The Burtch lands and the conflict at Six Nations

Flags, signs and a discarded injunction mark the entrance to the contested Burtch lands. Photo by Tom Keefer.

By Rhonda Martin

SIX NATIONS – It’s not exactly news that the Six Nations Elected Council (SNEC) is actively working against the interests of the Ǫgwehǫweh people of Six Nations. The Elected Council’s only real mandate is to carry out instructions from the Canadian government. This is something that they have been doing since their system was forcibly installed by Canada in 1924. Before then, the people of Six Nations had only one governing system, and that was the Great Law of Peace of the Six Nations Confederacy. The people are the Confederacy and we were put on Mother Earth to be the land’s caretakers.

It is true that our way of governing ourselves started to unravel with the interference of the Canadian government. Some of our people wanted things run different, so along came the RCMP and evicted the Confederacy from its council house. Outsiders created a wound so deep among our people that the division is still visible. Only now, RCMP agents are no longer needed. Our own people are divided and working against each other. In doing so, we have played right into the hands of the Canadian government.

The crisis of the moment concerns the Burtch Lands in the small town of Mt. Pleasant. The story behind this issue is that in return for the barricades coming down on Highway 6 in Caledonia, the Ontario government explicitly agreed to give the Burtch lands back to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC). Now the province has broken its promise, and has transferred ownership of the land to a numbered corporation owned by the Six Nations Band Council instead.

When the agreement over Burtch was negotiated, offers for farming were requested. The Six Nations Farmer’s Association, with the permission of the Confederacy Council, farmed the Burtch lands for five years up until 2012. They then refused to sign a lease, so in 2013 a local Mohawk woman named Kris Hill agreed to lease the land, but only if the agreement was put through the HCCC – which it was.

In March of 2017, after three years of Hill farming the Burtch lands, the SNEC started a court procedure to have Kris Hill vacate the lands. On June 28th, 2017, the SNEC was successful in obtaining an interlocutory injunction to keep Kris Hill and anyone who might support her off the Burtch property.

Six Nations farmer Kris Hill. Photo by Gignac Hill, Toronto Star.

Not surprisingly, this has created an internal fight on Six Nations territory.

Ms. Hill has come forward to inform the people of what is happening. The people are answering her call, and many have offered to help her take care of the crops on the land, even if it means breaking the injunction and risking charges. The people have decided that something has to be done in order to keep the SNEC from gaining control of the Burtch lands. The HCCC agrees that something must be done as well.

The trial for SNEC’s injunction is set for August 17th to 18th in Brantford and is considered a civil matter. But matters further escalated on July 19th when SNEC raised the stakes by serving Hill with a “contempt of court” notice for allegedly breaking the interim injunction by accessing the land. The result is that SNEC has initiated a process which has become a criminal matter rather than a civil one. According to Kris Hill, the SNEC is seeking “$10,000 per day I am deemed in contempt of the court order and a further order to keep me off the land. There is a possibility I could serve jail time should I not agree to abide by the injunction and depending how upset the judge is at a ‘blatant disregard for the injunction.’” Hill adds, “should I be found in contempt of court, I will then officially have a criminal record for farming!”

The demand coming out of the People’s meetings held to address this issue is simple. The federal and provincial governments are being asked to return to the negotiating table to resolve the dispute surrounding Ontario’s returning of the Burtch lands to Band Council instead of the Confederacy as agreed.

As Chief Allan McNaughton of the HCCC put it in an interview with the Turtle Island News on July 26th, “We take the position that the transfer of lands to a Federal corporation is invalid and a breach of promises and commitments made by the Crown to the Haudenosaunee.”

During a People’s meeting on July 27, Wahsontiio summarized the feelings of many. Speaking about the broken agreement between Ontario and the HCCC, she stated “we need to realize this came about because of Ontario’s way of acting first and foremost. We need to remember there is and always will be a constant attempt from the government to diminish our land claims and rights.”

Wahsontiio expressed her support for the Six Nations confederacy, and urged the people to take a solid stand and to be consistent.

I believe that Wahsontiio is correct. We need to keep up the momentum and show true solidarity to eachother. This internal conflict of our people here and around Turtle Island needs to come to a halt. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the elected side, the confederacy side, or on no side. At the end of the day we are all Ǫgwehǫweh people and we will die as such.

Our ancestors fought and died so that someday we may once live free and roam these lands again. Our children of tomorrow will suffer for our actions of today if we don’t stop these governing aggressors. If you don’t care about your future, the life of love and liberty, then at least think about the future of your grandchildren. Remember that the decisions we’re making today will affect the people of tomorrow.


Rhonda Martin is Cayuga of the Wolf Clan. She is the host of the show “Got something to say?” on Real People’s Media.

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