those whose names were fraudulently placed on the list of the said “Indian Rights or Warriors Association and have affidavits swan to by the parties whose names have been fraudulently placed on said petition by the (?) Supt of any Justice of the Peace.

The Council decided to confirm the report (????)

March 9, 1909

Chief David Johnson, one of the Five Nations.

Present: William Smith (official Interpreter), Josiah Hill (Chairman and Secretary), John Martin (Speaker), Jacob S. Johnson (Deputy Speaker) and 32 Chiefs.

Communication from the Department of Indian Affairs dated March 3, 1909 regarding the present agitation by some dissatisfied halfbreeds and a few others was read.

The Council was glad to learn from the said correspondence that the Department of Indian Affairs (?) to have all correspondence of the affairs of the Six Nations conducted through one channel. This has been the old recognized rule by the Six Nations and the Department of Indian Affairs, and we claim that the Six Nations Chiefs never departed from this rule until a few weeks ago when some of the Chiefs were compelled to write to the Governor General in order to find out the irregular (?) And unlawful correspondence between the visiting Superintendent of the Six Nations and the Department of Indian Affairs with reference to the agitations of the so called Indian Rights, or Warriors Association in order to dethrone the Six Nations Chiefs, and their government upon this reserve, and to abolish their “most conceded rights of freedom, in the most free and simple manner according according to their customs and (usages).”

The Council therefor hope that in future the Department of I.A. will strictly adhere to the old said down rules, and conduct all our affairs through that one channel and the department will find out that a lot of the useless and groundless correspondence will cease and the Six Nations will return to their march of progress.

The Council, after some deliberation (??) the Chiefs with reference to the account of the Caledonia Milling Co. against Catherine Williams (not Mr. Charles Williams) decided to pay the account of $95.86 and interest of $17.10 making a total of $112.96 and the said Catherine Williams, and her family shall pay back the money with interest.

Chief A.G. Smith addresses the Chiefs and advocated improvements upon the rules and regulations of the system of government of the Six Nations Confederacy at length and at the end withdraw the matter for the present until the controversy is over between the Chiefs and the Indian Rights Association.

(Seth Newhouse a warrior, was allowed to read a portion of some old history regarding the rights conceded by the British Government to the Five Nations now Six Nations.)

The council after lengthy discussion and a deliberation amongst the Chiefs unanimously decided to adjourn this Council until Thursday, the 11th, instant, at 10 o’clock A.M. and ask the visiting Superintendent to bring all correspondence between himself or any member or members if the Indian Rights or Warriors Association, which is going on upon this Reserve by some leaders of the above association.

March 18, 1909.

…. the Delawares who have no real interest in the Confederacy, they not being a party of it, of course could not go as representation of them.

The Council decided to ask the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs to pay the joint delegation of Chiefs and Warriors of the Six Nations $300. Out of the funds on their arrival to cover their railway fare, and expenses to and from Ottawa.

This delegation represents the Chiefs, Warriors and the people of the Six Nations who desire to remain under the protection of their Treaties from the British Government which concedes to them the right to govern the people in accordance with the customs of the Six Nations Confederacy, and who are protesting against the actions of the Indian Rights Association who are attempting to induce the Department to force an elective system of Councillors upon the people of this Reserve by falsehood and misrepresentation.

Relief order granted to William Hill andThomas Echo $200 each.

March 11, 1909

(Firekeeper Chief David John opens)

Gordon J. Smith (Visiting Superintendent), Willam Smith, JWM Elliott, J.C. Martin, J.S. Jognson and 36 Chiefs.

The Council appointment Chief A.G. Smith to explain to the Visiting Superintendent General , Gordon J. Smith esq. with reference to the correspondence now going on between the Indian Rights or Warriors Association, and the Department of Indian Affairs. Chief Smith read and explained to the visiting Superintendent Smith, the communication from the Department of Indian Affairs in reply to the letter addressed to His Excellency the Governor General on the 17th, instant, by the correspondence Committee in regards to the agitation for a change from the hereditary system of Chiefship to the lecture system and in which they were referred to the visiting Supt. Mr. Gordon J. Smith, withe whom the Department is in correspondence with in regards to this matter , and that it will be more satisfactory to the Department to have all the correspondence conducted through one channel.
Chief Smith, defined the condition and position of the Six Nations, with regard to their system of government under their Treaty Rights with the government of Great Britain, lately transferred to Canada.

