Six NATIONS – It was 10 years ago that lawyer Aaron Detlor began his involvement with the affairs of Six Nations, first as an advisor and later on paid retainer during the Caledonia affair.
Ten years ago, thanks to the courage of a few Six Nations women, as traditional holders of the land, they brought to light the attempted theft of lands adjacent to Six Nations reserve #40. Lands that neither the Confederacy nor the Elected Council would have contested had it not been for them. What evolved was a restoration of Haudenosaunee pride and strength when united at the grass roots level. It was no longer about what governments thought, it was about the people themselves and their ancient connection with the land and traditional way of life.
Since then many things have changed, yet many more remain the same. The concept of the HDI (Haudenosaunee Development Institute) was brought to the people by way of public meetings and media updates. The HDI was endorsed by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) to act as their agent, as it were, in dealing with encroaching development, especially on land under registered land claim. It was also supposed to be the vehicle for consultation and accommodation, although the Elected Band Council rejected this concept believing themselves to be the only channel by which the Canadian government should deal, according to white man’s law.
Structural meetings were held at the Community Hall where people sat at tables according to clan and discussed what they would like to see HDI’s mandate to be. So far, so good. Things were being done in the right way and the involvement of the people — all the people — was respected.
At that time, Hazel Hill was brought on board to be a part of the process, representing those who were occupying the former Douglas Creek Estates lands, and Detlor was put on retainer to be the legal advisor for the institute.
No one has seen that contract to know how much his involvement would cost the community, what his marching orders were, or how much authority they were to wield.
A broad based board of directors was to have been established that ideally would include representation from all facets of Six Nations, even those not attending longhouse. Hill was to be interim Director of the HDI until this broad based board of directors could be put in place.
In the subsequent years, this new HDI was talked about but in fact never happened. Hill and Detlor put roots down under the HDI banner and sometime later, Brian Doolittle and Cayuga Chief Blake Bomberry were brought in, however, it was still Hill and Detlor at the helm.
Reports of unsatisfied Onkwehonweh clients of Detlor began to surface including a damning critique of Detlor’s contract with the Whitefish Nations which should have sparked a review of their own retainer contract with Detlor, which as was pointed out in the Whitefish papers, was extravagant and highly unethical, but even today some chiefs have said they never read that contract. When people called for it to be made public following the revelations of the Whitefish papers, they were stonewalled with a lawyer-client privilege argument.
This is a purely white concept. For the Haudenosaunee, this information should be privy to all those he represents and to hell with the non-discloser clauses. This began to go sour after the expectations of some of the community began to erode and important decisions were being made without the consensus or even knowledge of the people they were put in place to represent.
Much like the criticism of the Elected Council, some of the important policies began to be put in place were not brought before the people until after an agreement was already signed.
This began to create an atmosphere of mistrust in some corners of the community, which has spread. When the people began insisting they be kept in the loop about the activities and proposals set before the HDI, they responded with a few reports on CKRZ and on its own website, but still not offering many details of deals in the works or requests for input from members of the community.
That situation evolved into the position now that since the HDI was put in place by the HCCC, their only responsibility was to the Chiefs who put them there. At least that has been the impression, but in fact they should be working for, and with, the people first and foremost.
Although “non-disclosure” is a common element of doing deals in the white world, it runs squarely opposite to the Haudenosaunee concept of the Chiefs being in place to do the will of the clans through Clan Mothers who regularly meet with their clans to discuss these important matters. But if they don’t know, how can they have input on the matter? Claims of HDI transparency to the people are hard to validate.
That is the catch-22 of the present situation. Deals have been made, agreements reached, and precedents are being set without the knowledge or approval of the people themselves. The Chiefs as well seem to have bought into that concept and have allowed the HDI to speak on their behalf and, in some cases, make decisions that affect all Six Nations people today and well as the future generations.
The HDI needs to be reinvented using the positives the current system has been able to accomplish, but dismantling the closed structure of it. Passing it through the Council is not enough to ensure that the people are abreast of what is being signed in their name.
In this atmosphere of mistrust, the burden is now on the HDI to openly discuss all aspects, the pros and cons, of any particular deal or potential deal to gather consensus before the HDI signs off on any deal, good or bad, that will affect generations to come.
When the Men’s Fire and others took action last week in an attempt to remove Detlor, Hill and Doolittle and make the HDI responsible and accountable to the Six Nations people, some were upset by the calamity it caused. But if nothing else, it brought into focus the need to totally reinvent the HDI, this time with the inclusion of the people by having access to the information before any deal is signed on their behalf.
That is why putting in place an overseeing board of directors who represent all the people of Six Nations and not only those few who attend longhouse, is important for everyone whether you like the action taken by the Men’s Fire or not.