Haudenosaunee* Land Claims Update

by Doug George-Kanentiio

There is a strong light remaining within the longhouses of the Haudenosaunee but it is flickering. There are those remarkable clan leaders who insist the effort to secure justice for our lost lands must be a spiritual endeavor — one in which we reestablish our intimate relationship with the living organism we call Iethi’nistenha Ohontsia (the earth mother). We must use our Haudenosaunee language, that manner of speaking born of this land, to address her concerns and begin healing her wounds after seven generations of being repeatedly beaten and raped.

In the hearts and minds of the traditionalists there is no other reason to pursue a land claim, an action which, if undertaken without proper public relations, is bound to incur the wrath of the very people we need to enlighten. We are the true custodians of the natural world; as a contemplating species we have a sacred obligation to insure all other life forms have the inherent right to exist in their own space and time.

Our rituals, our music, our prayers, our very names are meant to remind us of this task. Should we fail to speak to our mother or otherwise ignore her needs, then life as we know it in this hemisphere will undergo radical ecological change. This is why the Haudenosaunee could not accept the European-based notion of earth as commodity; it explains the extreme internal differences among our own people regarding the way in which we choose to live.

Divorced from our culture
Some of us are so divorced from our culture and so void of common sense as to believe they will be happier people if they can use our earth mother as a means of barter. They think converting our 26 million acres into casinos, which demean the human spirit and extract massive amounts of energy from the soil and water, will enhance their lives.

After a decade of commercial gambling at Akwesasne, Oneida and Seneca, those people are more miserable than ever. They have become piggish, paranoid, peevish. They have created a class of super-rich Haudenosaunee who go about boasting of their material wealth despite the nagging shame of having exploited the very traditions they used to make their money.

They were not the ones who fought to preserve Haudenosaunee culture and identity through the long dark days of the 19th and 20th centuries. They were not the ones on the front lines willing to go to war with New York State to protect our status as free peoples. They did not care to learn the rituals of thanksgiving which keep us humble or the language which enables us to speak to the skies and stars. They are in a state of perpetual conflict with the traditional beliefs. They use their powers, as granted to them by the US and New York, to forcibly subdue anyone standing against them.

Witness the Oneida Nation of New York, Inc. now facing litigation before the US Supreme Court for violating the human rights of the Oneida people. And why the Supreme Court? Because Oneida, Inc. is a US, hence alien, entity existing outside of the Haudenosaunee circle in the murky world of US corporate law.

The Cayugas
Then there is the truly disturbing Cayuga situation. It must be understood that the Cayugas residing in this region desperately want their own home. They want a stable, traditional council to govern a singular community. They need time and space to recover from 200 years as guests in other people’s homes. This will not happen because Oneida, Inc. is afraid of the revival of a Cayuga Nation Council of Chiefs. The Council’s 11 male leaders and 11 clan mothers will strengthen the Haudenosaunee, that entity which has declared Oneida, Inc. to be outlaw and has been targeted by Oneida, Inc.’s “CEO” as the primary threat to his unilateral control over all things Oneida.

So Oneida, Inc. waited until the last Cayuga chief passed on before pouncing. It poured millions of dollars into a highly unstable organization which in no way is capable of governing under Haudenosaunee law. Inevitably, the tensions within the Cayugas degenerated into serious divisions which have paralyzed those people. But chaos won’t stop Pataki from making his deals, nor has it slowed the casino investors who stand to make millions of dollars while gloating over the Cayuga carcass.

There is simply no Haudenosaunee administration capable of effectively managing the kind of massive casino ventures Pataki advocates for the Catskills. Certainly not the Mohawks whose tiny operation has yet, after years of operation, to turn a profit. Not the Senecas whose Niagara Falls casino has yet to pay them a dime and surely not Oneida, Inc. which, after 12 years of reaping in hundreds of millions, still refuses to provide its people with an audit of its operations.

And where is the Oneida, Inc. money? $10 million to Harvard, $10 million to the National Museum of the American Indian and millions more for Falcon jets, mansions and other “investments” — all without the knowledge or approval of the Oneida people.

But perhaps this metamorphosis of the Haudenosaunee from free, humble and caring human beings into callous consumers is precisely what Pataki and crew are unwittingly bringing about. We are the human conscience of this land and when we no longer care for mother earth why should she care for us?

This is my version of what the land claims are about.

*Haudenosaunee is the preferred name of the Six Nations Confederacy, often called the Iroquois.
Doug is an Akwesasne Mohawk residing on Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah. He is the former editor of Akwesasne Notes-Indian Time, a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association and a past member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian. He is a columnist for the periodical News From Indian Country. He can be reached at [Kanentiio@aol.com] or Box 450, Oneida Iroquois Territory, Oneida Castle, NY 13421.