It has recently been announced that land theft charges against Kanaretiio, the Bear Clan representative from the Kanienkehaka Akwesasne Territory (aka Mohawk), have been dismissed due to technicalities, after a judicial review by New York State Supreme Court Justice Robert Main. Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, the prosecutor in the case, had identified Kanaretiio as the leader of a land-reclamation movement intent on theft.
The characterization of Kanaretiio as a “leader” of a Mohawk Longhouse, is good reading, but the term “leader” means different things in different circles. There is an expectation among followers of the Kaianerehkowa (“bright, beautiful path”) that land rights do not belong to the current generation alive today, but those now living are in fact stewards for the unborn generations to come.
Consistency in land rights allocation remains intact here. This “leader” did what many have been called upon to do.
Kanaretiio is as much a leader as any responsible adherent of the Kaianerehkowa, called the Great Law of Peace by some. Western colonial cinematic imagery that sees men in government uniform asking to be taken to the leader of “indigenous” groups seems to come to mind. Within the “original constitution” that the Kaianerehkowa has always represented, consensus as the arbiter of decisions was relied upon to move forward on behalf of all of the people involved. American political decisions focus on majority rule. There is a difference.
While I acknowledge the voter constituency that the Franklin County District Attorney’s office represents is composed of taxpayers, Kanaretiio is not part of that constituency. Prosecuting an individual on his allodial-titled (original title) land base, in this case, is the equivalent of Franklin County prosecuting Canadians in Canada and Belgians in Belgium. The Franklin County, New York Courthouse itself is located in the heart of Kanienkeh, our homeland.
The people of Akwesasne (Akwesasronon-plural) may observe paving materials laid on their ground (roads), electric lines strung through their tree line (utilities) and surrounding government foreign agents driving cars and boats through their transportation venues, but these conditions do not persuade any Akwesasronon that they are American citizens, or Canadian citizens for that matter. Onkwehonweh (original people) understand the pre-colonial origins of Turtle Island; embracing it.
In fact, Akwesasronon commonly recall the historical free passage agreement which saw the Kanienkehaka allow colonial-era travelers through the northern tier to the isle of Montreal. Because horse-drawn wagons were notoriously prone to breaking their wooden wheels in the rocky Adirondack region, common paths were developed that became cleared of rocks and were made passable. The agreement not only reserved ownership of the land both above and below the “roads,” but it limited the amount of land use to inches immediately below the road surface.
The United States Non-Intercourse Act of 1796, which forbade the selling off of “Indian title” land without the deliberate action of the United States Congress (on behalf of “Indians”), was put in place, in part, to prevent states from molesting the “trust” interests established by treaty language; the ultimate law of the land per the United States Constitution. “Agreements made between nations” is another way of understanding treaties.
The Franklin County District Attorney is apparently disregarding his special federal prosecutor status, in favor of his prosecutorial responsibility to New York State. The other side of this coin would see a federal prosecutor recovering these same lands on behalf of Onkwehonweh, from Indian-title land “owners” deeded by New York State, but the system does not seem to work that way, or possibly, never did.
It is systemically impossible to prosecute all of the like-minded Kanienkehaka people who comprehend this same land was made inaccessible from community use, since almost the entire existence of the tribal government system, which was formed in 1802. In 1805,a retired ship captain named Hogan leased 20,000 acres of Kanienkeh, which had been included in the fraudulent Macomb’s Purchase in 1791. The modern reclaimed land was never redressed historically.
George Washington, in a December 29, 1790 address to “the Seneka Nation,” Washington acknowledges the federal concerns that the government of New York, then and seemingly now, or in his own written words “The general Government only has the power, to treat with the Indian Nations, and any treaty formed and held without its authority will not be binding.” Although then-President Washington, later in the same correspondence, attempted to move beyond past land grabs that he sounded quite aware of, the effect of his words can be understood. The free-for-all of invented, non-Indian real estate title, leading into the modern era, had surely begun, and for all to see.
Making Indian-titled lands into deeded taxable parcel “shares” was foremost among the underpinnings of the modern American dollar.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University in Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.