Onondaga Sovereignty

From the November-December 2014 #839

by the Onondaga Nation and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON)

 

Onondaga Sovereignty
The following article is reprinted from Neighbors to Neighbors, Nation to Nation, an 80-page educational booklet co-created by the Onondaga Nation and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON). 10,000 copies of the booklet were produced in April 2014, the culmination of a careful, years-long process. NOON is working to distribute the booklet to schools and libraries, as well as individuals and families. Contact the Peace Council for information about how to get Neighbors to Neighbors, Nation to Nation for yourself or your community.
This article was originally published at www.onondaganation.org.
Although physically situated within the territorial limits of the United States today, native nations like the Onondaga Nation and the other members of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Confederacy, retain their status as sovereign nations. The Haudenosaunee is a union of sovereign nations joined together for the common benefit of its citizens. Governed by a Grand Council of Chiefs who deliberate and make decisions for the people concerning issues both domestic and international, the Haudenosaunee began as a confederacy of sovereign nations aligned to deal with other native nations surrounding their lands and later, to negotiate with Europeans when the latter came into their territories beginning in the early 1600s.
Sovereignty is the state of existence as a self-governing entity, and it was in this capacity that the Onondagas and other members of the Haudenosaunee sat with delegates from England, France and the Netherlands in the years prior to American independence. During the colonial era, the Haudenosaunee made at least 50 treaties with European powers, most of which were expressions of peace and friendship. Some were made to share land, but the member-states of the Haudenosaunee retained their hunting, fishing, and gathering rights within the territory that they agreed to open to settlers.
After the Revolutionary War, the thirteen colonies each became independent states and began to conduct themselves as sovereign governments. Eventually, they set up a process for unified government similar to that of the Haudenosaunee. In fact, the Articles of Confederation began with: “The Stile (sic) of this Confederacy shall be the United States of America.” First, the new government worked under the Articles of Confederation and then, in 1789, they adopted the US Constitution. The Constitution specifically vested the President or his appointed representatives with the exclusive legal right to negotiate treaties, which are agreements between sovereign nations, and gave the Senate the exclusive power to ratify those treaties. The Commerce Clause further granted Congress the exclusive authority to regulate commerce with Indian nations.
Early US statesmen acknowledged the international status of Indian nations and the treaties made with them. Rufus King, one of America’s founding fathers and later a US Senator from New York, equated Indian treaties with all other international treaties, such as those with Britain or France. Article VI of the US Constitution states that “treaties shall be the supreme law of the land.”
US-Haudenosaunee Treaties
With this mutual understanding as a backdrop, the US government entered into three major treaties with the Haudenosaunee. Interestingly, two of these treaties remain in effect to this day, while a third, the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmer, was superseded by the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794. Validation of this treaty lies in the fact that the Haudenosaunee receives from the US annuities of $4,500 in the form of bolts of muslin cloth, allocated each year from the US Treasury.
In 1871, the US ceased treaty-making with native nations. By that time, the US had entered into nearly 400 legitimate treaties with Indian nations. It is the contention of the Onondaga Nation, then, that it maintains and has never relinquished either its national or collective sovereignty as a member of the Haudenosaunee. Such sovereignty was defined by the Peace Maker as belonging to those nations that accepted the Great Law, subscribed to its spiritual, moral and social mandates, and placed themselves under the authority of the Governing Councils of Chiefs. There has never been any provision for transferring that sovereignty to any other entity, nor have the traditional chiefs of the Haudenosaunee ever consented to such a transfer.
Sovereignty Defined
Like the individual states of the US, each member nation of the Haudenosaunee retains the authority to govern its own internal affairs. Within the framework of the Great Law and its own specific laws, each individual nation reserves the right to resolve internal disputes, pass laws for the welfare of their own community, regulate trade and commerce, control immigration and citizenship, oversee public works, approve land use, and appoint officials to act on its behalf.
Every member of the Haudenosaunee has the authority to defend its citizens against internal and external dangers and to advocate for the peaceful resolution of conflict and the equitable distribution of collective resources.
The Haudenosaunee is a democracy, holding the power to resolve differences between member nations and to guarantee that its members are of one mind on matters of international treaties, territorial disputes, international trade, or any other issue that affects the long-term welfare of the Confederacy. The Chiefs of the Grand Council are designated advocates of peace and hold the future welfare of the people in their hands. They are empowered to deliberate, to consider all options, to arrive at consensus, and to make decisions.
In the past, the chiefs, headmen and delegates of each nation were involved in the negotiation and acceptance of the terms of treaties with European governments, and later with the US government. These treaties were then presented to the Grand Council for approval. If accepted, a treaty came to represent the legal relationship between the US and the traditional nations.
Haudenosaunee sovereignty was not granted by the US, any more than US sovereignty was granted by the English crown in the eighteenth century. Sovereignty is an inherent right that, in the case of the Onondaga Nation, was established with the formation of the Haudenosaunee and adoption of the Great Law of Peace.
The Onondaga Nation has had and continues to possess sovereign authority, both as a nation and as part of the Haudenosaunee. With such sovereignty comes the power to govern, make treaties, and act on behalf of the Onondaga people in relations with other sovereign nations. It is an authority that the Nation and its designated representatives take very seriously.

