Historical Background

Haudenosaunee law

When the Haudenosaunee and the first colonist to arrive made the original agreement on our treaty relationship, it was about sharing the natural resources on this great land. That seventeen-century agreement is the foundation of our Haudenosaunee Land Use Strategy of today. By agreement, we established a way to share, respect each other, and resolve disputes peacefully.

Those principles still apply today, however, when those first agreements were made, the waters were clean and healthy. All fish could be eaten. The birds, plants, and animals were plentiful. Now we face an environmental holocaust that threatens human existence. This is not acceptable. Our land, water and biological systems have been polluted by unchecked growth. Endangered ecological communities and species are declining as a result of current land clearing, and also as a consequence of the fragmentation and degradation resulting from past clearings. Our goal is to restore sanity to the use of the land, realizing that what we do today determines the well-being of the future generations. It is with them in mind that we establish this plan for Haudenosaunee Land Use Agreements.

In Haudenosaunee tradition, the Earth is our mother. It is said that we should treat the Earth with kindness and respect, because our walking upon her is like walking upon the face of our own mother. It is also said that we should walk gently upon the Earth, for we are treading on the faces of our own unborn generations.

Haudenosaunee law seeks balance in everything. Every authority is balanced by responsibility. This sense of balance extends to the use of land: the authority to use land or resources includes the responsibility to protect them.

Haudenosaunee law acknowledges the land and livings things, not as a resource or assets intended for the use and enjoyment of humans, but as vital parts of a larger circle of life, each entitles to respect and protection. In Haudenosaunee thought, it is not possible to separate ‘land’ from the rest of the circle of life – the waters, grasses, medicine plants, food plants, berries and trees, the insects, animals, birds and people; the winds and other unseen forces that benefit the world. Our relationship with all these is one of gratitude and humility. We acknowledge that each part of the natural world seeks to fulfill its responsibility, as we humans do.

History of HDI

In 2007, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (‘HCCC’) was swamped with developers seeking approval of projects within areas of Haudenosaunee jurisdiction including the Haldimand Tract.

Due to recent Canadian legal decisions and because the Crown failed to deal with Haudenosaunee rights, developers were approaching the HCCC directly.

The problem of development on Haudenosaunee lands is not a new problem. Historically developers were simply called squatters – and the solution was to ensure that lands were leased rather than sold. This was done for the perpetual care and maintenance of the Haudenosaunee people and consistent with one of the mandates of the HCCC, which is to protect the interests of the Haudenosaunee people.

Damage to the environment and infringement on Haudenosaunee rights pushed the HCCC to develop a process for dealing with modern day squatters. The HCCC have assigned certain individuals to create a process and an institution to ensure that rights are protected. That process is currently called the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI).

The HDI functions and operates in accordance with Haudenosaunee Law. The HDI is not about any individuals – it is about establishing a process and structure that protects Haudenosaunee rights long after any individuals are gone.

Currently the HDI process asks developers, individuals or governments to submit an application for a project to be considered for a land use agreement. The land use agreement is simply renewing the original intent of the Chiefs in terms of providing for the perpetual care and maintenance of the Haudenosaunee people. At no time will any land use agreement surrender or relinquish Haudenosaunee ‘title’ to the land. Approval is not automatic. Currently where a project is recommended for approval by the HDI, final approval must be provided by the HCCC and its processes.