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.