When the European colonists arrived in the northeast they encountered
a powerful alliance of Native nations who had allied themselves into a
confederacy generations before contact.
These nations were distinct, with specific territories governed by
democratically selected councils whose powers were defined by an oral
constitution. Referred to as the Five Nations (later six) Iroquois
Confederacy it was the most powerful of native entities because it was
able to act in concert to protect its lands and to promote its
political and economic agendas.
The Confederacy realized the immigrant peoples were here to stay. It
made contact with the leaders of the colonies and entered into
treaties in which each signatory agreed not to interfere in the
internal affairs of their respective nations.
The Iroquois refer to this as the "Kaswentha" or the "Two Row Wampum"
since its terms were preserved in a large wampum bead belt consisting
of a white background with two purple, parallel lines running the
length of the belt, never intersecting. The purple rows represent the
ship of the Europeans and the canoe of the Iroquois, moving alongside
each other on the river of history but never crossing over because of
the dangers of upsetting our respective vessels and placing the people
This oldest of treaties dates but to the early 1600's and was agreed
to be the Dutch and later the English. It was affirmed in many other
treaties including the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua in which our nations
pledged to respect our respective jurisdictions without interference.
These treaties are the basis for the Oneida Indian Nation's claim to
be "sovereign", its claims to be able to operate various economic
activities exclusive of New York authority and the basis for its land
And it is an illusion.
The US recognized leader of the Oneida Indian Nation is fond of using
Kaswentha in defying the US and New York, just as he cites Canandiagua
to maintain he is tax exempt. The problem with this is that both
treaties do not apply to the Oneida Indian Nation since it is not a
part of the Six Nations Confederacy and those compacts are relevant
only insofar as the claimants are members of the Confederacy.
The Oneida Indian Nation was specifically excluded by the Grand Council of
the Confederacy in 1993 because it does not adhere to the Great Law of
Peace,that set of rules which established the league 800 years ago.
The Grand Council also found that the Oneida Indian Nation is not a
free or democratic agency since it is ruled by one person who refuses
to hold public assemblies, does not provide a full and open accounting
of his activities and has enacted severe punishments against those
Oneidas who have advocated for a return to a traditional, popularly
The Oneida Indian Nation is not protected by the Treaty of Canandaigua
either since those Oneidas who signed that document represented a
functioning government which consisted of traditional chiefs and
clanmothers. The current regime in no way resembles that council.
The decision by the leader of the Oneida Indian Nation (made without
the input or approval of the Oneida people) to interfere in the
political process of New York and the US is but another contradiction
of its claim to be sovereign. Kasewentha forbids such actions.
attacks upon Oneida County Sheriff candidate Dave Townsend and the
support of his opponent Robert Maciol as initiated by the Oneida
Indian Nation, its pouring of money into the campaigns of regional and
national politicians, its use of lobbyists in Albany and Washington
are in serious violation of Kaswentha and the Treaty of Canandiagua
even if the OIN is not part of the Confederacy since it represents
interference in the electoral process of another nation by an Iroquois
entity with serious ramifications for all Haudenosaunee.
The Oneida Indian Nation cannot have it both ways. It cannot complain
when New York attempts to collect sales taxes to non-Natives by hiding
behind the Confederacy's status yet encourage the Oneidas and the
employees of the OIN to vote in US elections. If the OIN is a
distinct nation then by attempting to influence US elections it is
engaged in a criminal act under American law which specifically
excludes such foreign interference.
But since the OIN has cast aside Kaswentha and Canandaigua then the
US, and New York, are free to treat the Nation as any other
administrative entity within their respective jurisdictions. And that
means the application of the Bill of Rights on Oneida territory and
the restoration of those freedoms which have been stripped from the
Perhaps that is what the OIN fears-an independent investigation into
its activities by law enforcement agencies free of its manipulations.
Doug George-Kanentiio, is an Akwesasne Mohawk. He is the co-founder
of the Native American Journalists Association, a former member of the
Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian and
the author of "Iroquois On Fire". He resides in Oneida Castle with his
wife Joanne Shenandoah.
He may be contacted by calling 315-363-1655, via e-mail:
Kanentiio@aol.com or via surface mail: Box 450, Oneida, NY 13421
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