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Doug George-Kanentiio: Tecumseh never parted with the land

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: doug george-kanentiio, land claims, mohawk, shawnee, treaties

His name was Tecumseh, the Shooting Star, the Panther, born of the Tewa:kenha Nation, the Shawnees, ancient allies of the Rotinosionni, the Iroquois.

He was born into the Kispoko clan, the fighters-defenders, as descended from his father. He was a contemporary of the great military leader Blue Jacket, the man who led a Native alliance which inflicted the two greatest defeats on the US Army in history.

He was there when Red Jacket and Cornplanter were called to council then retreated to Seneca territory in shame when the Confederacy refused to join the grand alliance of Odawas, Shawnees, Anishnabe, Potawatomi, Miami and Mingo (those Iroquois living in the Ohio region).

He was the man most feared by the British and Americans, the one person who could have stopped the expansion of the United States into the continental midwest or frustrate the colonial plans of Great Britain in North America. He commanded respect wherever he went as well as apprehension among those who would make compromises with their aboriginal lands.

US presidents from Washington to Madison would have preferred him assassinated only to have him die in battle in October, 1813 after saving Canada from the Americans

He could not be bought, coerced, intimidated or threatened. He was loyal to his wife, a stable father to his children and a strong defender of his community. He refused alcohol although he had a keen sense of humour and was a brilliant orator.

Tecumseh was physically tough, a fighter of exceptional courage and a field commander whose tactics led to dozens of victories, often against superior forces. No man was ever asked to do a task Tecumseh would not do himself.

He was no coward, hiding behind platoons of lawyers, bureaucrats or image makers. He did not need to take his case before hostile courts or the media. Whatever he said was spoken directly to the people.

He spoke of unity, power, duty and dignity. He shamed those who would sell the land and felt so strongly about protecting the rights of those unborn that he advocated disgrace, banishment and capital punishment for anyone who put their names to any document which qualified in any way the aboriginal ownership of the land.

Tecumseh treated those signatories with contempt, calling them “whiskey chiefs” and rejected any deal they may have made with the hated Americans.

He was well aware of the US scheme to create artificial divisions within the Native nations, beginning with the fraudulent Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794 which effectively silenced the Iroquois as a unified fighting force for all time.

Tecumseh either led or influenced Native fighters to many victories during the War of 1812 including: Ft. Dearborn, the Raisin River, Ft. Detroit, Frenchtown and Ft.Meigs.

At sampling of his speeches reveals a man of wisdom, passion, vision and anger. In 1811 Tecumseh traveled thousands of miles recruiting fighters, meeting with Native nations, forging a common front to beat back the Americans. In his speech to the Osages he said:
“Brothers: we are friends; we must assist each other to bear our burdens. The blood of many of our fathers and brothers has run like water on the ground to satisfy the avarice of the white men. We, ourselves, are threatened with a great evil; nothing will pacify them but the destruction of all the red men.”

In an 1810 speech at Vincennes,Indiana Tecumseh said to US General William Henry Harrison:
“The way, the only way to stop this evil, is for the red people to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now -- for it was never divided, but belongs to all.

No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.

Sell a country?! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?

How can we have confidence in the white people? We have good and just reasons to believe we have ample grounds to accuse the Americans of injustice, especially when such great acts of injustice have been committed by them upon our race, of which they seem to have no manner of regard, or even to reflect. *When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you killed him and nailed him to the cross. You thought he was dead, and you were mistaken. You have the Shakers among you, and you laugh and make light of their worship.* Everything I have told you is the truth. The Great Spirit has inspired me.”

To Tecumseh the selling of land, for any purpose, was the great evil. He would have condemned the current “land claims” as nothing more than an attempt to exploit the rights of the unborn. His opposition would have been more than mere words; his morals would have demanded physical opposition to the whiskey chiefs.

Unlike our “leadership” Tecumseh demanded that the US be held accountable for its actions and its breach of aboriginal rights. In the current “land claims” negotiations at no point does New York State or the US acknowledge any wrongdoing. No official or agency is held responsible for the theft of millions of acres of Mohawk territory, the death of thousands of Mohawks or the damages to our culture and health. Making this worse is that all monetary expenditures resulting from a “settlement” would come from resources generated on Mohawk lands. As for the “free tuition” it is merely a tactic to impose alien education standards on our people and further diminish language and our ancestral bonds to the natural world.

Tecumseh would have been appalled by the lack of public consultation, the veil of secrecy and its inherent mistrust in the people. Yet all it takes is but one signature and the Mohawk Nation as a custodian of the earth is finished and for all time. Just one signature-and who will that be?

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes. A founding member of the Native American Journalists Association he served on the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian. He is the author of many books and articles about aboriginal people including "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol or by calling 315-415-7288.

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