Embrace Our Sovereignty or Continue the Genocide?
By John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk
"The most consistent theme in the descriptions penned about the New World was amazement at the Indians’ personal liberty, in particular their freedom from rulers and from social classes based on ownership of property. For the first time the French and the British became aware of the possibility of living in social harmony and prosperity without the rule of a king." – Jack Weatherford, "Indian Givers"
Almost immediately, all that was known about society, government and social order had come into question for the Europeans who washed up on our shores half a millennium ago. Social order without a hierarchy? Equality? Even between genders? Unalienable rights bestowed to all by Creation?
In the absence of a system born out of beliefs in gods, kings and emperors, an entirely different philosophy developed and shaped the culture of the Onkweh Onweh. As a result, some very foreign concepts were embraced by the newcomers to our lands. Our view of relationships, respect and commitments to our future and the future generations were ultimately understood and welcomed by settlers. Our concepts of liberty and equality would represent such a departure from what was known and, in many ways, at the core of the problems with their "mother land" that they would become not the reason but the rationale for a Declaration of Independence for settler colonists from the rulers of their homelands.
Of course not all of our concepts were embraced and many that were would be altered beyond recognition. But the fact of the matter is that a nation was born out of our lands and our values, both of which were previously unknown to the white man. The reason our lands and philosophies had such value was because they had not been contaminated by European ideas.
It was separation — time, distance and space that would allow a people to develop with such distinction from the norms of Eurasian societies. And now, centuries after the cultural exchanges that would lead to the creation of nations that would make claims to world dominance, democracy and global standards for human rights we, the original people, the Onkweh Onweh, fight everyday to maintain our distinction and autonomy. Five hundred years of atrocities that earn the label of the American Holocaust has not resulted in the successful genocide of our people. And our fight is not the fight of armed insurrection. It is not an insurgency of terrorism or vindictive vengeance. No, our fight is peaceful but strong. We resist the controls of the dominant societies around us. We utilize our sovereignty as an asset and exploit the regulatory advantages we fervently refuse to concede.
But why the fight? Do the U.S. and Canada really consider us a threat? If so, to what or to whom are we a threat? Even as we put our sovereignty to use in our economic development, our economies serve your people! Our gaming, our retail, our manufacturing — all of it depends on the patronage of Americans and Canadians. And how do your people feel about our sovereignty? They support it and, in many ways, depend on it. Our economy employs more of your people than our own. Our economy doesn't just count on your citizens as patrons; we purchase from your vendors; we contract with your suppliers and we hire your contractors. So even as we fight U.S. and Canadian police, government agents, politicians and courts for the elements of our sovereignty that provide the distinction and regulatory advantages necessary to sustain our still limited economy, it is our solid and loyal relationship with your own people that provides our market and much of our supply.
The problems with our economy are many. For one, it's narrow. For another, it is always under attack. If it weren't under an unlawful constant assault it wouldn't be so narrow. Gas, gaming and tobacco are not the only things our people, our lands and our sovereignty are good for. We have much more to offer and, frankly, none of us are comfortable being dependent on two vices and reliance on the oil industry. Nor are we comfortable with them being our legacy.
So here is my point of the week. If our autonomy and distinction could create a philosophy that could change the world centuries ago when change was slow, what could genuine respect and support for our sovereignty and autonomy produce today? In a world where the very regulatory advantages we fight for are sought after for outsourcing, why trek halfway around the globe for what's in your own backyard? Our sovereignty is not a threat to anyone's national security. But it may be a proving ground for the new economic models that everyone is desperately searching for. Back off and see what a clean slate in the neighborhood can do. No need for bureaucratic economic development zones, White House "Promise Zones" or New York State "tax-free" zones. No bipartisan bickering over legislative fixes. Just simple respect for the sovereignty that predates your very existence.
The Haudenosaunee was the model for what would be. We need the respect and support for our autonomy and distinction today so we can be the model for what will be. Fighting us slows down our development but it won't stop us. Fighting us is a battle against the will of your own people. Embrace our distinction and abandon your genocidal tendencies.
– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national expert commentator on Native American issues, hosts two weekly radio programs — “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN Sports Radio WWKB-AM 1520 in Buffalo, N.Y., Sundays, 9-11 p.m. EDT and “First Voices Indigenous Radio,” WBAI-FM 99.5 in New York City, Thursdays, 9-10 a.m. EDT. John is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. He also has a very active "Let's Talk Native...with John Kane" group page on Facebook.