Manataka American Indian Council
Triumph of the Mohawk Nation
Editorial: Historic "Ganienkeh" Reclaimation of 1974
By Kahentinetha Horn, Mohawk Nation News
A Great lesson for all American Indians
MNN. Feb. 5, 2007. MNN interviewed a participant in the historic reclaiming of "Ganienkeh" in so-called New York State on May 13, 1974:
"It started out as a Warrior's project. We had always talked about this. After the evictions of non-natives in Kahnawake, there was so much turmoil we felt we were on the brink of civil war. Brothers, cousins and friends were at odds. We saw no reason to fight our own people.
"There have been splits throughout our history. Time always healed these divisions.
We discussed how we were willing to put our lives on the line for our beliefs. The real struggle was not with our own people. So we focused our sights on our real enemies, the colonial governments. If we want our land, asking for it won't bring it back. Our chances of winning a land claim in a colonial court were nil. Believing in ourselves, we decided to reclaim our land. So we said, "Let's do it".
"It was not a new idea. Our people had always moved about on our territory. Ti'res had taken back Tiokweroton/Doncaster in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal around the 1920's for the Mohawk Nation.
"Our grandparents had taken us to Mohawk Valley in the late 1950's to reclaim some of our territory there. There had been a village there a long time ago called "Kahnawake". Beforehand we visited all our Mohawk communities for their support in repossessing our land in the name of the traditional minded Onkwehonwe.
We settled there as Mohawk Nation people. Eventually we were dragged into their courts and evicted from our lands. We returned to our original communities.
"The dream to repossess some of our land never died. In 1974 we decided to build a new community. About six or more months was spent in planning this. We needed people who were good organizers, who knew how to speak to the people and how to keep the spirit alive. The group was made up of people of all ages. Grandfathers, Grandmothers, mothers, fathers and children. There was representation from many nations such as Onondaga, Seneca, Oneida, Anishnawbe, Odawa, Sac & Fox, Lakota, Inuit, Dene, Algonquin and others who came from all over to join us.
"We declared there would be no drugs, alcohol, foreign religions or laws. It would be a totally Onkwehone controlled.
"We had a back up system. We knew that our project was going to be costly. To tretch our funds, we decided to use the natural resources. We chose to do without comforts by using kerosene lamps and wood burning stoves. We stored non-perishable food. As part of our backup those who remained in our communities would support us by sending food and medicine and help with public relations and political assistance.
"We sent people far and wide throughout Kanion'ke:haka territory to find the right place. We needed water, forests, land for planting and an isolated terrain we could defend. We found such a place. Only four of the scouts knew where this location was. They would each guide one of the four caravans. We planned to approach the site from the four directions. We had to keep this information secret because we knew that spies would be sent in to find out where we were going. We gave ourselves four chances to get to this place safely. If one did not make it there, surely another would. The caravans comprised several hundred people.
"We met three times a week to plan. Each of us would put in $2 or whatever we could into a hat to build up some funds.
"We had support because they knew we were strong in our goal. Not wanting to be labeled as radicals or criminals, we asked for the Mohawk Nation and the Six Nations Confederacy for support. The Mohawk Nation sanctioned our project from the beginning.
Due to secrecy of the location, when the confederacy was sure that the land was Kanion'ke:haka they gave us full sanction.
"Moss Lake was chosen. It is 60 miles northeast of Utica in what is known as New York State. The day before our departure three of the four caravans gathered in Akwesasne at the home o f Ann Jock and left from there. The fourth caravan left from Onondaga to approach the site from the south. The food, tools and equipment had been gathered long beforehand. It was a quiet moment. When we started on our way, we told the public that we were going to Vermont. We were informed that 250 extra border patrol and state police were placed at the border to stop us when we arrived there.
"We got to Moss Lake at approximately 5 am. It was still dark. We immediately secured the area. People were tired. We made sure the women and children were taken care of. Then we further explored the area. There was only one road which made it defensible. We had the necessary equipment to do that. We found more abandoned houses of a former exclusive girl's summer camp and moved in. Part of our strategy was to simultaneously hand deliver the "Ganienkeh Manifesto" to every member of the United Nations in both New York City and Montreal. We did not want the U.S. to isolate us with a media black out. The world must know and make sure the U.S. conducted itself responsibly. They had to work with us to resolve this land dispute according to the Two Row Wampum and the formula set out in Article 7 of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.
"Later that day forest rangers from the Department of Environmental Conservation arrived. They were curious. We explained we were coming back to our homeland to rebuild our community. Initially the locals were ready to welcome us. This depressed area relies mainly on tourism. They thought we would be selling Indian trinkets and souveniers and dancing for the tourists.
They were disappointed to learn that we were not from Hollywood and that we were more interested in farming and rebuilding our communities. They formed an organization called "Concerned People of the Adirondacks" who campaigned to remove us from the area.
"The colonial authorities started to treat us as "trespassers". Then incidents and attacks against us began. After almost 20 shootings into our community by vigilantes, we requested that the outside authorities control their people. No action was taken. We had no choice.
