By Jim Windle/Hazel Hill
SIX NATIONS — There have been very important lives in our past that with the passing of years have set them apart, especially in times of trouble from without and from within.
But what is the warrior spirit? Is it the ability for ruthlessness and ferocity in battle? Is it the natural leadership shown by example, which is respected and admired, if not feared?
The warrior spirit has been an earmark of the Mohawk Nation since long before contact. Some say the Mohawk warriors buried their weapons and ceased to exist as an important part of the Onkwehonwe society.
History does not follow that train of thought at all. There are countless examples of Mohawks and others of the Six Nations Confederacy picking up those weapons in the name of the British Crown, and in battles with other Indigenous Nations before, during and after that war.
If they forsook the directives of the “Peacemaker” and did in fact go to war, is the Great Law of Peace then null and void? Of course not. Closer study shows the formation of a confederacy of independent tribes and nations was based on peace within those participating tribes never to take up arms against one another. That has been the strength and power of the Haudenosaunee League of Nations, and its constitution, better known as the Great Law of Peace.
We begin our series dedicated to the “Warrior Spirit of the Grand River” with the life and work of Richard “Dick” Hill, who passed away June 21st, 2014 after his last fight with cancer.
Dick has been called by many older members of the Mohawk Nation of the Grand River and as possibly being the last modern Mohawk War Chief.
He wasn’t an assigned war chief, like Joseph Brant, in fact, that was a title he didn’t want, like or need, but his gift as a warrior and leader was unmistakable. Over the last number of decades especially, if Six Nations, or the Mohawk Nation at large, found itself in a standoff against colonial injustice, government land theft or destruction of the environment, Dick Hill was usually close by, watching, listening and weighing the situation before formulating next step and affectively excite the plan.
But what makes a War-Chief in the first place? First, it is more of a description than a title or job. Joseph Brant was a “War Chief” as were many others in the mid-to-late 1700’s. Traditionally, they were the protectors of the Great Law, the women, and the land. Dick Hill was certainly that.
Recently we spoke with Dick’s widow, Hazel Hill about what sharing a life with a real Mohawk warrior was like.
“Growing up at Six Nations, everybody knew each other,” Hazel recalls. “He was older than me and I knew the other boys that hung around together so I knew who he was.”
One day he asked Hazel if she wanted to go cruising around Brantford in his car. She had driven on the reserve before but never in town.
“I first time I went out with Dick, just me and him, was when I was about 16,” Hazel recalls. “My parents didn’t know it because he was 13-years older than me.”
Dick was fun to be with and even let her drive his car that day.
“A city cop spotted us and Dick said, ‘quick, let’s switch,’” Hazel laughs. “By the time the cop caught up with us, Dick was driving.”
If anyone in this life knew Dick Hill, his motives, his drive, his integrity and his power, it’s Hazel. Over a very active life together she saw the good, the bad and at times, the very ugly by his side.
Dick was well-schooled in his youth, not so much in academic matters, but developed his most important ally — his ability to listen. He would sit and listen to the old warriors who would come over to his parent’s place and talk politics and destiny. Even after being sent to bed, he’d sit on the staircase and listen longer.
He learned what it meant to be a Mohawk man from those men and warriors who came before him, and he learned his lessons well. People usually think of a warrior as someone quick into battle, fiercely aggressive and although these are elements that make up a true Warrior, that is only half of the qualifications.
“Anyone can make war,” says Hazel. “It takes a real war chief to make peace.”
The land reclamation at Caledonia in 2007 was perhaps his finest hour. Since the stand-off that made the news across Canada, tensions have relaxed considerably, but to date, the housing development that had begun on unceded Six Nations land along Highway #6, was stopped and is occupied by Six Nations land protectors to this day.
“Dick lived for this kind of thing,” says Hazel. “If not for him intervening several times during the reclamation, there would have been bloodshed for sure. Dick was able to keep the situation from exploding into all-out war, but without compromise on the main issues.”
He would hear of some action being planned by the OPP against the land protectors occupying the former construction site, and warn police top brass against their plan fearing another Ipperwash death scene would result.
“And they would listen to him too,” says Hazel. “Even the OPP said it was Dick that kept a lid on the pressure cooker.”
Not many people know about Dick’s part in defending the Stoney and Kettle Point Ojibway burial grounds after a golf course was to be built over a sacred burial grounds, which sparked the stand-off.
The government insisted there was not a burial ground in that location and pressured protesters out of Ipperwash provincial park. As it happens, Dick Hill and a number of Mohawk warriors had taken over the Indian Affairs office in Brantford and while digging through old correspondence and maps, in filing cabinets, they found a government map that clearly shows the location of the burial grounds right where the Indians said it was. That map was a bombshell during the Ipperwash Inquiry following the unlawful death of an unarmed protester, Dudley George at the hands of an OPP sharpshooter.
When asked if she could see any up and coming young warriors to take the mantle now that Dick and his generation are now gone, Hazel hopes there will come a day, but at this moment in time, she can only see the occasional spark from the community but admits she sees no one with the undeniable traits of a Mohawk Warrior.
“With Dick it was never about money,” says Hazel.
He was always the undisputed leader at any action he attended. That big old black Yukon 4X4 SUV instantly became command central when he arrived on site. Even to those who didn’t particularly like him, Dick Hill is still respect and even admired.
When Hazel was asked to join the newly proposed Haudenosaunee Development Institute, developed on behalf of the Confederacy Chiefs by lawyer Aaron Detlor, it created a serious rift between them. Dick would have nothing to do with the upstart lawyer or his promises and did not trust him at all. He held this opinion until he died.
Hazel could see it as a possible way to fight for the community in a different way and re-establish the Confederacy to its former glory.
“We talked about it a long time before I accepted the offer,” says Hazel. “As much as he opposed it however, he never told me I couldn’t do it.”
The strain on their marriage was great during those times, but Dick refused to pull rank and order her to quit. At one point Dick was even asked to join Hazel on the board of the HDI to oversee what they were doing on behalf of the people, but he steadfastly refused, believing the Confederacy Chiefs had made a serious mistake in trusting Detlor.
Since Dick’s death, Hazel had become a target of destain by those who either didn’t support the Confederacy, didn’t trust the HDI, or were adherents to the Elected System of government. But while still alive, he would not stand for anyone calling her down for her choices even if he disagreed himself.
Hazel has since been fired from the HDI she had so many hopes for and has spent a lot of time reflecting since Dick’s death. She is currently working on her memoirs of her life with what may be Six Nations’ last Mohawk Warrior.