Onkwehonweh Survival in the 21st Century

A column by Charles Kader about how the Onkwehonweh Tribe can survive in the 21st century.

The desire to see a successful Native North America has long been espoused by federal governments on all sides of the North American border. By Mexico, Canada, and the United States alike.

Pride follows success, so the motivational lecture goes.

Drawing upon capital markets as the source of taxable revenue streams, is the artery system of “mainstream” government stability. Lands in historically prominent Indian country which are integrated into mainstream economic systems, i.e. “tax-paying entities,” appear to show the face of progressive tribal government leadership; one which has fully subscribed to the American-state dream.

In other corners of this same Turtle Island however, that marking of compliance is not so sacrosanct. In many ways, it seems to be a literal question of trust.

Sovereignty as a general diplomatic principal involves the will of a people to make decisions for themselves, on their own land. The status of land holdings in Indian country subscribes mostly to federal “trust land status” tribal nations. There are some differences however.

Akwesasne Kanienkehaka Territory, located on the St. Lawrence River, is one such area. It has the distinction of being an original land status territory, or in other words, under “allodial” title. The Kanienkehaka who live here (also known historically as Mohawks) vitally embrace the freedom of movement that their forebears carried with them, confined only by the expanse of their Iroquoian language and their ability to travel quickly to areas needing “hands-on” attention.

Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter referred to such title in another way in his published May 2012 address to the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in describing his Haudenosaunee and Oneida homelands location "where our people have lived since time immemorial.”

Allodial title is embraced by those who consider themselves unremoved, original people; displaced neither by history or political occlusion. Onkwehonweh constitute a major world grouping of human beings who subscribe to this concept, as original people.

Young members of the Akwesasne community have spoken to me about the facts of life as they experience it today. One young lady told me recently, “I want to know if I have a baby that the child will have a job when he or she grows up. I want to know if I can keep living here at home, near my parents, or do I have to move away to follow whatever job I can get my hands on?”

These were not the wide-eyed revolutionary statements that follow a red flag into protest after over-dosing on propaganda, this was a bottom line, forward-reaching inquiry into day-to-day living on a proud parcel of Indian country today.

All politics are local. This is what I have heard, and also observed, over my years on Turtle Island.

Putting that concept to work, I drew upon a previous generation of Onkwehonweh to provide me with some insight here. Louis Rooks Bruce (Sioux/Mohawk heritage), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Commissioner (1969-1973) from Richfield Springs, New York, under President Richard Nixon, was a firm proponent of subscribing to the upward mobility of Onkwehonweh. Mr. Bruce, who went by the Kahnonhsesne (Longhouse) clan-name “Agwelias,” was recognized for his lifelong professional networking experience, as he built a contrasting farming/corporate lifestyle in the 1940's and 1950's, on top of an accomplished athletic and educational background; a rare and potent combination in any historical age, I estimate.

After reading Commissioner Bruce's biography, Chief of the Chiefs, by Jane Richardson (2008), I could plainly see the hope for the American dream was in full effect, under his tenure. Hopeful to the end, in his own subscription to achievement through solidarity within the wider backdrop of Americana, after reading his most enduring words, I also recognized the sober baseline that this visionary man recognized within the greater American society. Few Onkwehonweh have ever witnessed it at a higher level.

For that reason, I have come to see this symbolic, loyal man as a champion of the people, and possibly, a “red” Malcolm X, had he been so disposed. The difficulties of effective self-determination compound the inherent local economic challenges in all societies. With that understood, the barriers to resilient economies will always make us do more with less. No modern economy can escape tendencies.

I would tell the previously inquiring young woman that the baby will eventually have a job; doing what, who could know? What I do know is, that in the end, all Onkwehonweh people need to look to their left, and then to their right, and appreciate what they have to see. In an environment based on trust, we have to look to each other first. Governments draw upon that type of trust, first and foremost.

The harder that we work at this, the luckier that we will become, to borrow another belief system.

More appropriately, the “sweat equities” that we contribute today, cannot fail us tomorrow. We just have to be determined to live to see, as original people, these accomplishments come to fruition.

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.