Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

A Couple Weeks of Declarations; Celebrated, Reconsidered and Forced

So a couple of days after Americans celebrated their Declaration of Independence from tyranny I travelled to Washington D.C. to observe and participate in the U.S. State Department's "Smart Partnership Dialogue" events. The events are to assist the State Department in their review of the U.S. position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that position being a complete rejection of the entire document back in 2007.

The first day, July 7th, was the "Tribal Consultation", described as the "government-to-government tribal consultations between U.S. government agencies and federally recognized tribes". The State Department, which actually hosted the meeting at their facility, rolled out a few of its big guns for the event (don't get excited, Hillary was no where close) and rustled up some White House Indians, some Interior Department underlings and various other government agency staffers. The event was well attended; in fact the room was full to capacity. Sitting to the immediate left of the U.S. panel was the Haudenosaunee representatives; I single them out specifically because of the events that would unfold later in the week. A good portion of the discussion focused around religious rights, sacred sites, federal recognition and the general poverty of Indian Country. No one mentioned economic development, trade, passports or any issues related to Native sovereignty as it relates to the international community or the United Nations.

The second day was an opportunity for the NGO's to be heard; that's U.N. speak for non government organizations. In other words, the federally recognized tribal leaders had their day, now it was time for the people. This event was held at the Smithsonian's Museum of the Native Americans on the Capitol Mall. I went to listen for the Seneca Free Trade Association but to speak as a free thinking Kanienkehaka. And speak I did.

I began by expressing my cynicism for the whole process, especially with the agency's constant reference to the domestication of indigenous/tribal issues and the foreboding of potential conflicts should our issues no longer be held as domestic issues. I suggested that we take a look at how well we have fared with their domestication of us. I also expressed skepticism on the integrity and conscience of the international community as well. I actually brought up many of their domestic laws and policies including the passport issue as well as their Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative IDs that attempt to force our declaration of U.S. or Canadian citizenship. I brought up the citizenship act of 1924, the Homestead Act, the Dawes Act, income tax, draft registration for military service, BIA recognition, the conflict between state's rights and federal authority, jurisdiction, land loss, land use, land title and land claims. I brought up federal Indian law and the practice of establishing precedence against weaker tribes to apply force of law against others. I brought up trade and commerce as well as the role the United States plays in preventing our private sector development. I spoke of the tobacco trade and couldn't help but mention that tobacco was prominently displayed in full growth as part of the landscaping for the museum (and not traditional Indian tobacco but full broad leaf commercial grade tobacco). I brought up the overtures made by the President and the photo ops and of course the White House Indians. I brought up the PACT Act and called out Jodie Gillette in front of the whole auditorium for not giving us the time of day to discuss the damage that her boss signed into law. What I didn't know was what was about to transpire over the next couple of days.

