July 8, 1996
Assembly of First Nations
1 Nicholas Street Suite 1002
Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7
The Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs hope that you are well in mind, body and spirit. We formally request that this letter be received and recorded into the official record of your assembly, which was in session from July 8 to July 10, 1996. We also request that copies be distributed to all members of the A.F.N.
We have been monitoring your efforts to be included in the Canadian federation. We note the change in your rhetoric, if not in your approach. You said:
"Much like the Palestinians and the Irish, Indians in Canada are being forced into claiming sovereignty and establishing their own territory." (Ottawa Citizen -- June 20/96).and:
"If we're shut out, then obviously partnership is out...The option is sovereignty. But how do Indian people secede from their own land?" (Globe & Mail -- June 20/96).While you now claim to speak of "sovereignty", your definition of that term acknowledges Canada's claim that it legally owns our territories. It does not and never has. We already have our sovereignty and territories, despite your stated belief to the contrary. Our sovereignty exists. It cannot be removed or given away. Like the Palestinians and the Irish in Northern Ireland of whom you speak, we need to remove the yoke of oppression that occupying governments have tried to make us wear for centuries now.
For the Kanienkehaka, our legitimacy as a people comes from our Creator. That legitimacy is articulated in the Kaswentah:
"We will not be like father and son, but like sisters and brothers. These two rows will symbolize vessels, travelling down the same river together. One will be for the canoe of the Onkwehonwe and their laws, their customs. The other will be for the sailing ship of the European people and their laws and customs. We will each travel the river together, but each in our own boat, and neither of us will try to steer the other's vessel."The fundamental principle accentuated in the Kaswentah is that we, as a people, have the right to make our own laws for our own people in our own territories, free from outside interference. This is not to say that we can do as we please, without regard for our neighbours. We do have a law -- it is a law of the mind. Our law is the Kaianerekowa (The Great Law of Peace). Our people are the Kanienkehaka (People of Flint) and we call our territory Kanienkeh (Land of Flint). The Kaswentah is a living extension of our Kaianerekowa.
You have surely seen the Kaswentah. We know you are familiar with its meaning and importance to us and the relationship we have with our neighbours. The two purple rows are separated by three rows of white beads. These three rows also represent peace, respect and friendship -- the principles by which we are to co-exist. The tri-lateral beads serve to keep us at a respectful distance of one another, so that we do not accidentally trip over one another or otherwise cause distress. The Kaswentah acknowledges the fact that we are different, as well as our respective right to be so. It serves as the mechanism through which we can resolve conflict as a Nation.
In a recent, signed, statement you said:
"The one-sided partnership that favours white governments and their people is not worthy of our support. This leaves us only two options -- true partnership or sovereignty." (Turtle Island News -- June 19/96).True partnership exists in the principles spoken through the Kaswentah, and not the "made in Canada" version which you continue to seek. That version is nothing more than assimilation in disguise. As the Kanienkehaka Nation, we speak, of course, of a true nation-to-nation relationship: one that involves the shared recognition of our inherent sovereignties. Partnership and sovereignty are only mutually-exclusive concepts when rights are for sale, and there is no reciprocal respect.
Joagquisho (Oren Lyons) is on record as saying:
"The moral question is: what right do people here that came from another continent to come here and just say by political fiction, this is all mine?...Every question that is political is also moral. Every question. And you have to answer it morally. That brings responsibility to governance and governors and people." (R.C.A.P. Public Hearings, Akwesasne -- May 1993)Mr. Mercredi, do you mean to use the issue of sovereignty as a tactic, one that will become disposable if Canada suddenly -- and miraculously -- has a change of conscience and "lets you in" to their federation? We remind you that you speak only for some band councils and not for all nations. We remind you that you do not speak for the Haudenosaunee. We express to you, in the strongest possible terms, our disapproval. You are using the future generations of our people -- over whom you have no authority and no rights -- as bargaining chips in your game of bluff poker, a game where the "prize" you seek is Constitutional inclusion in Canada.
It is a dangerous gamble, a major risk, that you seem willing to take in order to advance your agenda. Your agenda helps Canada achieve its ultimate goal. Have the Cree given you the power to negotiate within this framework on their behalf?
If we misunderstand, however, and you've come to the conclusion that the previous approach of the "national" organizations is not the right one -- and that reframing our issues in their proper light is essential to our survival -- we may have issues in common. It may be possible to put up a united front against assimilation and the continued theft and occupation of our lands. But this will not be possible under your current strategy and structure. You have no authority to speak to the Canadian government for us, any more than either of us can speak for the Anishnabe, the Lakotas, or any other indigenous nation.
If you are truly interested in helping achieve justice for our peoples, we are prepared to meet with you, in a preliminary manner, to discuss the issues and possible strategies.
Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs