Since the beginning of human time, the Hau de no sau nee have occupied
the distinct territories that we call our homelands. That occupation
has been both organized and continuous. We have long defined the
borders of our country, have long maintained the exclusive use-right of
the areas within those borders, and have used those territories as the
economic and cultural definitions of our nation.
The Hau de no sau nee are a distinct people, with our own laws and
customs, territories, political organization and economy. In short, the
Hau de no sau nee, or Six Nations, fits in every way every definition of
Ours is one of the most complex social/political structures still
functioning in the world. The Hau de no sau nee council is also one of
the most ancient continuously functioning governments anywhere on this
planet. Our society is one of the most complex anywhere. From our
social and political institutions has come inspiration for some of the
most vital institutions and political philosophies of the modern world.
The Hau de no sau nee is governed by a constitution known among
Europeans as the Constitution of the Six Nations and to the Hau de no
sau nee as the Gayanashakgowah, or the Great Law of Peace. It is the
oldest functioning document in the world which has contained a
recognition of the freedoms the Western democracies recently claim as
their own: the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rights
of women to participate in government. The concept of separation of
powers in government and of checks and balances of power within
governments are traceable to our constitution. They are ideas learned
by the colonists as the result of contact with North American Native
people, specifically the Hau de no sau nee.
The philosophies of the Socialist World, too, are to some extent
traceable to European contact with the Hau de no sau nee. Lewis Henry
Morgan noted the economic structure of the Hau de no sau nee, which he
termed both primitive and communistic. Karl Marx used Morgan's
observations for the development of a model for classless, post-capitalist
society. The modern world has been greatly influenced by the
fact of our existence.
It may seem strange, at this time, that we are here, asserting the
obvious fact of our continuing existence. For countless centuries, the
fact of our existence was unquestioned, and for all honest human beings,
it remains unquestioned today. We have existed since time immemorial.
We have always conducted our own affairs from our territories, under our
own laws and customs. We have never, under those laws and customs,
willingly or fairly surrendered either our territories or our freedoms.
Never, in the history of the Hau de no sau nee, have the People or the
government sworn allegiance to a European sovereign. In that simple
fact lies the roots of our oppression as a people, and the purpose of
our journey here, before the world community.
The problems incurred in the recent "legal history" of the Hau de no
sau nee began long before European contact with Native people. It
began, at least, with the rise of a system called feudalism in Europe,
for the only law which the colonizing countries of Europe ever
recognized was feudal law, a fact which they have obscured from their
own people as well as from Native people for many centuries. That fact,
however, remains the essential reality of the legal relationships which
exist between Native peoples and Indo-European societies.
Feudal society in Europe appears to have arisen as the result of a
number of conditions which existed following the dissolution of the
Roman Empire. It was based on a system by which rulers of warrior
castes became strong enough to demand and extract fealty from warriors.
There arose, generally, an administrative center, usually a castle, and
around these were agricultural people who were usually protected from
outside aggression by their "lord," the sovereign of the manor. It
appears likely that new technologies arose which created economies which
made the feudal society both possible and perhaps even inevitable in
The feudal lord often held dictatorial power over his "subjects,"
especially the peasants. Military protection was necessary because of
the continuous state of "feuding," among the various lords. The
"peaceful people," or peasants, were caught in the middle. The land,
and everything on it, including the animals, plants, and people, was
under the domination or dominion of the feudal "lord." This lord
demanded loyalty and a part of the peasant's crops as well as some of
his/her labor. Feudalism could be far more brutal and humiliating than
is outlined in many histories. Some feudal lords exercised what was
called "the right of the first night," a custom which referred to the
right of a lord to the peasant's bride.
Prior to the rise of feudalism, it is fair to state that most of the
agricultural people of Europe were local tribesmen of various kinds.
Feudalism imposed the concept of sovereign, dictatorial rules whose rule
was imposed by military might, and gave rise to the true European
The crystallization of centralized executive power serves to separate
civilized societies from primitive societies. It is immaterial whether
such controls are located in a feudal castle or in the executive offices
of the capitals of nation states. The appearance of the hierarchical
state marks the transition of food cultivators in general to the more
specific definition contained in the concepts of peasantry. When the
cultivator becomes dependent upon and integrated in a society in which
he is subject to demands of people who are defined by a class other than
his own, he becomes appropriately termed a peasant.
The state of a medieval European peasant was not a pleasant one.