He emphasized the fact that militates against our Treaty Rights. He explained to Supt. Int. Smith that the Council asked him to be present today, with them with reference to some correspondence between himself or any members of the Warriors Association in which the Council inferred that Superintendent Smith had forwarded correspondences from the said association which has emanated from outside of the Council and of which it had not any knowledge. The regular Channel of communication between the Department from the Six Nations has always been from the Council then through the Visiting Superintendent to the Department.

There has arisen a great deal of trouble brought about through the agitation caused by the Indian Rights or Warriors Association, it had made friends enemies and bloodshed was liable to occur, this had been due to this outside and unofficial correspondence which it appears the Department listened to, and according to the open reports of this Association, in the speeches of its members also encouraged. If the Department had not taken any heed of this outside correspondence they would not have been any trouble amongst us today.

No correspondence of any unofficial nature, which involved the rights and interests of the Six Nations should be recognized by the Department. The official channel of communication must start from this Council, as it always was the rule for over a century. Why did the Department depart from it now and cause all this trouble and disquietude amongst our people.

The Six Nations are a prosperous, progressive and as far advanced as any Indian band in Canada, not barring those reserves governed by elective Councils. Our schools are as good as any if not better than any to be found on any other Reserve. Our public buildings, our roads and bridges were as good as are to be found in any of the adjoining townships. What cause has the Rights Association to find fault.

These improvements had all been made under the good government of the Chiefs of the Six Nations Confederacy. The people as a whole were satisfied with the Council. There were only a few ringleaders who have have caused all this agitation. These were making inflammatory speeches at their meetings outside of the Council and by falsehood and misrepresentations leading some of the people to go against the Council. He hoped that the Department would discontinue giving encouragement to them, so that the Six Nations would again be a happy, contented and prosperous people.

Chief Smith, then asked Superintendent Smith if he had forwarded ant correspondence to the Department. He asked this on behalf of the Council.

Mr. Smith replied in an amiable manner to the question, and in the course and in the course of his remarks touched upon the position of the Six Nations with the Department as he understood it. With reference to the question of correspondence he stated that Jacob Miller has showed him a letter from the Department about a year ago stating that the letter to the Department must pass through the proper channel. He gave Mr. Smith a letter to be forwarded afterwards to the Department and which he did forward without any comment and Jacob Miller gave him another communication which he also forwarded to the Department without comment. He read the communication ……?. They were private correspondences and he would ask the Department if he may lay these before the Council as in his position he receives his instructions from the Department. He was not clear as to where the channel of communications started, whether from the Council or the Indian Office.

Chief A.G. Smith replied in behalf of the Council, and stated that the regular channel of communication was always from the Council, as they were the executive governing body of the Six Nations to the Department.

No communication from an individual involving matters of public interest and of grave importance is official, unless it is first submitted to the Council and by it forwarded to the Department through the proper channel of communication have been the cause of all the trouble.

Supt. Smith stated that he was willing to show the correspondence to the Council if the Department gave him permission to do so.

The Council decided that the action of the Indian or Warriors Association intending their petitions to the Department without first having submitted them to the Council is a transgression of the long established rule between the Six Nations Council of Chiefs and the Department of Indian Affairs providing that all correspondence touching the business or interests of the band must pass through the well defined and well understood channel of communication of these blackmailing agitators.”

The Council, after a lengthy discussion, with reference to certain communications between the Indian Rights or Warrior association and the Department of Indian Affairs on the matter of the agitation with is being caused by them against the Chiefs of Six Nations Confederacy, decided to ask the Visiting Supt. to procure from the Department of Indian Affairs all papers, documents and correspondence from the Indian Rights or Warrior Association in accordance with the communication from the Department to Chiefs Lottridge, Elliott and MacNaughton.”

Up until 1924, the official stance of the Canadian Crown was to live Six Nations alone to work out their problems internally. But something pushed Canada over the edge causing it to unilaterally take over a foreign government.


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