Six Nations’ Councilman Mark Hill is planning to run for Chief of the Grand River Reserve in Ohsweken, ON, the largest First Nations community in Canada. Hill is the nephew of businessman Kenny Hill, a co-founder of Grand River Enterprises, the prolifically successful manufacturer of Seneca brand cigarettes. Observers expect him to receive the political backing of his uncle.
Hill, at age 28, has served for nine years on the Council as one of two members representing District 6, and serves as a delegate to several national aboriginal organizations in Canada. He is the proprietor of the Whey Smooth Juice Bar.
For many years, Grand River Enterprises has willing submitted itself to Canadian tax authorities, remitting more than $240 million annually to the federal government, profoundly undermining the treaty rights of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. GRE is the only tobacco manufacturer on the territory to do so, which has angered many in the community who feel that those funds should have been remitted to the sovereign Haudenosaunee government, rather than the Canadian-imposed government.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is the oldest still-existant democracy in the world, founded at Onondaga Lake in 1142. The Chiefs, elected by the clan mothers, still meet in Council on the first Saturday of each month — a government operating in exile, on sovereign territory secured under the Haldimand Treaty of 1784.
Traditionalists living on the Reserve territory have often refused to vote in Six Nations Council elections, given the unpopularity of the Canadian-imposed government. That government has been forcibly imposed on the community since 1924, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police forcibly beat the Haudenosaunee Chiefs out of the Council house so that they could install their own Councillors.
The prospect of Grand River Enterprises having such inordinate economic and political influence over the community has unsettled traditionalists who worry about the continued erosion of their treaty rights and sovereignty. Many of them see Grand River Enterprises as exacerbating that erosion.
The entire federally funded government spends less than $80 million annually on community benefits, services, and operations — far less than the $240 million that Grand River Enterprises has been remitting in annual excise taxes.
Such a continued erosion of treaty protections undermines the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s ability to assert its sovereignty. Several devout Longhouse members are considering the prospect of seeking the elected Chief’s office — an event that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.
If traditionalists in the community mobilize, it would almost certainly thwart Hill’s bid for the office, despite how much money he may spend. The office is typically won with fewer than 700 votes.