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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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The New US/Canada Mandated Tribal ID's

For the most part, Native people are oblivious to the things that their, so-called, leaders subject them to. A case in point is the new Tribal ID card.
The US and Canada have developed new requirements for what they will accept for "legal" tribal identification cards. The arbitrary lines that they have drawn between them that have, by no small coincidence, separated our nations, communities and families; will not be passable by our people without these new cards or a fight. By and large the "recognized leadership" has laid down for the new regulations. There has been little or no resistance to the changes because our people have been left in the dark. There have been no meetings, no notices and no discussions within our communities about the details of these new regulations and information requirements. All anyone has been told is that new ID's are coming and that they will be necessary to cross between the US and Canada.
Well what are the new requirements? The new cards are high tech. They will include encrypted information on them that none of us will be able to access. The cards will not only be scannable to retrieve this info but it will be possible to send a signal that will allow the card to transmit information back to those who wish to retrieve it. So yes, we will be trackable. The technology is called RFID. See the link in the side bar for more info on RFID Chips.
If that isn't creepy enough, there is the issue of the information on file, where it comes from, where it goes to and who maintains and secures that info. This isn't just about identifying people any more. In the name of the "War on Terror", we will be placed on lists based on criminal records, tax and other financial records, biometric information, travel, political views, public statements, private statements, our associations, our relatives, our purchases and who knows what else. Determining whether an individual is on a given list will not even require an interrogation or an interview. Your card can simply be scanned and it won't even have to come out of your wallet because it will have remote access.
The fact that tribal ID's will be used for this purpose is the part that is the most unsettling. It is bothersome on two fronts. That our, so-called leadership would subject their people to this invasion of privacy is treasonous, but the ignorance of our people brandishing these things on the false belief that it is a symbol of our distinction and our sovereignty is pathetic.
How did we get this stupid? When did we become this passive? I hope that we aren't. I know there are those that have and will resist. We are the ones that always referred to a "card carrying Indian" with a certain amount of disdain. Disdain will not be strong enough for these card carriers. These cards will separate our communities dramatically if we allow them. Not only will it cause conflict in travel to and from community to community, but the divide between those that comply and those that don't may take generations to heal.
I personally would rather spend the extra twenty minutes arguing with the morons at customs and risk the challenge to my entry then let them determine how to identify myself. How many times have we heard all of the problems in our communities reduced to self esteem and identity issues. This is literally an identity issue. It has got to stop. We need to challenge these new cards and hold these tribal administrations accountable. Press the issue. Ask the questions. Demand the answers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Attea is Not a Landmark Case Against Indians

When the media treats the Attea as such and when the State rattles it off as if the Supreme Court gave them unfettered access to our trade and commerce is one thing. We expect that kind of nonsense from them. But when our own people and the so-called "Tribal leaders" and their lawyers don't take the time to understand or even read the case, yet will concede to the newspaper's interpretation, it is time to set the record straight.
The Department of Taxation and Finance of New York et al. v. Milhelm Attea and Bros., Inc., et al. went to the US Supreme Court because Attea challenged the States attempt to precollect tax on tobacco products to be sold to Native retailers on one basis; that the Federal Indian Traders License issued to the Attea Bros. by the Bureau of Indian Affairs pre-empts state law. In the lower courts Attea won but the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. The US Supreme Court held with the Court of Appeals. (see the side bar for a link to the syllabus and opinion)
The important thing here is what was tried. The court had one issue to determine; whether a Federal Indian Traders License pre-empts state law and that is all. To reach its decision the court relied on two cases out west; Moe v. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead Reservation and Washington v. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. It is obvious but nevertheless important to note that no case was cited involving any of the Six Nations or New York State. In Moe and Colville the courts considered the status of the land, how the title was held, how integrated the Native community was with the non-native community, was the land contiguous or checkerboarded, municipal services, tribal government autonomy and a general assessment of the assimilation of the people and community into the surrounding non-native society. There was little or no mention of treaties, sovereignty or the inherent rights of the Native people to conduct trade or realize any regulatory advantages on their lands. In these cases the courts determined that the states could place a minimum burden on those Native retailers to collect tax for them. As a result of these cases the Supreme Court made an easy determination that if a state (not New York State) could place a minimum burden requiring Native retailers to collect state tax, then clearly the rights of a non-native wholesaler supplying a Native retailer could not pre-empt state law simply by virtue of possesion of a Federal Indian Traders License.
The Attea case did not validate or rule in favor of New York State regarding any conflict with Native people. The court makes specific reference in both the Syllabus and in the footnotes to the opinion to clarify the limited scope of this ruling. It did not consider our sovereignty, our right to self governance and regulation. It did not consider specific limitations placed on New York State in treaties. It did not consider the fact New York State allows anyone to enter the State with up to two cartons of cigarettes without a New York State stamp or tax collected. It did not consider the fact that our land is not held in trust by the Federal government for our use. It did not acknowledge that the US does not own our land and that they vowed never to claim it. It did not consider our history of trade and commerce. Most importantly, it did not rule on any of these things. Attea was in court. He lost his challenge not us.
We have never challenged the right of New York State to tax its people. We simply are not the State's people. We have never conceded our right to conduct commerce to the State. We have never claimed that our non-taxable status extends to non-natives beyond our borders. It is New York State (and most other states) that allow a limited number of products to be used and consumed within the State without taxes applied. Surely the State is not suggesting that person can purchase cigarettes free from the State's tax for use in the State from anywhere on the planet except from a Native retailer on their own sovereign land. That simply would not hold up in court.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shockwaves or Ripples?

