This dissertation considers the legal, cultural and political conflicts between the Canadian government and the Six Nations, the Native people of the Grand River Territory. It is a story with colonial roots, but focuses on the twentieth-century with three major episodes detailed in 1924, 1959, and in the early 1970s. The narrative was steeped in the long history of resistance of Six Nations in the face of continued colonial oppression - first, by the British, and then by the settlers of Canada that is ongoing until today. Canada, for example, was notably one of few members of a United Nations committee, along with Australia, to oppose the adoption of a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2006. Indigenous groups such as Six Nations represent a threat to Canadian sovereignty, territory and wealth. Indigenous claims concerning land, resources and a quest for self-government place Native peoples on a collision course with Canadian development.
The Six Nations fled to the Grand River territory under the leadership of Chief Joseph Brant following the American Revolution, rekindling the council fire of the ancient Iroquois Confederacy near Brantford, Ontario. Seeking to legally secure both their lands and independence, Six Nations leaders struggled to codify their rights as set forth under the Haldimand Proclamation and the Simcoe Deed. The legal cases that ensued to preserve Six Nations rights to self-government, preservation of the Grand River lands and treaties have been contested in Canadian and international forums by the Confederacy Council of hereditary chiefs. In this endeavor, they were opposed by an Elected Band Council, established as the recognized government for the Reserve in 1924, with the support of the Canadian government and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The struggle for representation, cultural rights and self-government has often set the “Ongwehònwe,” or “real people,” at odds with one another on the Reserve. Yet, I argue that contrary to academic scholarship, factionalism is not endemic at Six Nations, but rather stems from the nature and workings of the colonial process, as instituted first by the British, and then by the Canadian settlers’ society. Through a comprehensive examination of a ninety-year record, I describe the shared meaning, beliefs and pride in the Six Nations as our community’s identity, for it was simply too strong to break. Six Nations is now attempting to forge a common message to address the Canadian government with one voice. Six Nations leaders, families and clans have a renewed sense of shared purpose that, I argue, will not be undermined by the Canadian government’s power. Presently, there is an ongoing national debate within the community, evoked by a yearning for consensus in Six Nations affairs. It is my contention that consciousness of an Ongwehònwe identity will be instrumental in guiding our people to forge a new relationship with Canada. Six Nations seeks a greater degree of independence and freedom in shaping the future of our community, with power to finally attain our own peoples’ visions and aspirations through Native self-government and cultural autonomy.