Doug George-Kanentiio: Oneida Nation sovereignty an 'illusion'
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 in jeopardy.

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 claims.

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 selected council.

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.

The 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 Oneida people.

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: or via surface mail: Box 450, Oneida, NY 13421

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