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The Ties That Bind: Part 1

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A few days ago I posted a short blurb on my Facebook page reminding Haudenosaunee people that our Confederacy has a long standing treaty relationship with the Sioux Nations. I was thoroughly surprised by the positive response I got from folks all over Turtle Island as this post was shared more than 70 times.

I have been asked to give a deeper account of the history of this relationship as I’ve been told by Sioux and Haudenosaunee elders, so this is my humble effort to do that.

As best as I can ascertain, our relationship with the Sioux nations and peoples is at least 600 years old, pre-dating European arrival. This is not a historic event that I grew up learning about but is something I had never heard of until 1973 during the Second Battle at Wounded Knee. The rekindling of this relationship began in 1972 during the “Trail of Broken Treaties”.

The “Trail of Broken Treaties” was organized by the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the Fall of 1972 in an effort to bring national and international attention to the issues and concerns of Indigenous nations and people during the 1972 U.S. presidential campaign. This is a whole other historic event I’ll write about in more detail later.

In October 1972, runners from the Sioux Nations came to the Onondaga Nation requesting a meeting with the Grand Council to elicit their support for the “Trail” and its goals. That request was granted and a Grand Council was convened to which came traditional Sioux, Hopi, Creek, Seminole, Cheyenne leaders along with representatives of AIM and our Grand Council of 50 representatives, known commonly as Chiefs.

People all across the Confederacy had been following the progress of the “Trail” and a few individuals had gone out to join it and were reporting back on this amazing effort. But we (The Haudenosaunee had not taken an official position until the meeting with the traditional leaders and representatives.

I remember the presentations that were made to the Grand Council by these leaders and was struck by how often they referred to “our longstanding relations” as nations. No one elaborated on these statements and it seemed that all of the older folks understood what was being referred to. So us younger folks listened and figured at some point we would be told about these matters.

In the parlance of today, the decision to support and participate in the “Trail” was a “no brainer”. Grand Council immediately passed a resolution of support and issued a mandate to our citizens for their participation in what we also agreed was an important and historic effort.

A number of our citizens left to join the “Trail” while several of us were tasked with organizing a caravan to go to Greenbelt Park where we would meet the “Trail” and where final planning would take place for entering Washington. The subsequent events are another recounting, but it is important to note the reaction of the Nixon Administration because it sets into motion a number of events that culminate in the Battle of Wounded Knee.

We found out later that what was termed the “occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters” embarrassed and enraged Nixon because of it occurring on the eve of the national elections. Many months later we came to find out how much anger we caused with the release of the Nixon White House tapes.

In those tapes Nixon is heard giving his staff orders to get us out of the BIA building but don’t hurt them – and then the ominous words – “We’ll get them later.” And how they got us was through a federally supported reign of terror on the Pine Ridge Territory with the collusion of then Tribal Chairman Dick Wilson. It is this reign of terror that forced the people of Wounded Knee and other Pine Ridge communities to request the support and protection of AIM and to organize a protest march from Wounded Knee to Pine Ridge village to try and get media attention.

This was the action that the Feds had been hoping for and used it as a pretext to bringing the full weight of the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) down on the protestors and specifically AIM.

According to Wikipedia, “COINTELPRO was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting domestic political organizations.

FBI records show that COINTELPRO resources targeted groups and individuals that the FBI deemed subversive, including Anti-Vietnam War organizers, activists of the Civil Rights Movement or Black Power movement (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panther Party, etc.), feminist organizations, anti-colonial movements (such as Puerto Rican independence groups like the Young Lords), and a variety of organizations that were part of the broader New Left.

FBI DirectorJ. Edgar Hoover issued directives governing COINTELPRO, ordering FBI agents to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, neutralize or otherwise eliminate" the activities of these movements and especially their leaders. Under Hoover, the agent in charge of COINTELPRO was William C. Sullivan. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy personally authorized some of these programs. Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King's phones "on a trial basis, for a month or so", Hoover extended the clearance so his men were "unshackled" to look for evidence in any areas of King's life they deemed worthy.”

It was all of this and more when it came to the FBI’s disruption of Indian Country and their fulfilling Nixon’s need to exact revenge on us for the “Trail”.

The new battle at Wounded Knee began in February 1973 and lasted for 71 days. Shortly after the siege began Lakota chiefs and headsmen once again came to Grand Council seeking our support and assistance. And once again during the discussion we heard the words, “our long standing relations”.

The decision to extend our support and assistance took less time than the customary protocols that open a meeting between nations. Grand Council immediately authorized an initial delegation to accompany the Lakota delegation back to Wounded Knee and to begin sorting out how we could be of assistance. This first delegation was made up of chiefs, clan mothers, faithkeepers and citizens.

Grand Council also directed us younger folks to organize and to go out to Wounded Knee to provide any assistance and support necessary. This resulted in our pulling together a caravan of seven station wagons and a van that transported 53 of our people.

As we passed through Fargo, ND we stopped to stock up on food and medical supplies to send into Wounded Knee and then we continued on to Porcupine, SD where we met Ted Means and other Lakota people at the community center. We were told that the whole area was crawling with not only all kinds of police but the infamous “goon squads” that Chairman Wilson had created and armed.

The next morning we awoke to being completely surrounded by the FBI, U.S. Marshalls, National Guard and tribal police forces. Ted, myself, and several others went outside and opened up negotiations with the FBI. We were informed that we were being evicted from Pine Ridge on the orders of Chairman Wilson. We said we understood but wanted to be able to deliver the food and medical supplies. After some back and forth the FBI agreed to allow the food and medicine in but only a driver could drive the vehicle in and immediately return. They also demanded that every person in the community center would have to provide their name and address before being allowed to leave the area.

Fortunately, a back up camp had been established at Crow Dog’s Camp in the Rosebud Territory which is where we all went after leaving Pine Ridge. It was here that I met a Lakota elder walking down the road as I was driving into Rosebud village and stopped to give him a ride.

As we drove along he looked at me and said, “You’re not from around here are you?” I told him, “No, I’m Seneca which is one of the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy from out East.”

He sat quiet for a moment and then said, “I know you people. We have a treaty with you from way back. I don’t remember the exact story but I think we had a battle with each other. The first time we won, the next time you won and that’s when we did the treaty.”

This was my first hint at what “our longstanding relations” meant. 

Mike Myers is the founder and CEO of Network for Native Futures, a Native non-profit that works with Indigenous nations, communities and organizations internationally. The network's mission is to support sustainable development and nation re-building through providing of technical assistance, training and consulting.