Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Amerindian fantasies

This today in the Citizen caught my fancy.

For thousands of years Native governments oversaw trade, delivered services,  provided security and worked to sustain a culture and lifestyle within specific  jurisdictional areas. That they had the right and capacity to do so was  obviously acknowledged by the European colonial powers through formal treaties,  those most fundamental of contracts between sovereign nations , and under that law the unilateral breach of  a treaty returns the signatory nations to their previous condition. As the  demonstrators have said, Canada is free to abrogate its treaties with Natives  but in doing so the land and all of its resources revert to aboriginal status.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is an author and former editor of  Akwesasne Notes. He is vice-president for the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous  Knowledge.

Sometimes the gap between what people would like to believe and what actually matters is so great that a bucket of cold water needs to be thrown on them.

European powers did sign treaties with Indian tribes. They acknowledged their territories and dealt with their governments, but they never did so as equals in the sense of a European state system. No doubt the Iroquois Confederacy was a vital player in the space between the American English-speaking colonies and the French regime beyond the Alleghenies and north of New England. The allegiance of the Iroquois to first, the Dutch, and then the English regime  in New York, was a vital bulwark against the French regime in New France.

“By entering into  treaties or trade compacts, the Europeans recognized that Native nations were  their equal under international law” – This is rubbish.  At no time did the King of England, or his governors of American colonies, treat with the Iroquois as nation states, for the simple reason that Indian tribes were not states. The Iroquois were among the most advanced of tribes in  northeastern North America, yet they had not passed the level of technology or social organization reached by Europeans and Asians 10,000 years before. Achilles and Hector, duelling on the plains of Troy, represented societies with ships, wheels, horses, bronze, and settled agriculture. The Indians of northeastern North America were just beginning to engage in corn cultivation, and of metallurgy, wheels, or sailing ships they knew nothing. Because they were only beginning to cultivate corn, their numbers were few. Francis Parkman estimates that the Iroquois Confederacy could put at most 6,000 warriors into the field.

As to the claims that the Indian tribes managed trade, delivered services and provided security, these are equally spurious. The exchange of prestige gifts like wampum among chiefs is akin to the exchange of bronze weapons among Europeans in 3,000 BC. Hunting does not provide the surplus that can sustain governments, and without governments, and the organization of males into a soldiery to protect the grain stores, “providing security”meant that, if you were lucky, you might live to forty before being massacred or taken as a slave. Conditions like this were akin to those in  European and Asian societies in 3,000 BC. Those Americans of European descent have come from the same place in ages past, but by the time 17th century monarchies and their colonial offshoot societies established themselves here in North America, they were not dealing with Amerindians as equals. Furhermore, the land is not reverting to the management of Indian tribes if and when those treaties are abrogated. We are not moving back to a time before the Iliad to satisfy the dreams of Amerindian intellectuals. Nor are we getting into spaceships to fly away so that the “land”, that mystical claptrap of Indian ideology, may recover.

You are stuck with us, Doug George-Kanentiio, and we with you. Let us make the most of this fact.

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  • dmorris says:

    Excellent post! Someone had to say it,and you did,very well.

    The mistake of calling the Indian tribes “Nations” has affected many Indians with delusions of a grandeur that has never been attained by their people. Stone age warriors is what they were before the White Man came,and Indian activists should be taught that fact.

    As to their being “stewards of the land”, that,too is fantasy. Their ability to kill was limited by their own technology,thus they had little effect on their natural surroundings.

    A well-known,but seldom discussed item,is the propensity of (some) First Nations people to poach big game in and out of season, and just leave the carcass lying where they shot it with their traditional weapon,the high-powered rifle.

    Talk to any Fish and Wildlife officer who works in areas near Indian Reserves, you’ll be surprised.

    Indians/First Nations/Aboriginals in Canada have been given all the help humanly possible,and because Canadians are generous people,we will continue to do so. And that’s as it should be.

    But for the Indian Grievance Industry to continue their hateful rhetoric against US,while weaving a fantastic tale of life before US, does no one any good,and feeds the anger of the Indian activists who are in reality victims of their own politicians.

    January 9, 2013 at 11:53 PM
  • old white guy says:

    fantasy land. the indians had no written language and did not have the benefit of the wheel. cultural and industrial giants. wow.

    January 10, 2013 at 8:06 AM

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