A few days after the State Department finished courting us in D.C., the Iroquois National lacrosse team was held hostage by them in New York City. Bound for England to play in the World Lacrosse Championship Tournament in Manchester, the Haudenosaunee passport carriers ran into a brick wall. The United Kingdom refused to issue travel visas for the team without assurances from the State Department that the travellers would be allowed back home on their Haudenosaunee passports. In the eleventh hour Hillary Clinton intervened and ordered that the department issue a "one time" waiver to allow the use of the substandard travel documents for reentry into the U.S.. Feeling as if they were off the hook without really giving into the obstinate Indians, the State Department stepped out of the role as villain. The problem was that the Brits weren't satisfied. The U.S. had shoved the hi-tech travel documents down every one's throats in the name of 9-11 and Hillary's discretionary use of "one time" waivers was not cutting it for them, so now they insisted that the athletes either produce U.S. or Canadian passports, in other words fully recognized passports, to receive their visas.
So a little more than a week after Americans celebrated their independence from their tyrant, the very people who lost more in and after the war that was fought for that independence were kicked around like illegal immigrants. The media had a frenzy with the issue but stayed cautiously close to the main story line: Iroquois Nationals banned from competition for insisting on using their own passports. There was never any connection made to the discussion over the U.N. Declaration. The Haudenosaunee representatives never broached the subject in Washington and the entire coverage of the issue as it developed never strayed beyond the lacrosse players. Only I mentioned the travel document issue in this "Smart Partnership Dialogue". If I had any idea these guys were heading to Europe I would have jumped all over the issue rather than just mentioning it.
Our people face travel restrictions every day. With half of our Haudenosaunee communities north of the imaginary line and half south of it, as well as one Mohawk community straddling it, we can't even visit family without a fight over travel documents. Even without their international borders to cross, goods are seized even as we travel from one community to another in the commission of legal trade. As you read this, a prominent Seneca is on trial because his product was purchased by a Native retailer in the state of Washington without reporting the transaction to the state. Two Mohawk boys were permanently disabled when a U.S. Coast Guard vessel rammed their boat as a result of their refusal to yield to them as they travelled across the river from one part of Akwesasne to another. U.S. and Canadian officials blocked bridge access to part of Akwesasne simply because the people refused to allow Canadian Border Service Agents to be armed on Mohawk land. Vehicles that drive from one part of Akwesasne to another that don't first drive into the city of Cornwall to report are seized if they later enter Canada. Invitations to many countries are declined simply because of travel restrictions for those that refuse to declare themselves as U.S. or Canadian citizens and this is the real issue.
Although the mainstream media has danced around the subject, the main conflict over all the travel documents is centered on the insistence that we declare citizenship to a nation that is not our own. This is not just assimilation, it is by definition; genocide. The third act that constitutes genocide according to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is: Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

So where does this leave reconsideration of the U.N. Declaration? What is the point of open discussions if there is no transparency to what happens off stage? My skepticism of the international community could not have been more justified when one of the nations(Great Britain), that has already signed, attempts to force our people to declare subjugation to the only two countries(the US and Canada) on the planet that have refused to become signatory nations. Much of the debate about this U.N. document has been over its potential legal ramifications. We know from past experiences that the first time this is used as a legal document against the U.S. someone will challenge it and have the federal courts declare it unconstitutional as a legally binding agreement. Man-made law will not solve our issues; U.S., U.N. nor any other. Fair and honest diplomacy, that can withstand international scrutiny, is the only solution and it is long overdue, I do declare.


Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

This was my email to Kathy Milton ( at the US State Department who participated in the consultations on Wednesday and Thursday on the US revisiting signing on to the Declaration.

I am the rather long winded gentleman that took up so much time at the NGO consultation on Thursday. I only wish I knew this passport issue was coming to such a head. I clearly would have taken a little extra time on the subject.
This cuts right to the issue on how ineffective and discriminatory the so-called "domestication" of Native issues really is. The push to force us to use US passports, which require a declaration of US citizenship, is assimilation at its best. In fact one of the recognized acts of genocide is Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. From the onset of the discussions to declare Indians US citizens, it was clear it was to assimilate us and to eliminate our distinction. In doing so, our lands would be more available for the taking and US and State law could be more easily applied.
I hope you took my words seriously, last Thursday and I hope you will do the right thing as it applies to the Iroquois Nationals. Perhaps if you don't, our arguments become a little more clear. As human beings we need to stop imposing our will against each other. You need to stop trying to solve problems through legislating over us and seek solutions through diplomacy.
I do plan to submit recommendations to the email address set up for the purpose (, but felt compelled to respond directly to you on this issue since it is an issue for the State Department.

I am who I am said...

I wish I coulda have been there! Im so proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for speaking up and hopefully more people will follow your example. Keep up the good work!

Pridebourne said...

