Warriors exist, and the People’s Fire ever burning is the centre of the Haudenosaunee world

As a part of my job, I regularly have to read official documents and cross reference sources to make sure that the facts are straight. Usually that is really boring work.

But this week, the bulk of the Six Nations land claim litigation documents were publicly posted for everyone to see which has been the complete opposite of boring. And some of the facts need to be checked.

Simultaneously, two projects with potential impacts to areas that have archeological evidence of being anciently tied to our ancestors  — development by Sifton properties at the historic Davisville site north of Brantford, and the delayed cleanup of the Chedoke Creek raw sewage contamination near Princess Point — are both hitting significant stages in their progress.

As an editor — my eyes are trained to notice patterns and errors. Albeit sometimes I miss the odd spelling mistake. I joke with my team that is an intentional act connected to the teachings I received as a beadwork artist, leaving a misplaced letter on the page as an honour to the Creator.

Keeping on top of the local news stories means that I am also in contact with sources from a diverse collection of Indigenous folks from across the Haudenosaunee world, from many different backgrounds and perspectives, who are keeping me updated to ongoing developments that are not necessarily hitting the newspaper yet.

But before I was a newspaper editor, I was a Warrior. I was raised by a family full of Warriors and grew up in a community that was founded by Warriors.

When the Oka standoff took place I was a little girl. I watched my father and his cousins, among them one of our strongest Warrior voices — Dick Hill —  work with the people at Six Nations to gather supplies to sustain the people who were behind the barricades making a stand.

That summer of 1990, our whole family pitched in. Day after day, my mother would haul all her fifty-eleven children in my dad’s construction van down to the Six Nations Community Hall. We would collect diapers, food and clothing for the people who were trapped behind the military barriers as they defended the land against a luxury development overtop the burial grounds of their ancestors.

My father was a part of a group of men who would then take those donations and make deliveries to the site and bring relief and support to the people making a stand.

When land developers wanted to deforest the Oxbow along the Grand River and threaten the integrity of that land — I watched my father and other Warriors and activists stop those developers.

When I was in high school I stood up at the Glebe alongside my father, asserting our land rights beside all the other Six Nations Warriors of the day.

I watched my father prepare agendas and carry piles of notes around when he was the secretary of the HCCC. This was a job that was carried by our aunt Emily General. Our uncle was Deskaheh Levi General, and Emily came beside him in his advocacy, crossing the Atlantic by ship as part of a deputation sent to convey to the British monarch the oppression the people of Six Nations were feeling.

As a child, I sat with Emily around the kitchen table snapping green beans, peeling potatoes or drinking tea. Actually, she preferred a cup of plain hot water. She would tell stories and we would listen. She was the teacher of so many on our territory and my idol. On Six Nations, we all grew up hearing the story of how she refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown to be a teacher to her own people. Something she was eventually fired for.

I spent countless nights sitting around the wood stove at my parents house meeting with visitors and family who were working together to restore the Dehatgahtos family clan structure. I’ve watched my father throughout the course of my entire life progress through his growth as a Warrior, as a land defender, and as a student learning the language. I watched him join with others on a similar path — standing up and speaking out for what is right and good and fair and honest. I watched them all rely on oral history, diplomacy and wisdom to navigate internal struggles at the traditional political level to advance and grow and restore justice to our Haudenosaunee foundation.

Together, multiple families including my own and other Warrior families, came together as part of the Confederacy to articulate the Haudenosaunee eight points of jurisdiction. An assertion of what rightfully belongs to all Haudenosaunee people.

I am aware that my experience as a Haudenosaunee woman growing up raised with the gift of access to my relatives and our traditions is both a privilege, and similarly not stand-alone or unique. I am one of many who grew up this way. This is the story of the transfer of tradition from father to daughter, mother to son, aunty to nephew and tota to grandchild across the Warrior families of the entire Haudenosaunee world.

The Warriors who were not given the privilege of being surrounded by family teachings in childhood are double veterans. They had to fight like hell against colonial odds in a war of personal reclamation in order to get those teachings, and now carry those responsibilities.

It doesn’t matter if the lesson came from your tota, or someone else’s — the passage of our traditions from generation to generation is how we nurture the love among us and grow within the Teiotiokwaonhaston: The Circle Wampum. Where there is a natural born person among the families of the Circle, there is always a place for them within it. That is what is means to be Haudenosaunee — all our relations.

At the centre of the Hiawatha belt, there is a heart. This is the substance of the People’s Fire, which the Great Law says shall be a fire ever burning.

The love among us is our Power — we are part of a Confederacy of united and distinct nations — Warrior families sitting together beneath the Ever-growing Tree — choosing Peace and using a Good Mind to build a better tomorrow for the coming faces.

When the land reclamation took place in 2006, both my husband and I pitched a tent and slept in the mud for months — taking a stand against development of land that was under claim.

