Six Nations elected council and confederacy chiefs working together against COVID-19

In a rare move, the elected council of Six Nations of the Grand River is joining forces with the confederacy chiefs council to respond to COVID-19.

Six Nations has declared a state of emergency, and schools are closed until April 6

"This is not the first time we’ve come face to face with adversity," says Chief Mark Hill. "I am confident that together we will get through this." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

In a rare move, the elected council of Six Nations of the Grand River is joining forces with the confederacy chiefs council to respond to COVID-19.

The elected band council and the traditional chiefs council are sitting at the same table to respond to the threat of coronavirus on the territory, said Chief Mark Hill. Six Nations has declared a state of emergency, he said, and while there are no cases yet, "it's not a matter of if, but when."

"The Six Nations elected council and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC) are both working to support our people," Hill said Friday. "The health and safety of our people comes first for both of us."

Both groups are part of the emergency control group, which has been monitoring the pandemic since January. Fire chief Matthew Miller said the collaboration is heartening.

"One of the things that I find very comforting in this difficult time is the fact that for the first time in our history, we have two representatives from the Haudenosaunee council at the table with the emergency control group," he said.

"The rebuilding and attempted reunification of our community has been noticeable."

From left: fire chief Matthew Miller, Chief Mark Hill, and Lori Davis-Hill, director of public health. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The relationship between elected council and the HCCC has, at times, been a complicated one.

Just last summer, HCCC supporters blocked the elected council office for two months, saying they wanted the elected council to recognize the confederacy council as the official government of Six Nations. Eventually they dismantled the blockade. When Hill was elected in late 2018, he cited improving that relationship as one of his goals.

The elected council system dates back to 1924. Every four years, members democratically elect two councillors for each of the six districts.

The HCCC is a pre-colonialization structure comprised of the six nations — Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Each nation maintains its own council with chiefs chosen by clan mothers. The grand council deals with issues that impact all six nations.

With the pandemic, the health and safety of community members has become the priority, particularly when it comes to protecting elders and knowledge keepers. 

"We go forward now with full determination to prevent widespread infection," says Chief Mark Hill, right, with fire chief Matthew Miller. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We have a very high risk demographic that we are very worried about," Miller said. "They are the knowledge keepers, the holders of our culture and traditions. It is our belief that we need to do everything possible in order to protect that demographic."

"We have very tight knit, multigenerational homes. We take care of each other in our times of need."

"One of the things I'd like to get out to our young people is to help our older generation," Hill said. "I am asking and requesting our young people to make sure we check in on all our senior citizens."

Six Nations schools will remain closed until April 6. Members who show symptoms should contact their doctors or Ohsweken Public Health (519-445-2672). 

The emergency group is also planning testing sites, and mental health and wellness support for people in isolation. It also urges people to thoroughly wash their hands, not touch their faces with unwashed hands, clean commonly touched surfaces, properly cover coughs and sneezes and stay home when they're sick.

Hill said he expected to know more Friday afternoon about what provincial and federal help is available.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca