Cuomo’s “State of the State” Offers Nothing to the Iroquois
by Doug George-Kanentiio
Nothing new for the Iroquois in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 State of the State address delivered on January 8 in Albany.
The State will continue to pretend the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy does not exist. He deliberately did not invite the legitimate representatives of the Confederacy to the State Capitol since it would require him to acknowledge that the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee does indeed speak on behalf of the majority of the 80,000 plus Iroquois.
Cuomo carefully chose the weakest cultural and political links among the Iroquois, those entities who have proven to be most malleable to the State’s longstanding plans to extinguish the Haudenosaunee’s land rights, impose State taxes on Native people and enforce New York laws on aboriginal territory. He singled out the Oneida Nation of New York, Inc. an entity which is incorporated under State law and has no connection with the Confederacy which withdrew its recognition of the so-called “nation” in 1993. He also cited the St. Regis Tribe, an administration which was created by an act of the State Assembly in 1892 as a way to undermine the authority of the Mohawk Nation Council at Akwesasne. He then acknowledged an agent of the Seneca Nation of Indians which was established in 1848 and, like the other two, has neither an association with the Confederacy or any formal treaty status.
Cuomo carried on the State’s 220 year tradition of violating the US Constitution by making no mention of his legal obligations to abide by the terms of the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty which means he is required to respect the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee. Instead, he boasted that “decades of conflict” had come to an end as the result of his May, 2013 agreement with the Oneida Nation, Inc., a pact which resulted in the surrender of 3,500,000 million acres of Oneida territory in return for which the Oneida Nation will pay the State $50,000,000 per year or 25% of its casino profits providing the State grants to the Oneida corporation exclusive gambling rights in central New York. No explanation was given as to the intrusions upon the aboriginal territories of the Cayuga, Onondaga and Mohawk nations.
Cuomo secured further concessions from the St. Regis Tribe and the Seneca Nation of Indians. They also agreed to have their casino operations taxed with millions of dollars directed to local counties. In exchange, the State pays nothing, concedes nothing and has a powerful legal club to subdue the Haudenosaunee should they oppose these agreements.
No wonder Andrew Cuomo felt magnanimous. He had the Iroquois in his pocket. He had realized the dream of his father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, that by manipulating the Natives into agreeing to gambling compacts he could end their land claims, eviscerate their treaty status and find a back door way of expanding casino gambling throughout the state.
But Governor Cuomo should not get overly confident. Those Iroquois who refer to themselves as Haudenosaunee will not disappear. We will not become secondary adornments to New York State, to be trotted out whenever there is a need to brag about the State’s cultural diversity or point to the aboriginal people as “proud remnants of an ancient tradition”.
The Haudenosaunee will continue to be an irritant to New York State, an inconvenient reminder of its past thefts, of its cruelty, racism and hatred towards those who have a legitimate right, under the most sacred laws of the United States, to a just and lasting remedy for the loss of our homelands and the resulting harm to our physical selves as well as to the natural world.
We are, as the late Creek leader Philip Deer used to say, the true “evidence of the western hemisphere” and we are far from fading away.
Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. A former member of the Board of Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian he resides in Oneida territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.