Why the sudden change of heart and acceptance of Nationals? Is their capital to be made? From the Native Pride perspective, the Nationals lacrosse team should have accepted US/Can pasports because 'simply using [US/Can pasports] is not falsely advertizing itself.' "There is nothing misleading in using certain industry standards." 'Using US/Can passports does not suggest subordination to it as some authoritative body.' According to Ohnkwe Ohnwe, "it is not Nation to Nation [relations] that need to be promoted." If we see an opportunity for commerce we should accept any ID as long as we and our partners get the job done. If we, as individuals, are to get back what has been lost, we need to look out for ourselves and those who have simmilar identities. Transient people have the advantage of not needing roots and can prosper from adopting non-Ohnkweohnwe ideas. As long as we are looking out for our own ideal birthright, we are right. Branding ourselves with popular-culture is all we need to take advantage of local and emerging markets.

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

Pridebourne: Your comments could not be more absurd. To suggest that putting NY in your address or a Surgeon General's warning on a product is the same as carrying the passport of a foreign nation is ridiculous. As I have said, we should drop the state from our addresses but packaging a product with certain standards for the market it is being sold into is not that big a deal to me. I never suggested there was anything wrong with developing Nation to Nation [relations]. Micharacterizing my encouragement of Native to Native business just makes your comment weak and pointless. I have no problem lining up with people on an issue even if I have not always seen eye to eye with their advocates. Who knows, maybe you and I will agree one day, but clearly not till you become less negative about our people.

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

A statement from Oren Lyons!

To the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL);
To the Leadership of all participating national teams;
To the boards, coaches, staff, and support groups of each of them;
To the players: you who carry the honor of your nations, and the spirit of this game;

We, the Iroquois Nationals, salute you one and all! Congratulations on your successful 2010 FIL World Lacrosse Championships. To the champions of each respective division – congratulations!

To all competing nations, congratulations!

To the gold medal winners (USA), to the Silver medal winners (Canada), to the Bronze medal winners (Australia), we send our congratulations. And we all know, regardless of the championship outcomes, it is the game of lacrosse that is the ultimate winner.

As the grandfathers of the great game of Deyhontsigwa’ehs (lacrosse), our team and our organization are there with you in mind and spirit. We thank you all for your steadfast support of Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team, and we encourage you to play on!

We are not going away – we will meet the challenges that face us. It is our intention to be on the field, fit and ready for the FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championships of 2011 and every tournament after that.

Peace and goodwill to all of you. Jah-guh! (Play on!)

Respectfully yours in the great game of Lacrosse,
Oren Lyons, Chairman
Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

My response to Oren's comments.

What exactly did the FIL, the leaders of the participating nations or the coaches, staff and players of those teams that got to compete do to support the Haudenosaunee team? We certainly know the leadership of the UK and the US deserve no appreciation or congratulations from us. Oren should stop sucking up to those who did nothing important enough to grab even a line in the media that covered this issue. The sport was not honored by this tournament and it certainly wasn't by its host. I appreciate the level to which others have embraced our game but not if we are rejected in the process. I was once told that our language, culture and spirituality are like three strings of wampum, woven together so that they cannot be separated. Anyone who thinks we should check our identity, our citizenship, our culture at a customs desk or at a consulate office so we can play a game; even our game, just doesn't know, and probably don't want to know, who we are. Like those three strings of wampum, if you separate us from the game of lacrosse; it's not really the same game. It is certainly not one I am willing to congratulate anyone for.

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

Just to bring this back around to the UN Declaration again; whether it is irony or just dumb luck, the four nations that rejected the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples back in 2007were The United States, Canada, Austrailia and New Zealand. The U.S. won the gold, Canada won silver and Austrailia took the bronze in this now infamous tournament. The U.S. and Canada still reject the Declaration and refuse to sign.

Anonymous said...

Amazing information. Out here in Navajo Country it is difficult to get any news about what is happening to Native people east of the mid-west states.

May I please suggest, put more paragraphs into your writing. It is wonderful to have such a wealth of information available to us, but without paragraphs it can be overwhelming and difficult to understand and digest.

Thank you for your efforts to share your information with the world. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog articles.

Anonymous from Arizona

Ohnkwe Ohnwe said...

You ask for paragraphs; you get paragraphs. Truly constructive critism, now there's something you don't see everyday.