If the Iroquois are to defeat New York State's efforts to impose taxes on sales to non-Natives they must have not only credible people defending our rights but have to present a rational alternative to Albany's plans.
Last week the New York State Supreme Court held a session in Syracuse hear arguments for and against the collection of sales taxes on Native territory.
Outside the hearing chamber a group reported to consist of 150 anti-tax people carried placards and beat a large drum. A group of speakers addressed the crowd with some of them quoted in the media as making volatile statements and promising there would be active resistance to any attempt by New York to impose taxes. The media reports connected this group as belonging to the Iroquois Confederacy.
This was not true but is typical of the surface reporting which characterizes most stories coming from our communities. Anyone can say anything and none of the reporters will apply any credibility standard as to who that person is and what they actually represent. This kind of journalism is not only sloppy and careless but obscures the legitimate Iroquois leadership and may well place our people in danger.
We know from past experiences, such as Akwesasne and Kanehsatake in 1990, that individuals without standing as Iroquois representatives hijacked the media and created the illusion that the struggles of that year were acts of liberation rather than a conspiracy to take over a Mohawk community and turn it into one of the largest drug havens in North America. It was the external media which fabricated this "freedom fighter" myth since the writers and editors ignored the facts and allowed themselves to be manipulated.
As we know government policy is often dictated by what the policy makers and politicians read or see in the media. The bureaucrats in Ottawa acted accordingly and refused to work with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy or the leaders of the Mohawk Nation to resolve the problems here and at Kanehsatake with predictable results.
This was sadly the case in 1997 when the Haudenosaunee concluded seven months of intense negotiations with the US and New York State before agreeing to a Trade and Commerce compact which would have removed the threat of external taxes permanently.
The compact was designed to bring certain activities such as tobacco and fuel sales under the protection of the Confederacy with a central distribution point and internal regulations enforced by each member of the league. The retailers would have to abide by these new rules and would no longer be able to operate as outlaws or to use their wealth to corrupt the people or undermine the nations.
The Trade and Commerce compact was historic as it would have both the US and New York State formally acknowledge the Haudenosaunee as having exclusive jurisdiction over its territories and the right to enter into nation-to-nation agreements on its own terms.
Naturally, the leaders of the Confederacy expected resistance from some of the retailers as they saw any regulation as a threat to their profits. They refused to see the logic of having a strong Confederacy and organized a series of protests to undermine the Grand Council. Entities such as the Oneida Nation of New York and the Seneca Nation of Indians, neither of which are members of the Confederacy, held rallies and blocked roads. They promised that armed resistance was to follow. The Haudenosaunee leaders informed the US and New York of the nature of these protests, that they were without wide popular support and were being controlled by self serving tobacco millionaires and would soon fade away.
But New York Governor George Pataki proved to be a political coward and caved in. The opponents of the Confederacy, including certain Natives, convinced him that a stable, prosperous and effective Confederacy would be bad for their personal profits. The compact was abandoned as was any hope of controlling the tobacco kingpins.
Thirteen years have passed and the lessons of 1990 and 1997 have been discarded. Speakers rise, hint at armed resistance and are believed. The fact that those at the Syracuse rally did not represent the Confederacy and were, for the most part, members of the Seneca Nation of Indians which seperated from the Haudenosaunee in 1848, was ignored. That at least one of the speakers is under US federal indictment for taking part in a massive criminal conspiracy was also brushed aside. The fact that the Onondaga Nation was not involved in the rally and that the protesters breached Confederate protocol was not reported.
None of the reports did any background checks into who the speakers were or if they had any standing whatsoever with any Iroquois government or organization.
Yet it is the Iroquois people and the Haudenosaunee as a whole, which will have to deal with the consequences of their actions. It is the people who will be placed in harm's way as the US and New York respond with heavier policing; it is the Iroquois people who will be seen as violent and treated accordingly.
Meanwhile, the only solution to this problem lies in the shadows. The Trade and Commerce Compact can yet be salvaged and put into effect as long as the screamers are ignored and the good minded ones are given our support.
There is simply no other way.
Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is an editor, columnist and author.
He is a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the
American Indian. Kanentiio is the author of three books including, "Iroquois on
Fire", recently published by the University of Nebraska. He is the husband of
the singer Joanne Shenandoah.
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