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To vote or not to vote: that is the question

There are many people who abstain from federal politics on our territory. This position of abstinence is rooted in the atrocious act of the way the band council system was initiated onto our territory. The hereditary Confederacy Chiefs were the natural leadership of Six Nations since the beginning of Haudenosaune Confederation. They even had a

There are many people who abstain from federal politics on our territory. This position of abstinence is rooted in the atrocious act of the way the band council system was initiated onto our territory.

The hereditary Confederacy Chiefs were the natural leadership of Six Nations since the beginning of Haudenosaune Confederation. They even had a building in the village of Ohsweken where they met together and did official business. In 1924, under the instruction of the federal government of Canada, the RCMP came riding into the village of Ohsweken and drew guns on the traditional chiefs. They locked them out of the council house in a coup. They dismantled the council and propped up a federal political arm here on Six, aka the Elected Band Council.

This is the nutshell version of the story, but it is not without debate. There are many versions about what ‘actually’ happened when the Elected Council was put into place. One version says the hereditary confederacy chiefs were corrupt and that is why ‘the people’ wanted to elect their leaders instead. Others say that after a number of failed attempts to rally a successful coup, a lot of bribes were offered and accepted to “help” the 1924 action take hold. Regardless of particulars, and for the sake of my coming point, there used to be a singular traditional version of government but at some point a federally ruled elected system was forcibly put into place. Somehow the RCMP and guns were involved in that switch.

In spite of the switch, the traditional confederacy chiefs kept on meeting and doing business. Over time Six Nations became increasingly politically divided: some following the elected band council chiefs and some following the confederacy chiefs. However once the elected band council was implemented, the Canadian government carried out all “official” business regarding Six Nations with the band council and not the traditional system which they had formerly recognized.

Knowing the history of our community and the legend of the implementation of the band council system, many of us are taught that in order to maintain our integrity we should not participate with elected band council because to do so would validate the imposed system. It is, in my opinion, safe to say that this is a widely shared belief on Six Nations. This is one reason why there were only a thousand or so voters in the last election for Six Nations Elected Council chief despite a band list of close to 20,000 names. That’s just a 5% voter turn out rate!

However, and again given our history, many young adults such as myself on Six Nations have strong political bones and very passionate ideas about what civic leadership should entail. This gives us the natural desire to want to participate in the politics of our community. We are full of opinions when it comes to what we want our community to look like. Yet we’re given the teaching to avoid the band council. And they are given all the authority by the federal government to implement what they want the community to look like because they are given the capital to do so.

It then makes logical sense that if you cannot support the elected system that one would  head over to the other side, in this case straight to the Confederacy chiefs. However there are many intricacies to being involved in the traditional system. First of all you have to be born into the right lineage to be eligible for leadership. Those of us born clanless are taught we “have no voice”. And those with a clan might not be impressed with the chief that our hereditary lineage has appointed for us. What then? There’s no voting people in or out, you get what you get, for life.

Next we have to deal with the dark cloud of historical delegitimization hanging over our heads. Which means in spite of who the “right” choice is in terms of support, federally delegated authority over how the Six Nations community infrastructure and administration is run has been handed not to confederacy but to the elected system. I say all of this not to judge, or help anybody pick a side, or even to perpetuate the division that exists, but for the sake of those of you settler ally friends who truly want to understand Haudenosaune perspectives. And for the sake of other young Haudenosaune adults just trying to take one step forward and look out for our faces yet to come!

Bear with me as it gets worse! We’re left spending a lot of time as individuals trying to reconcile with our history and determine what the right thing is to do. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the federal government steam rolls ahead. They are busy legislating what ‘Indians’ are allowed to do – heaven forbid we have an industry that makes us any money. This has extended through time from land leases on the Haldimand Tract up to and the production, sale and transport of tobacco.

In a back room somewhere there are politicians and rich guys plotting to clear cut a path straight through Turtle Island from Ottawa to the Northwest. Collecting as many beaver pelts, and tapping into as many diamond mines and oil sands as they can along the way. All the while brushing away the ‘pesky’ indigenous people to greater utilize “Canada’s natural resources”. Come to think of it – that doesn’t sound all that different than what’s been going on in Ottawa under Harper’s Conservatives!

No matter how hard I try to maintain a good mind I just can’t stand Stephen Harper. The things his government have done to humanity in the last eight years infuriate me. Ever see that picture of Harper smiling and donning yellow face paint, wearing a Sioux War Bonnet? Every time I see that picture I throw up a little bit in my mouth. I wish he wasn’t the Prime Minister. I wish somebody would yank his yellow face out of parliament.

Yet I, like many other young adults on Six Nations, have been handed down this teaching that in order to walk out my life with a sense of integrity, I should never participate in voting of any kind because to do so would acknowledge the validity of the federally imposed system. And on that I agree! Yet we are still faced with the fact that the only way to engage in getting rid of Harper is to vote. But voting is “selling out”. It’s so confusing.

See I was also taught to value an education. And when I got educated I learned that not voting is “manufacturing consent” and might as well be the same as voting ‘yes’. And when I became grown and learned more about my responsibilities as a Haudenosaune mother I discovered that I have a responsibility to care for those seven generations yet to come. So if I vote yes, or if I vote no, or if I do not vote at all…it all turns out badly for my descendants? What do I do?

We Haudenosaune have good reason to abstain from federal politics altogether. On the other hand, we are also one of the most inherently politically active people groups in North America. It is arguable to say that, on the whole, Indian Act ‘Indians’ have the most at risk when it comes to federal politics in Canada as we are the only people group  with specific legislation aimed at us because of our race. We are the only people with any real authority over the natural resources of this land. Following that logic it would seem that we would be the most inclined to participate in the vote for who makes the rules and what they do with our resources. However this is not the case.

For the most part I feel that Ongwehowe people share common values with Canadians. Things such as making sure everybody is well fed, safe, warm and treated with fairness. That matters to most of us, right? Yet in 2015, if we notice that woman of a certain people group are statistically more likely to fall victim to violence than a woman of any other race – does that matter? Do you see where I am going with this? Just recently Harper actually said, on the record, that Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls isn’t really “on the radar” for his visioning of what kind of Canada he is reaching out for. I feel like that is a problem, and a good reason to vote his yellow face as far away from politics as humanly possible. Can’t we vote him onto a spaceship and fly him to the moon?

I don’t want to vote. Or do I? I know for sure I want to maintain my sense of integrity so I abstain. So then I support the traditional Confederacy Council. Or should I support the Elected Council and help appoint someone to fight from the inside? Argh! Can’t I support both? I like everybody I swear! Except for Harper’s conservatives. I know I don’t like those guys.

 

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow, Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations, is Outreach Editor for the Two Row Times. Her popular column, Scone Dogs and Seed Beads brings weekly thoughts on current day indigenous identity. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She studied Journalism, Human Rights and Indigenous Studies at Laurier University. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who also brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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