Our elders, children and people were constantly being shot at. We could not risk the lives of our people. The women held a council. They decided that, should anyone shoot at us, the men were to stop their vehicles and apprehend these people.
Our intent was not to bring injury to them but to stop their attacks. Two individuals unfortunately got shot by stray bullets. Only then did the outside authorities decide to intervene. They tried to arrest the Onkwehonwe. They tried to serve "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" warrants on our people, which we did not allow.
To investigate and resolve these shootings peacefully they had to comply with the guidelines set out in article 7 of the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty. It was in line with the Two Row agreement between ourselves and the colonial governments. This is the basis of international law today.
"It was historic. We forced the U.S. government to deal with us according to Article 7 which clearly defines our relationship. If there is any problem between any part of the Confederacy and the U.S, either side could lodge a complaint to the other nation. It would be investigated by the respective nation. All issues are dealt with on a nation-to-nation level.
It took a while. Good minded U.S. President Gerald Ford decided Article 7 was probably the best way to go. He appointed Forest Gerard to act as his special agent to comply with article 7. We worked jointly with the U.S., the people they appointed, our people and the Confederacy to resolve this in the manner that was prescribed by our ancestors.
The attacks stopped.
Even though it was resolved, the folks still wanted us out of the area. They gave us ultimatims to leave. We refused. We told them their governments had no jurisdiction on us or our land. We were part of the Confederacy. They tried to dispute our title to the land and failed.
Our informant recalled, "When we arrived at Moss Lake, we put in gardens and fixed up some houses. We called it "Ganienkeh". After trying for several years, we decided that this location was not viable. The rain was too acidic and the growing season was too short. We had to find another place. In 1979 we moved to another part of our omeland, to Miner Lake near Plattsburg. We told the state not to interfere. We thanked them for their offer and did everything ourselves. We set up a new "Ganienkeh".
"New York State, U.S. citizens, committees, counties and towns tried to sue Ganienkeh, in Moss Lake and Miner Lake. When the charges against us went to court, they lost. Both decisions found that they had no jurisdiction over us. We continue to enjoy sovereign immunity. After 250 meetings with New York State and the U.S. governments, they finally got it through their heads that we weren't leaving and we weren't going to back down.
"After the initial reclamation we got support from the public, international organizations, countries, students and activists. Sweden and other countries put pressure on New York State and told them they were watching the situation closely. We constantly sent people out to speak to churches, organizations, colleges and universities to bring awareness locally, nationally and internationally. We did interviews on the radio, television and newspapers.
People like Ed Hale of the Lake Placid News did many good articles between 1974 and 1979. Our message was, "We want to rebuild our nation. We know how to do it. We want to survive as we were intended. We want to save our people, our language and our culture. We are the only people who can fix our problems. We did not want their tax monies or their handouts or anything from the U.S., Canada or state governments. We look to our families and friends. If you want to help us, do so.
We rejected Bureau of Indian Affairs involvement with us. We refused to comply with "federal Indian law". We would not let New York State have any jurisdiction. We constantly reminded them that this is our land that we never surrendered and that they have no jurisdiction over us.
U.S. and New York State made their claims based on two fraudulent treaties, Joseph Brant Treaty of 1796 and the Seven Nations Treaty of 1797. None have treaty making powers according to the Kaianereh'ko:wa/ Great Law. Joseph Brant was a British subject and deposed as a translator by the Confederacy. The Seven Nations of Canada was a religious congregation of Christian Indians who had alienated themselves from the Confederacy.
"A peaceful interim resolution was established. New York State wanted to save face. We were not going to relinquish our inherent rights. An entity was set up that became a buffer between us. It was an agreement between New York State and "Turtle Island Trust". We are not signatories to this agreement so it is not binding on the Mohawk Nation and the Confederacy. The state wanted to tell its constituents it was adhering to their laws while not interfering with us.
"New York State Governor Mario Cuomo respected our position that this land is not held in trust. We asserted our jurisdiction. They left us alone. Since then politicians have tried from time to time to interfere with us. We always fight them off and they back away.
"Today Ganienkeh is self-sufficient and employs native and non-natives. The original mission is still there. It continues to need the involvement and participation of the Nation and the Confederacy, our friends and allies to support and make the dream of self-determination come true. We re-established an Onkwehone state independent of the colonial government.
"What did we learn? The only way to get our land is to go there and physically take it back and keep it.
In the end New York State and the U.S. finally accepted the fact that we had a formula to avoid a confrontation between us, the Two Row Wampum.
"We have to assert our sovereignty by using our own laws and our birthright based on natural laws. We must not depend on colonial institutions, courts and corporate governments. It was successful because we asserted our identity as the indigenous people of this land. We originated here. This is our world. We must follow the path that was carved out for us and our ancestors before us.
For more information and speakers about the "Ganienkeh Reclamation",
MNN Mohawk Nation News
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Submitted by Henrietta Wise
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