With no TV crews or armed conflict, no protest rally or demonstration and no court room drama or billion dollar development plan the Kanienkehaka are rattling the Establishment. For those of you that have read my posts, affectionately referred to as "Land Claims; Mohawk Style" and thought it was kinda cool or some what interesting, let me put it in its proper perspective. The powers that be are freaking out. The US Department of Justice sent their ace mediator from their enigmatic Community Relations Service to try to do an assessment of the "conflict". Now most of us don't just suspect, but know the State, feds and even an occasional overly zealous city agency has sent their agents into our communities to keep an eye on us. Hell, we know that all too often "tribal leaders" call them in and even assist them. But rarely do the feds sideline their gun-toting, badge-wearing, warrant-waving tough guys from their undercover("Oh, We're here for some other reason") work, sneaking around asking elusive questions, identifying the bad guys and planning their assaults. Those of us who have been around long enough, have seen it before (we remember their last guy, Fletcher Graves), but we still know it is not their normal procedure. The new guy, Renaldo Rivera, like Graves is a man of color(Graves was black, Rivera is Puerto Rican). His demeanor is even more humble than the last guy and works very hard to endear himself to us. His stature and presence does not command respect but rather he asks very politely for it. So why is he here? He claims that a potential conflict is brewing over the land reclaimed by the Kanienkehaka Kanohnsesne and that the conflict is borne out of the fact that no one wants to touch this, at least not directly.
So in comes this meek and humble buffer.
We know the Mohawk Nation Council has weighed in on the issue as has Joe Heath which means Onondaga has as well. we know they have read the posts here on Native Pride. The Saint Regis Tribal Council is scrambling as evidenced by its pathetic planned civil action mentioned in the previous post. The County, the sheriffs, the clerks, the courts, the lawyers; no one knows quite what to do? This is the last thing Albany or Washington wants to deal with now or anytime. There is too much wrong with this mess and the only ones that are right are the Kanienkehaka.
But aren't those the guys the Warriors? We can't let them be right. They are the Bad Indians. Grand Council said so. The first thing those guys did when they took the land back was fly that flag. What if they mess up land claims? Think of the money that could be lost. What if they take over more? Could this screw up gaming? What about our precious Monticello? Hey! don't forget about me. I'm the white guy who was hoping to sell that land and make several million dollars. Sorry dude! you are the last thing any of us are worried about. Joe, you better figure something out. You haven't been paid all these years by Oren Lyons to have all the propaganda we have put out against these guy squandered by this. Our Handsome Lake Longhouse is barely hanging on to any relevance here in Akwesasne. We can't let that other Longhouse push us further into obscurity. That's it! Let's call the Feds. We will all look the other way while they drag our people around and remove them from this land. We will blame this all on the Warriors and tell everyone, that will listen, what a set back this has been and how much money it has cost us. It has always worked in the past; why not now?
Wait a minute! This isn't what we meant when we said send in the feds. We don't want a guy whose strength is determining where the real leadership lies in a community (unless it is part of a plan to take them out). We don't want a guy to slow this process down and reduce provocations (unless it is only a ploy to lull them into a false sense of security). We want action. Smear them with guns, or drugs or even gaming might work again. But don't let them look good just because they are right. The Kanienkehaka Kanohnsesne has already made the rest of us look bad on border issues and policing issues. Now we all look completely incompetent on land issues especially with the SRMT paying property taxes on the the land purchased in Akwesasne from a native person and the deafening silence that followed. Mr. Rivera, you better have a plan. Those of us across these native communities that have fallen in lock step with everything the state and federal governments have ever asked of us did not turn our backs on our people and everything we believe in so these guys that really believe they are sovereign can look like heroes. Hurry up and do something so we can resume our positions as token Indians and get back to posing for National Geographic and pretending to be successful, wise and "traditional".
Rivera claims to be keeping the peace. He also tell us much of what we want to hear; the land is ours, we are right, he relates to us, we have the system upset and that he respects and would never do anything to dishonor us or our Longhouse. We'll see.

What is a Saint Regis Indian?

Although there is much that will remained unanswered here, we now have a better understanding of what makes up some of the beliefs of a Saint Regis Indian.
Some of the things we don't know include; who are the Saint Regis Indians, when did they come into existence and just who are the Seven Nations of Canada that these Saint Regis Indians owe some element of their existence to?
Based on a civil action that these Saint Regis Indians, also known as the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT), plan to file in US Federal Court and statements made in a public meeting to discuss this filing, we now know things that were perhaps not understood about these people before.
This is what is learned from the draft of a planned civil action by the SRMT:
The SRMT derives its authority from the US Federal government as a federally recognized Indian tribe. The SRMT believes that "the exercise of jurisdiction within an Indian reservation in New York is exclusively governed by federal law". The SRMT believes that an Indian reservation was established for the use of the Indians of the Village of Saint Regis in 1796 by an agreement between New York State and Seven Nations of Canada. The SRMT believes that New York State made this agreement "In an effort to set aside land for the Mohawks that would be federally protected from encroachment". At some point that is not clear in this filing, the SRMT believes that this "reservation" became the "federal reservation" of the SRMT. The SRMT believes that the US Constitution provides them with the right to bring this action and that United States District Court for the Northern District of New York has jurisdiction because "the Tribe's reservation is located in that District". The SRMT also believes that the "Tribe's reservation" is in New York State's Franklin and St Lawrence Counties and that land that was attempted to be carved out of the interior of the "reservation" by the State is part of the Town of Bombay. The SRMT believes that the Congress of the United States has never "enacted any law or statute or taken any other action to diminish the Tribe's reservation." The SRMT wants a federal judge to declare "that the jurisdiction of the Tribe, the State and the local governments within the Hogansburg Triangle(land within the "Tribe's reservation") is governed by federal law". Although they ask for a "grant of such other relief as the court may deem just and proper", one can't help wonder why they didn't ask for recovery of the taxes they paid in the purchases they made for property in the "Hogansburg Triangle".
In the public meeting to discuss the filing of this case it was also learned that SRMT and its legal counsel believes that it is unlawful for Native retailers to sell products to non-natives without collecting tax for the state. This begs the questions about the SRMT's involvement in this unlawful activity. We also learned that the SRMT believes that the only thing that keeps the State or its counties from siezing land in Akwesasne for taxes is a "gentleman's agreement" that the "Tribe" has with them not to do so.
It must be noted that in spite of the addition of the word "Mohawk" to the name of the Saint Regis Indians, there is no claim in this filing that the SRMT is or represents the Mohawk Nation, the Mohawk People or the Kanienkehaka or is a part of the Six Nations, Iroquois Confederacy or the Haudenosaune. On a historical note there is also no mention of any of these entities in the agreement of 1796 cited in the filing nor is there an established connection between these and the so-called Seven Nations of Canada. A reason for this may be because a federal court ruled in a previous attempt by the SRMT to use the court that Saint Regis Indians are not recognized as Mohawks and cannot use a connection to the Mohawk Nation or the Six Nations for their defense. On this one point many Kanienkehaka can agree with the findings of a federal court.
This civil action planned by the SRMT is a land claim. As can be clearly noted from previous posts on Native Pride, this is not "Land Claims; Mohawk Style". Within the lines delineating New York State, not one acre of land has ever been reacquired in a federal court or a court filed land claim. Only Ganienke and the recent reclamation in Akwesasne have resulted in the return of lost land to the people.
This post comes a long way from defining what a Saint Regis Indian is, but it should be clear that Saint Regis Indians are not Mohawks. They are, apparently, Americans; something a Mohawk would never claim.

Monday, April 6, 2009

What Do We Do About These People?

In January of this year(2009), a group of Mohawk men, fed up with the unending bureaucracy and politics of “land claims”, took back a parcel of land, clearly within the community of Akwesasne. (See the post from February, "Land Claims; Mohawk Style".) The land, which is undeveloped, has been illegally under non-native control for quite some time, dating back to a time when White people could lease land, pretend they own it and the State and counties were fine with that. In this era of economic melt down; home foreclosures through the roof, a plunging stock market and scam artists like Bernie Madoff, it is important to put this land dispute in perspective. The self described "land owner" is a speculator. He has no ties to this land other than his hope to cash in on it. He “purchased” control of the land fully expecting to “sell” it back to the Mohawks for an obscene profit. Not even the Senecas would buy a parcel of their own land for $4 Million. Any judge, legislator or other official that hears this man’s sob story needs to put this complaint in its proper perspective. The man took a gamble and LOST. Sorry about your luck. Perhaps you should have speculated in the Catskills. The State and local officials would do well to stay clear of this one. There is no up side for you here. To all the so-called “tribal leaders” and their lawyers who are scared by what this could mean for them and their precious land claims, you better be careful in any condemnation of the actions of the people, especially when you know damn well they are right. Any native person who can't support this move likely has what they perceive as a competing interest. Everyone should support this because it is right and, yes , it’s fair. No money to fight about here, no courts, no lawyers; what could be better? If the speculator thinks he was sold something that was misrepresented, then let him sue the seller. To suggest that finally one of these land grabbers, who sits behind his grand oak desk on top of his fat checkbook, who lost a few dollars speculating on a real estate deal, is a victim is ridiculous. Remember; no one was evicted, no one’s home was taken, no one was run off or threatened. The only property of the speculator that was over taken was the “For Sale” sign with his New Jersey phone number brandished across it. Many of us realize that perhaps all land disputes can't be settled this way, but maybe many of them can.