 

The following article is reprinted from Neighbors to Neighbors, Nation to Nation, an 80-page educational booklet co-created by the Onondaga Nation and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON). 10,000 copies of the booklet were produced in April 2014, the culmination of a careful, years-long process. NOON is working to distribute the booklet to schools and libraries, as well as individuals and families. Contact the Peace Council for information about how to get Neighbors to Neighbors, Nation to Nation for yourself or your community.

This article was originally published at www.onondaganation.org.

A plaque commemorates the Canandaigua Treaty.

Photo: SPC archives

Although physically situated within the territorial limits of the United States today, native nations like the Onondaga Nation and the other members of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Confederacy, retain their status as sovereign nations. The Haudenosaunee is a union of sovereign nations joined together for the common benefit of its citizens. Governed by a Grand Council of Chiefs who deliberate and make decisions for the people concerning issues both domestic and international, the Haudenosaunee began as a confederacy of sovereign nations aligned to deal with other native nations surrounding their lands and later, to negotiate with Europeans when the latter came into their territories beginning in the early 1600s.

Sovereignty is the state of existence as a self-governing entity, and it was in this capacity that the Onondagas and other members of the Haudenosaunee sat with delegates from England, France and the Netherlands in the years prior to American independence. During the colonial era, the Haudenosaunee made at least 50 treaties with European powers, most of which were expressions of peace and friendship. Some were made to share land, but the member-states of the Haudenosaunee retained their hunting, fishing, and gathering rights within the territory that they agreed to open to settlers.

After the Revolutionary War, the thirteen colonies each became independent states and began to conduct themselves as sovereign governments. Eventually, they set up a process for unified government similar to that of the Haudenosaunee. In fact, the Articles of Confederation began with: “The Stile (sic) of this Confederacy shall be the United States of America.” First, the new government worked under the Articles of Confederation and then, in 1789, they adopted the US Constitution. The Constitution specifically vested the President or his appointed representatives with the exclusive legal right to negotiate treaties, which are agreements between sovereign nations, and gave the Senate the exclusive power to ratify those treaties. The Commerce Clause further granted Congress the exclusive authority to regulate commerce with Indian nations.

Early US statesmen acknowledged the international status of Indian nations and the treaties made with them. Rufus King, one of America’s founding fathers and later a US Senator from New York, equated Indian treaties with all other international treaties, such as those with Britain or France. Article VI of the US Constitution states that “treaties shall be the supreme law of the land.”

US-Haudenosaunee Treaties

With this mutual understanding as a backdrop, the US government entered into three major treaties with the Haudenosaunee. Interestingly, two of these treaties remain in effect to this day, while a third, the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmer, was superseded by the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794. Validation of this treaty lies in the fact that the Haudenosaunee receives from the US annuities of $4,500 in the form of bolts of muslin cloth, allocated each year from the US Treasury.

In 1871, the US ceased treaty-making with native nations. By that time, the US had entered into nearly 400 legitimate treaties with Indian nations. It is the contention of the Onondaga Nation, then, that it maintains and has never relinquished either its national or collective sovereignty as a member of the Haudenosaunee. Such sovereignty was defined by the Peace Maker as belonging to those nations that accepted the Great Law, subscribed to its spiritual, moral and social mandates, and placed themselves under the authority of the Governing Councils of Chiefs. There has never been any provision for transferring that sovereignty to any other entity, nor have the traditional chiefs of the Haudenosaunee ever consented to such a transfer.

Sovereignty Defined

Like the individual states of the US, each member nation of the Haudenosaunee retains the authority to govern its own internal affairs. Within the framework of the Great Law and its own specific laws, each individual nation reserves the right to resolve internal disputes, pass laws for the welfare of their own community, regulate trade and commerce, control immigration and citizenship, oversee public works, approve land use, and appoint officials to act on its behalf.

Every member of the Haudenosaunee has the authority to defend its citizens against internal and external dangers and to advocate for the peaceful resolution of conflict and the equitable distribution of collective resources.

The Haudenosaunee is a democracy, holding the power to resolve differences between member nations and to guarantee that its members are of one mind on matters of international treaties, territorial disputes, international trade, or any other issue that affects the long-term welfare of the Confederacy. The Chiefs of the Grand Council are designated advocates of peace and hold the future welfare of the people in their hands. They are empowered to deliberate, to consider all options, to arrive at consensus, and to make decisions.

In the past, the chiefs, headmen and delegates of each nation were involved in the negotiation and acceptance of the terms of treaties with European governments, and later with the US government. These treaties were then presented to the Grand Council for approval. If accepted, a treaty came to represent the legal relationship between the US and the traditional nations.

Haudenosaunee sovereignty was not granted by the US, any more than US sovereignty was granted by the English crown in the eighteenth century. Sovereignty is an inherent right that, in the case of the Onondaga Nation, was established with the formation of the Haudenosaunee and adoption of the Great Law of Peace.

The Onondaga Nation has had and continues to possess sovereign authority, both as a nation and as part of the Haudenosaunee. With such sovereignty comes the power to govern, make treaties, and act on behalf of the Onondaga people in relations with other sovereign nations. It is an authority that the Nation and its designated representatives take very seriously.

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