Peasants have no rights, save those granted by their lord. They cannot
own the land as a people. Only the Sovereign owns or possesses
sovereignty. Peasants were often treated as chattel. They were bought,
sold, and inherited with the land. They were a people who had been
dispossessed of their freedom. At some points in history, the tribal
peoples of Europe became peasants through a combination of forces, the
most direct being military pressure.
A peasant is not a member of a true community of people. His society
is incomplete without the town or city. It is trade with the town or
city, an economic relationship, which defines the early stages of
peasantry. As trade becomes more necessary, for whatever reasons, the
tribesman becomes increasingly less of a tribesman and more of a
peasant. The process is neither immediate nor is it necessarily
absolute, but to the degree that a tribesman becomes dependent, he
becomes less of a tribesman.
To a great extent, the process by which people lost their freedom in
Europe was economic in nature. The medieval castles were military forts
and functioned as kinds of storehouses, but they also developed into
trade centers and eventually towns. In the early stages of feudalism,
the agricultural worker "traded" his freedom for security from military
aggression. But increasingly, over the centuries, a primary function of
the medieval town became that of the marketplace.
"It is the market, in one form or another, that pulls out from the
compact social relations of self-contained primitive communities some
parts of men's doings and puts people into fields of economic activity
that are increasingly independent of the rest of what goes on in local
life. The local traditional and moral world and the wider and more
impersonal world of the market are in principle distinct, and opposed to
each other. . . ."
The European "discovery" of North America led to the transposition of
European medieval law and customs to the Americas. To be sure, Spanish
medieval law differed in some respects from that of France, and both
differed in some respects from that of England, but an understanding of
Medieval Europe is essential to an analysis of European -- Hau de no sau
nee legal history and also to any analysis of the process of
colonialism. Medieval Europe is the period of the rise of growing
centralization and consolidation of power by the ruling kingships
(kings) over vast territories which is specific to the North American
experience. It is also the period of the rise and growth of European
cities as centers of trade and sources of political power. The European
laws of nations, as they were applied to the Americas, were medieval
"Europeans used a great variety of means to attain mastery, of which
armed combat was only one. Five principles were available to a European
sovereignty for laying claim to legitimate jurisdiction over an American
territory and its people: Papal donation, first discovery, sustained
possession, voluntary self-subjugation by the natives, and armed
conquest successfully maintained. The colony was the means of
translating a formal claim to the effective actuality of government, and
it was "colonial" in both senses of that ambiguous word. The huddled
villages of Europeans were colonies in the sense of being offshoots or
reproductions of their parent societies, and these villages exerted
power over lager native populations in the sense more clearly implied by
the word colonialism."
The European invaders, from the first, attempted to claim Indians as
their subjects. Where the Indian people resisted, as in the case of the
Hau de no sau nee, the Europeans rationalized that resistance to be an
incapacity for civilization. The incapacity for civilization rationale
became the basis for the phenomenon in the West which is known today as
The Europeans landed on the shores of the Americas and immediately
claimed the territories for their sovereigns. They then attempted,
especially in the case of France and Spain, to make peasants of the
Indians. The English, who had already experimented with the enclosure
system and who thus colonized North America with landless peasants which
were driven by a desperation rooted in their own history, at first
simply drove the Indians off the land by force.
The European legal systems had, and apparently have developed, no
machinery to recognize the rights of peoples, other than dictators or
sovereigns, to land. When the Europeans came to North America, they
attempted to simply make vassals of the Native leaders. When that
failed, they resorted to other means. The essential thrust of European
powers has been an attempt to convert ". . . the Indian person from
membership in an unassimilable caste to membership in a social class
integrated into Euro-American institutions." (Ibid.)
The dispossession of the Native people was accomplished by the
Europeans in the bloodiest and most brutal chapter of human history.
They were acts committed, seemingly, by a people without conscience or
standards of behavior. To this day, the United States and Canada deny
the existence of the lawful governments of the Hau de no sau nee and
other Native nations, a continuation of the policy of genocide which has
marked the process known as colonialism. In the face of overwhelming
evidence to the contrary, both governments and the governments of Latin
America deny the commission of genocide, either physical or cultural.
Their reasoning is patently medieval and racist: " . . .
Civilization is that quality possessed by people with civil governments,
civil government is Europe's kind of government; Indians did not have
Europe's kind of government, therefore Indians were not civilized.
