By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor
OHSWEKEN — Ava Hill, Six Nations new elected chief, is no newbie to politics.
After nine years as a Six Nations councillor, Hill has earned a reputation as a hard-working, well-organized politician.
“People in this community have seen how hard I've worked over the last nine years. I do my research, my reading and every time I travel I write reports,” she said in an interview Tuesday prior to the inaugural meeting of the new band council.
“(Former elected chief) Bill (Montour) has done a lot of work but there needs to be more follow-up.”
Hill was torn about running against Montour in last month’s election for the chief's chair.
“People in the community came to me and said they wanted a change. And that's no disrespect toward Bill because he's done a wonderful job.”
There's plenty of work ahead for the new council.
Hill said her top priority will be mobilizing the community against the proposed First Nations Education Act. That starts with a protest on Wednesday in front of the Indian Affairs office at the federal building in downtown Brantford. Then there's a community information meeting on Thursday to explain the potential impact of the new legislation.
Like many elected chiefs before her, Hill wants to beef up communication between the council and the community. She plans to try a regular radio show on CKRZ and get out to some of the area high schools to help educate young people.
“We're always struggling with how to engage the community through flyers or newsletters or perhaps First Nations Cable. We're looking at how we can use FaceBook, Twitter and our own website to get out information.”
Hill also wants to make the most of big opportunities such as the upcoming Pan-Am games which will include Six Nations in an obvious way.
And while she doesn't consider it a problem that there are many “voices” on Six Nations, such as the clan mothers, the Confederacy, Mohawk Workers and Men's Fire, she wants to reach out to some of those groups to explore working together, perhaps through a mediator.
“Everybody says, 'We all have to work together' but nobody's been talking.”
While some on Six Nations would dismiss Hill as an agent of the government-installed council, the new elected chief said she is working within the system that brings money to Six Nations.
“I don't consider myself an arm of the federal government just because we're getting money from them. Anyone who says that has never been in a meeting between me and Indian Affairs! The elected system is the only legal vehicle the government can use.”
While anti-council protesters may insist council is illegal and unnecessary, Hill says there is no other system in place to deal with a community of 13,000-plus on-reserve natives.
The band has 700 employees dealing in everything from health to public works and Hill points out there's currently no hope of such a system being in place through the Confederacy or other groups.
“People are always saying, 'Ya, we're gonna kick you out,' and I say, 'OK. Get rid of us.’ Organize a community meeting and kick us out but it's got to be everybody deciding – not just a handful of people.”
She'll be leading the newly elected council in an orientation retreat in January to prioritize issues and spread around the work and responsibilities.
“We need to try and generate more revenue for our community and I'm going to keep pushing for some funds from the Brantford Casino which sits on the Nathan Gage land claim. We need a new fire hall, some of our bridges need to be replaced and several roads have never been paved.
“We have no money for public works or fire protection or recreation.
“There's lots to do.”
Hill's invitation to the surrounding community is to get informed about their neighbour.
“Take the time to find out what's going on and let's all use our good minds to work together.”
Hill's long-term, long-distance partner is Cy Standing, a Dakota and former chief who lives in Saskatchewan.
The 63-year-old Hill is mother to one daughter, Julie, who is following in her mother's footsteps.
Julie Hill attended Brantford Collegiate Institute and swam with the Brant Aquatic Club. She Is now an executive assistant in the national chief's office, just as her mother was before her.
Hill has worked for Indian Affairs, the Chiefs of Ontario and was the executive assistant to former national chief Georges Erasmus.