On November 11 of this year a large delegation of Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois) gathered at the New York town of Canandaigua to commemorate the one and only legitimate treaty entered into between their ancestors and the United States in 1794.
That treaty committed the US to respect the sovereign status of the Confederacy and to respect its territories while making a formal pledge to live in mutual peace, undisturbed by intrusions from each signatory.
Although the treaty has been violated many times by the US and its subsidiaries (such as New York State) the Confederacy continues to 'polish the covenant chain' of friendship through the annual treaty gatherings.
For this, the Confederacy owes a great deal to the Shawnee Nation for without them Canandaigua would not have happened.
A few years after the Americans secured their independence from Britain their nation was at risk. The enormous financial burdens incurred by the war could not be paid by the national government without issuing patents to lands owned and occupied by native nations. These vast tracts were sold by the federal government for mere pennies an acre to speculators (gamblers) and resold, hopefully at a profit.
This kind of gambling for land was the primary cause of the revolution since the British Crown had outlawed such activity at the insistence of the Native nations. Beginning with the Royal Proclamation of 1763 the colonists were forbidden to trespass west of the Appalachians. The problem was the wealthy elite had put much of their resources into land companies who used every dirty trick to have Natives sign land sales contracts.
Colonial leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the Adams family of Boston, Robert Morris, Ben Franklin and Patrick Henry; they all were deeply involved in the land scam. Their decision to oppose the Crown was largely based upon their need to make profits at the Indian expense. When they felt the need they even caused frontier wars in which thousands of settlers and Indians died.
The Haudenosaunee took a strong stance against the speculators and even threatened war if the invaders did not stop. By forming an alliance with Native nations in the midwest the Haudenosaunee were to be taken seriously.
But the first Treaty of Ft. Stanwix in 1768 cause much trouble for the native allies. The Confederacy surrendered its claims to lands in the Ohio and Kentucky regions which led to a wave of settlers moving into those areas.
During the Revolution the tide of European settlements slowed only to resume once the British abandoned their natives when they signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783, just as the Natives were geared up for more fighting.
The Shawnees were not about to leave their ancestral territory without a fight. Under the leadership of Blue Jacket and Little Turtle they organized the native nations in that area and defied the US to take their land.
The Americans sent two armies into Shawnee lands; one in 1790 and another in 1791. The first was led by General Josiah Hamar, a veteran of the Revolution who marched 1,500 men (including the hated Kentuckians) into Ohio and then Indiana. Opposing him were Native allies of the Miami, Potawatomi, Mingo (Ohio Iroquois), Odawa, Ojibway, Sax and Fox, Lenapi and Wyandot nations under the leadership of Blue Jacket. On October 21 on the banks of the Maumee River the natives crushed Harmar inflicted close to 200 casualties before the Americans retreated, battered and beaten.
A year later, on November 4 1791 the US army suffered its greatest defeat in its history when Blue Jacket once again gathered his allies and humiliated the Americans at the Wabash River. Virtually every American officer was killed or wounded under the command of General Arthur St. Clair. Over 600 soldiers died compared to a few dozen Natives.
With Blue Jacket was a young 23 year old fighter of exceptional courage. He was Tecumseh, "Shooting Star" or Katsistenkien in Mohawk. He was of the Kispoko division of the Shawnees, the group trained from youth to defend the people. They were the best fighters and their most respected battle commanders were Blue Jacket and Tecumseh.
The Americans were defeated. And appeal was sent to the Haudenosaunee to join with the western alliance but this was rejected. Joseph Brant and Red Jacket met with the the Shawnee led allies only to be shamed by the Haudenosaunee's unwillingness to fight.
US President George Washington called the Haudenosaunee to meet with him in Philadelphia at which point he assured them their lands would not be lost to the speculators even as the president bought sections of Oneida territory.
But Washington realized the 1,500 Haudenosaunee fighters could mean disaster for the US if they took up arms with Blue Jacket. Washington persuaded Congress that a peace treaty would be far less expensive than a prolonged war so he agreed to terms. In the late summer of 1794 he sent Timothy Pickering, said to be the most honest man in the US military, to negotiate with the Confederacy.
The result was the Treaty of Canandaigua. While the promises made in the treaty were quickly breached by New York State and the land speculators it did remove a serious threat to the US by alienating the Haudenosaunee from the western alliance. Without the support of the Iroquois the alliance collapsed, the Ohio lands were opened for settlement and most of the Shawnees forced to move to the Mississippi and beyond.
Tecumseh would not forget this bitter lesson. For the rest of his life he used his skills as a leader to re-create Blue Jacket's confederacy of nations, knowing that armed resistance was the only way to keep the Americans at bay. He showed how this could be done during the War of 1812 when he defeated US forces at Ft. Meigs, the Raisin River and at Ft. Detroit only to lose his life at Moraviantown in 1813, his vision unfulfilled but his legacy secured.
Now, the Haudenosaunee carry on with their efforts to insure Canandaigua is not forgotten. It remains a powerful force in modern times, expressed not only in marches, speeches and rallies but in real economic terms for without Canandaigua the US would have long ago extinguished the last flickers of aboriginal sovereignty in what is now New York State.
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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