Sovereignty is a word with many meanings. Because it is a Latin word in origination, adapted by the French language, there may be several definitions. The adaptation by Onkwehonweh (Original People) of the use of this word most often relates to a hereditary political status that many have embraced. For some, it is the most profound source of self-esteem that they are able to maintain in their personal lives.
Applications of foreign languages on Turtle Island have created inherent confusion. Original languages could never account for certain foreign cultural phrasing, and vice-versa. The words “pray” and “prey” both sound alike, but are meant to mean greatly different things, in one instance.
Onkwehonweh social response has also been mis-categorized, time and again. Irreverence in the face of injustice and oppression has often been an expression of internal balance, not a flippant response to authority, as outside systems sometimes record it. The maintenance of a sense of humor amidst hardship possibly defines the ride of the Red Road that one embarks upon, as much as anything else does. Said another way, just think about what prior generations embarked upon to see you here today, doing whatever it is that one does.
I reference the word sovereignty for a reason. There seems to be a recent desire outside of Indian country today to bring what has been described as alternate legal systems into both tribal and traditional native communities alike.
Practitioners of such alternate legal philosophies inevitably first appeal to the financial hardships of the intended audience, without a clear response to the sustainability of such approaches later by the hopeful novice. A prerequisite of this mindset is the intended manipulation of mainstream legal systems for personal gain. Through legal vocabulary pummeling and dramatized document filings, the process seems to take on a life of its own. Legal self-actualization is one description that seems to fit the bill.
Still, these alternate legal systems are as foreign as the process that they ape. The nature of the Two Row Wampum (Kaswentha) implores the need to hold your ground politically, as well as commercially. The usurpation of the canoe traveling individual’s path by any other than the original ways is fraught with rapids.
For these reasons, it has become clear to me that when traditional minded people are impelled to make an appearance into mainstream legal systems, the effect is disconcerting on all parties. Prosecutors have to consider the blowback of demeaning the traditional mindset while making a legal case. Defense attorneys have to diligently research the finer points of Onkwehonweh beliefs so as not to short shrift the inherent argument of the People of the Earth. Judges and juries both have to overcome the foreign nature of what they are experiencing, to embody the character of their oaths.
The stark aspect of system versus belief is as much on trial as anything in these moments.
That is why the vulnerability of Onkwehonweh at these times is both so telling, as it is a sign of the determination to endure. Some reach for a quick fix to get it over with, as they struggle to come up for air in the ultimate forum of mainstream control. Others never recover in time to let their spirit soar above the trappings of the courtroom itself. The judge’s gavel can be seen as a hammer against sovereignty, as a much as a tool for justice.
Thus, my own experience with the alternate legal systems is that it can outwit those who seek it the most, and at their time of greatest need.
As an educator, I am keen to blatant efforts to demean or belittle others, based on the presence or absence of formal education. The sheer intensity of some of these alternate legal practitioners to impress their own belief system on others, begins to resemble a form of mind control. No answer that one can offer in response to their cross-examinations satisfies their zeal.
People start to be referred to as “sheeple” in the course of these conversations. All forms of government are corporately controlled already, or are well on their way. Detractors are labeled as traitors. I know this because I have personally been identified as a “Masonic informant” who uses “ten dollar words” as I manipulate “uneducated so-called (traditional) leaders,” by such alternative legal system jockeys. Upon researching these terms, they fit the bill of stereotypes conveyed by the sovereign citizen movement
It is not in my nature to convince anyone that they are right or wrong in their way of life. When their individual actions overtake the solidarity of unity, especially in the face of legal challenge, however, the stakes are raised.
Sovereignty is sought by many, and sometimes by those that possibly will never have it. This longing has to respect those differences, as much as any similarities they identify with.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War Two veteran. He attended Clarion University of 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.