Opinion

Doug George-Kanentiio: 1794 Canandaigua treaty is renewed





Each year citizens of the Haudenosaunee and their friends gather in the town of Canandaigua to renew the treaty negotiated there between the Confederacy and the United States of America.

On November 11 the gathering attracted Iroquois from all the nations including the Oneidas of Wisconsin. Coordinated by the Friends of Ganondagan the event marks a critical time in Native history when the United States was involved in a war with aboriginal people in the Ohio-Michigan-Indiana region.

After suffering two of the most devastating defeats in Us military history (under generals Harmar and St. Clair) US president George Washington was anxious to prevent the Haudenosaunee from joining the alliance of Native nations in that region as led by the Shawnee chief Blue Jacket and his Miami contemporary Little Turtle.

Washington realized the US army was not prepared to oppose the union of the two confederacies so he sent Timothy Pickering to secure a treaty of peace and friendship with the Haudenosaunee which also committed the US to protecting Native lands against illegal sales.

As Pete Jemison, Seneca and site manager at Ganondagan, noted during the gathering Article 6 of the US constitution states that "treaties are the supreme law of the land" and Canandaigua is a valid agreement between two independent nations.

A representative from the US congressman Thomas Reed, the mayor of Canandiagua Ellen Polimeni and the Society of Friends (the Quakers) welcomed the Haudenosaunee and gave presentations as to the importance of the treaty and praised those who sustained the annual event. Of particular importance was the late Sheldon Fisher, a local resident. It was recalled that in 1972 there were only three people at the observation, including Mr. Fisher, but they would not allow the treaty to be forgotten. Their efforts resulted in the current assembly which now attracts hundreds of people.

It was also noted that without the work of the Quakers to overturn the fraudulent Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1838 most Iroquois would have been forced west to Kansas. Mayor Polimeni pledged the ongoing support of the City of Canandiagua and said that the 2013 commemoration would be special because the city was erecting a statute in the downtown area to honour the Seneca people.

Currently, the treaty is acknowledged at a large boulder in front of city hall with a white pine tree nearby. Canandaigua, as one speaker noted, was taken from the Seneca word Gan-nun-da-gwa meaning "chosen spot".

The event includes an arts and crafts show and dinner at the Canandaigua Elementary School and a speaker series. This year Jamie Jacobs, Tonawanda Seneca, gave a presentation on the meaning of wampum belts. He is currently working with the Ogwe-owe-ka project at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.

News was also shared with regards to the recent return of Kahon:ios (Cohoes Falls) to the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association, a former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian and the author of many books and articles about Native history and current issues. His latest book is "Iroquois on Fire". He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiioaol.com. Kanentiio resides on Oneida Iroquois Territory in central New York State.

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