The Grand Erie District School Board has announced that a controversial but well known leader of the Onondaga Nation Council in New York State is going to be speaking on Haudenosaunee culture at an event at Pauline Johnson Secondary School this month.
Oren Lyons has a long history of speaking to press about Haudenosaunee history and culture — especially in the areas of lacrosse. He is a veteran, a lacrosse player and a faith keeper in the longhouse religion. He has been active with the United Nations and outspoken about climate change.
He has also been criticized by his home community of Onondaga for not being transparent about investments in a Swedish agricultural company, Plantagon International.
Plantagon had big plans to create skyscraper-style greenhouses based around vertical farming to provide locally grown produce in urban areas. They published big plans to build a $40 million dollar plant-scraper in Sweden and partnered with the University of Dubai to create urban agriculture all over the United Arab Emirates.
Lyons was the chairman of the board up to 2016 when that seat was taken by another Onondaga Nation leader, Sid Hill.
The company was falling on tough times financially and turned to crowdfunding to support their works. The Onondaga Nation had the largest share of the company — about 80 percent ownership. Members of the Onondaga Nation say that millions of community dollars were invested in Plantagon without their consent.
That company declared bankruptcy in 2019 and an investigation followed. Members of the Onondaga Nation say that to date neither Lyons, nor Hill provided financial records about the investment or what happened following the bankruptcy to the members of the Nation.
Another of the speakers scheduled at this GEDSB event is Haudenosaunee historian Rick Hill.
Hill has been criticized recently by members of the Six Nations community for peddling revisionist history — inaccurately representing the structures of the traditional governance system in the Haudenosaunee Development Institutes recent motion to intervene in Six Nations land claim case in a number of affadavits entered into the courts.
Both Lyons and Hill and their affiliations with the politics of the hereditary councils of chiefs make their involvement in a district school board presentation on Haudenosaunee culture extremely problematic.
First, schools should never bring in political power players to teach things about the culture.
Bringing Oren Lyons in to talk about the indigenous take on lacrosse and the environment makes about as much sense as Doug Ford being invited to come and talk to students about the Leafs and Ontario Health Care. You’re only going to get one particular side of the story, and at the same time you are alienating half of the population because of the touchy internal politics of it all.
Second, The HCCC system follows a very stern gender binary with humans only recognized as biologically born males and females. It does not recognize gender diversity as a natural part of the universe. It does not permit leadership to people who are members of the LGBTQ2S+ community or those who are without children. While this may not be the topic at hand — it is troubling that folks associated with an entity with such beliefs at its core would be permitted to speak and represent the entire Haudenosaunee perspective — not to mention within the Grand Erie School Board at all.
Finally — GEDSB has been working with people at Six Nations who have brought in speakers, presenters, references and materials to provide the board with an entire record of who, locally, can speak about Haudenosaunee culture, issues and perspectives. Why is a controversial leader from an anti-LGBTQ2S+ organization being allowed to represent the Haudenosaunee perspective when there are so many other great minds within our community to learn from?
Earlier this month, GEDSB brought in Leroy “Jock” Hill for a video series to speak on what they called the “importance of our connection to Mother Earth and our duty and obligation to care for her, as she cares for us.”
Hill is another one of HCCC’s representatives who has a troubled political past at Six Nations. He is remembered as the sole person who signed two contracts with Samsung for a solar and wind farm on behalf of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council. In those contracts, “Jock” surrendered the application of Haudenosaunee law over lands the HCCC say are Six Nations treaty territories.
He is also under the microscope for being on the receiving end of previously undisclosed and still unexplained “success fees” from HDI and exclusive funding for a daycare run by his family.
For an organization to properly ally with indigenous communities and do it ethically — they must remain political neutrals.
Undeniably — “Jock”, Oren and Rick all have their spaces of authority and work hard for what they have achieved — and they have had ample time in front of the megaphone over the years to share with people what they believe and have learned. But they are not the proper people to be teaching the next generation about the Haudenosaunee perspective at large. That perspective can no longer come from folks who are so tightly interwoven with the HCCC machine.
HCCC has amplified the polarity of Six Nations politics to such a boiling point that any promotion they or their affiliates are doing on the culture and traditions of our people comes across as cringe-worthy.
It is a limited perspective that does not bring an accurate picture of what the Haudenosaunee world truly looks like today — and is both alienating and silencing a large part of the Haudenosaunee community who passionately see things differently.