Uncivilized people live in wild anarchy; therefore Indians did not have
government at all. And THEREFORE Europeans could not have been doing
anything wrong -- were in fact performing a noble mission -- by bringing
government and civilization to the poor savages." Today, as in
medieval times, the Indo-European government follows a might makes right
policy. Colonialism is a process often misunderstood and
misinterpreted. It is a policy which has long survived the medieval
period in which it was born. Many Western institutions are in fact
colonial institutions of Western culture. The churches, for example,
operate in virtually the same manner as did the feudal lords. First,
they identify a people whose loyalty they wish to secure in an
expansionist effort. Then they charter a group to conduct a "mission."
If that group is successful, they become, in effect, the spiritual
sovereigns or dictators of those whose loyalty they command. That
process in organized Christianity may actually be more ancient than the
process of political colonialism described here.
Modern multi-national corporations operate in much the same way.
They identify a market or an area which has the resources they want.
They then obtain a charter, or some form of sanction from a Western
government, and they send what amounts to a colonizing force into the
area. If they successfully penetrate the area, that area becomes a sort
of economic colony of the multi-national. The greatest resistance to
that form of penetration has been mounted by local nationalists.
In North America, educational institutions operate under the same
colonial process. Schools are chartered by a sovereign (such as the
state, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs,) to penetrate the Native
community. The purpose in doing so is to integrate the Native people
into society as workers and consumers, the Industrial Society's version
of peasants. The sovereign recognizes, and practically allows, no other
form of socializing institution for the young. As in the days of the
medieval castle, the sovereign demands absolute fealty. Under this
peculiar legal system, the Western sovereign denies the existence of
those whose allegiance he cannot obtain. Some become, by this
This concept of illegitimacy is then interpreted into official
government policy. In the United States, the colonizer has created two
categories of Native peoples: Federally recognized and non-Federally
recognized. In more recent years, the government has taken to a policy
of non-recognition of an entity entitled "Urban Indians." In Canada
there exist four legal definitions of Native people. They are divided
into Status, Non-status, Metis, and Enfranchised. Both countries carry
on the policy of consistently referring to "Indians and Eskimos," as
though Eskimos were separate and not a Native people of the Western
The United States and Canada practice blatant colonialism in the
areas affecting political institutions of the Native peoples. In 1924,
Canada's new Indian Act established the legal sanction for the
imposition of neo-colonial "elective system" governments within the
Native peoples' territories. In the United States, the same goal was
accomplished with passage of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).
Both pieces of legislation provided compulsive chartered political
colonies among Native people. These "elective systems" owe their
existence and fealty to the United States and Canada, and not to the
Native peoples. They are, by definition, colonies which create classes
of political peasants. They are governments only to the degree an
external social caste allows them to be governments. They are, in most
places in native peoples' territories, the only forms of government
recognized by the colonizers.
The Hau de no sau nee have also been subjected to the many forms of
colonialism of the Western governments. Our first contact with a
Western people came in 1609 when a French military expedition under
Samuel deChamplain murdered some Mohawk people along the lake which now
bears his name. Later, when the Dutch came, the first treaty (or
agreement) which we made with a European power was the Two Row Treaty in
which we clarified our position -- that we are a distinct, free and
sovereign people. The Dutch accepted that agreement.
But the European nations have never honored the agreement. Many
times, France attempted to dominate the Hau de no sau nee through
conquest. England often used every means possible, including coercion,
threats and military force, to extend her sovereignty over us. Each
time we resisted.
The United States entered into solemn treaties with the Hau de no sau
nee, and each time has ignored virtually each and every provision of the
treaties which guarantee our rights as a separate nation. Only the
sections of the treaties which refer to land cessions, sections which
often were fraudulently obtained, have validity in the eyes of the
United States courts or governments.
The mechanism for the colonization of the Hau de no sau nee territory
is found, in legal fiction, in the United States Constitution. That
document purports to give Congress power to "regulate commerce with
foreign nations and among the several States, and with Indian tribes."
Contrary to every principle of international law, Congress has expanded
that section to an assertion of "plenary" power, a doctrine which
asserts authority over our territories. This assertion has been
repeatedly urged upon our people, although we have never agreed to that
relationship, and we have never been conquered in warfare. The Hau de
no sau nee are vassals to no people -- we are a free nation, and we have
never surrendered our rights as a free people.