Warriors from the north, south, east and west converged at Six Nations as a People’s Fire. After the OPP raids on April 20, I stayed at HQ, washing mud from the floors as the men from everywhere gathered together in the basement and held a council — a Men’s Fire. They heard one another out, passed perspectives across the fire and determined how they would protect the lands and the people protecting those lands.

I watched the women come together and sat beside the clan mothers and our elders at Women’s Fire discussions. I was appointed to serve as a runner for my own clan mother during those days. A responsibility I carried out for the remainder of that year.

My husband and I captured video footage during that act of reclamation and interviewed countless Warriors and elders, learning from them more about the other Haudenosaunee communities histories and their struggles to uphold our common traditions, the Great Law and examining with one another what it means to be a Warrior.

I have burned in my memory, images of people’s faces, their handles, the meals we shared and the ceremonies we put through with other Warriors on the land to make our stand. I was with the people when they danced Ostowagowa together under the open sky. Something that was seen as a controversial act and condemned at the time by some of the more orthodox believers of the longhouse religion.

But we, the Warriors, did it. We put that ceremony through — together. Willingly unified in our diverse backgrounds.

I stayed at DCE with my husband for over a year until the summer of 2007. That was when things began to formalize between the hereditary chiefs, elected council, Canada and Ontario to progress toward negotiations to settle various land claims. It was here that the Haudenosaunee Development Institute was envisioned, and later created by a small collective of people involved in those talks — without the Warriors.

Which is a cruel irony because without the Warriors, there would be no Haudenosaunee Development Institute.

Without the Warriors there would be no Six Nations community at all, or no Canada for that matter. All of our grandfathers were the Warriors. They were the men called on by the British as desperately needed allies. It was our grandfathers who fought alongside the Crown in the American Revolution, again in the War of 1812 and again during the Rebellions of Upper Canada in 1837.

The hereditary chiefs were never the holders of our collective treaty rights. That is a colonial top-down approach to governance. Under our traditions — the people that belong to the families are the treaty rights holders. And make no mistake — the Warriors uphold the treaties — paying the cost throughout history with their blood and the wilful laying down of their lives in battle.

I am talking about more than Oka. More than Caledonia. The acts of the Haudenosaunee Warriors defended the islands in the Grand River in the early 1990s. Sanctioned by the Confederacy Chiefs, Warriors stood against a sewer line crossing the Grand River. They stood up and protected the ancient Iroquois and Mohawk-Mississaugas village of Davisville, again with the knowledge of the Confederacy Chiefs in the mid 2010s. Oneida Warriors travelled to defend at Ipperwash when OPP were surrounding the park. Mohawk Warriors stood at Gustafson Lake. There were deputations sent to Elsipogtog. They fasted alongside Theresa Spence in Ottawa. They stood in Tyendinaga at the Shannonville River to protect fishing rights and in another instance to draw attention to the problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. My own family sent a Warrior to help at Standing Rock and Wet’su’weten, again, known, sanctioned, acknowledged by the Confederacy Chiefs.

These are the Warriors. These are our people and they are not disposable. These are not models posing for pictures in front of news cameras with flint and feathers on their heads, threatening protests if companies don’t sign agreements with HDI.

These are the Warriors. These are the people we send out to stand up. The people we worry about day in and day out — families sitting back at home, wringing hands that they will return unharmed.

These are the Warriors that we stand beside, after the battle is through, as they pull themselves back together again from the physical and psychological wounds they sustain on the front lines.

As I found myself rifling through the 2500 sheets of paper that make up the motion records of the various interveners responding to HDI asking a court to name them sole recipients of the financial compensation expected in the Six Nations land claim — I was caught speechless by the submission by HDIs Haudenosaunee Law expert Richard Hill.

After all of the instances the HCCC has relied on the Warriors to defend the land and make a stand — here comes HDI with more paperwork, claiming Warriors do not exist under Haudenosaunee law, that the Peacemaker did away with the Warriors and that the version of the Great Law the Warriors follow is “rejected” by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs.

Through the “sanctioned” voice of the HDI — one man among us has been hired as an expert to claim and our Men’s, Women’s and People’s Fires don’t exist — contradicting the oral traditions, known history and political structures of our ancestors.

It is a sad statement and not a true description of our living history. This is erasure. Which is a depressing return coming from the HCCC, who just months earlier accused the elected council of the same thing.

Revisionist history has taken over the HCCC. When I shared the HDIs sentiments of Warrior non-existence and rejected Great Laws with the Warriors that I know, they were not shocked.

Hope among the people for the HCCC and it’s HDI is fading. And the cost for this new Haudenosaunee world order has been the price of the people — whose birthright and connection to the land is now being held at ransom and trafficked to any developer, municipality or organization that “needs” a permit.

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