Skip to main content

For Tadadaho, respect between nations is crucial

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Recognition is due the Onondaga Nation and all Haudenosaunee peoples on the selection and installation of a new Tadadaho ? title of the customary spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation. According to many observers, the clanmothers and their community chose well when they tapped on the shoulder of Sid Hill, Onondaga citizen, ironworker and lacrosse enthusiast, for this most distinguished position.

For the Onondaga and all Native nations the endeavor to continue ancient lifeways, traditional-minded systems of governance, based and developed over millennia, is very important. We support this principle, always. Respect between and among nations is crucial. This is a lesson for all peoples. Not only should the United States and its individual states uphold the earliest of covenants that recognized the nationhood of American Indian peoples, it behooves all Native nations to recognize and respect each other's systems of governance.

The coming together of the ancient Iroquois Confederacy, the story of the Peacemaker who traveled among the chiefs of the Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and finally Onondaga, in order to promulgate a message of unity and common vision among the nations, is a powerful and driving tradition. (The Tuscarora Nation joined the Confederacy in the early 18th century to become the sixth nation.) It speaks of a time of killings upon killings among the Native nations, of profound desire for vengeance, a seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence and hatred. The darkest of traditions were taking hold. No one was safe. The Peacemaker traveled about and convinced strong elder women and war chiefs and warriors, to condole each other, to forgive, to agree to act rationally and not out of ill emotions toward one another. It was a major breakthrough for the Haudenosaunee, perhaps for all Indian nations and all of humanity, providing an example of a fundamental and eternal truth. For the Six Nations, in particular, it ensured a basis of survival during a deeply troubled time.

History has been tough on Native unity. Tribal structures have necessarily changed. Today, there are many types of systems active in governance among our nations. Most tribal governments have opted for democratically elected systems of a secular variety. Some of these work well; others do not. Other communities among our peoples adhere to their traditional bases, not only of medicine and spiritual ceremonies, but also of government. Onondaga is one of the nations that directly link religion and government. There is room, always, for argument and disagreement among and within these two and other somewhat different systems of governance among Native peoples. But there is potential as well for mutual learning, of supportive, even parallel strategies that can serve the full variety of "peoples" within any one of our tribal nations.

It is certain that Native traditional cultures prescribed tribal unity; it was always a prerequisite for survival. Arguably, this is the primary basis for the Great Law of Peace among the Haudenosaunee. But a history of invasion and colonization, of great suffering and dislocation has brought us many bases for disunity ? bases for disunity that we need to face and work to disempower, slowly, respectfully and always with honor. We live surrounded and within a multi-cultural society. Our own small communities are multi-cultural as well, certainly multi-religious. Many of our families are in traditional ceremonial societies; many more worship in Christian churches, or work only through their own clans and extended family lines.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The survival and prosperity of American Indian nations depends on our ability to sustain our cultural uniqueness at the same time that we build on and continue to improve our long-standing sovereign jurisdictions and powers of self-government. These both can only be maintained by the highest attention to unity of purpose and by the encouragement of common tolerance among our peoples. It also requires a practical respect for tribal resources, including the skill banks of professional and technical workers in our communities.

We note with appreciation Sid Hill, the new Tadadaho's words in the Syracuse Post Standard, that, "We are divided because of borders, religion, the experience of going through this attempt to wipe us out ... genocide, the loss of our lands."

Characteristically modest, Hill does not assume to have all the answers. "I don't," he stated, also adding, "but I will try to unify our people."

One of the Peacemaker's most genial concepts interweaves the nations and clans of the Haudenosaunee peoples, so that interrelations dominate the overall points of potential division. Sometimes, against all forms of chronic divisionism and strict or fundamentalist interpretation, the fact of the overlapping families and clans is still the best guarantee of some basis of unity. The pity is the difficulty in achieving general strategic agreements that could be maintained in the face of real choices and the obvious and acceptable reality of nation and community self-interest.

The times call for the highest inclusivity and acceptance of each other among Indian people, within and without territorial borders. It is always good to hear leaders contemplate the benefits of unity among all types of Indian governments. There are much worse enemies of our peoples than our own dynamic leaders and diverse governments. A respectful recognition and mutual support among the governments of the nations is not always possible, but it is a good goal nonetheless. The pathway to peace begins with, and is sustained by, the expression of good words.