From the beginning of its existence, the United States has conducted
a reign of terror in the Hau de no sau nee territory. Colonial agents
entered our country between 1784 and 1842 and returned to Washington
with treaties for cessions of land fraudulently obtained with persons
not authorized to make land transfers. The Hau de no sau nee council,
which is the only legitimate body authorized to conduct land
transactions, never signed any agreements surrendering the territories.
The United States occupied the lands under threats of war, although
there were no acts which justified war measures. When the Hau de no
sau nee gathered evidence to prove that the treaties were fraudulent and
therefore illegal under any interpretation of law, the United States
courts countered by inventing the Political Question Doctrine. This
doctrine basically asserts that Congress cannot commit fraud and that
the courts cannot question Congress' political judgment, although United
States courts find congressional acts in other areas of law to be
Because the Hau de no sau nee refused to sell the land, the United
States simply refused to recognize our government. Instead, they
recognized those colonized individuals who would agree to sell the land
and whose loyalties lie with Washington. In 1848, the United States
simply recognized an "elective system" on the Seneca Nation lands,
creating a colonial government on the largest of our remaining
territories in what is called by the colonizers "New York State."
There followed a long list of moves by the United States to
exterminate the Hau de no sau nee. There were treaties which entirely
dispossessed, for all practical purposes, the Cayuga and Oneida nations
in their ancestral lands. There were treaties, such as the Treaty of
1797, which recognized the sale by individuals of the territory of the
Kanienkehaka, an area of nine million acres of land exchanged for the
sum of one thousand dollars. There were attempts from 1821 to 1842 to
remove the Hau de no sau nee from the territories called by the
colonists "New York" to other areas now called Wisconsin and Kansas.
These efforts resulted in the displacement of some of our people to
those areas. In 1851, there was an attempt to evict the Seneca people
from their lands at Tonawanda.
In 1886, there was an attempt to divide the Hau de no sau nee lands
into severalty under the Dawes Act, an attempt which was not entirely
successful. In 1924, the United States passed a Citizenship Act which
attempted to give United States citizenship to all Native people. The
Hau de no sau nee strongly rejected the concept that we could ever be
United States citizens. We are Hau de no sau nee citizens. But the
feudal laws of the colonizers have been relentless.
Also in 1924, Canada militarily invaded our territories on the Grand
River and forcibly installed a colonial government there. The episode
was repeated by Canada in 1934 on our territories at the Thames River
community of Oneida.
In 1948 and 1950, Congress passed laws giving civil and criminal
jurisdiction to New York State, although Congress was never given such
jurisdiction by the Hau de no sau nee. In 1958, Congress passed Public
Law 88-533, the Kinzua Dam Act, which resulted in the flooding of almost
all of the inhabitable lands of the Seneca at Alleghany, and virtually
destroyed the Native communities and culture there. That act also
provided for the termination of the Seneca Nation, a process which would
have ended even the colonial government there, and which would have
moved the denial of our existence a little closer to reality.
In addition to these legal kinds of colonization, the Hau de no sau
nee have been subjected to every other kind of colonization imaginable.
Churches, school systems, and every form of Western penetration have
made political, economic, and cultural peasants of some of our
populations. The continuing denial of our political existence has been
accomplished by an almost overwhelming psychological, economic and
spiritual attack by the colonial institutions of the West.
For over 300 years, our people have been under a virtual state of
siege. During this entire time we have never once given up our
struggle. Our strategies have, of necessity, changed. But the will and
determination to continue on remains the same. Throughout these years,
European historians have recorded the position of the Hau de no sau nee.
During the 1920s, one of our leaders, a man named Deskaheh, came to
this city to seek help for his people. At that time, the international
body which existed did not truly represent the world community. Many
cultures and nations were not recognized. Now, fifty years later, we
have returned, and our message remains the same.
Our elders have watched the rebirth of this international
institution. In 1949, a delegation of the Hau de no sau nee attended
the foundation ceremony for the United Nations building in New York
City. In 1974, our people journeyed to Sweden to take part in an
international conference on the Environment and Ecology. All through
these times we have taken notice of the changes which have occurred
within this institution.
Now we find ourselves in Geneva, Switzerland, once again. For those
of us present, and the many at home, we have assumed the duty of
carrying on our peoples' struggle. Invested in the names we carry today
are the lives of thousands of generations of both the past and the
future. On their behalf, also, we ask that the Non-Governmental
Organizations join us in our struggle to obtain our full rights and
protection under the rules of international law and the World Community.