Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

It is Not Enough to Vote No on Dundee

 


By Doug George-Kanentiio

Under traditional custom when an issue is presented to the people requiring their approval or denial everyone, regardless of gender or age, has a right to be heard. However, it is not enough to oppose an issue but to have an explanation as to why and to, when asked, provide an alternative. Through this means we may understand other perspectives while respecting the right to dissent but with the intent of reaching consensus.

When I witnessed this at the Longhouse among the former generation, I was impressed with the procedures followed by the people and the leadership. They spoke their minds but always with respect and without shouting, anger or accusations and they stood while speaking while the people would listen, their heads inclined forward to concentrate on the words of the speaker. After the speaker sat down minutes of silence would follow which gave the people an opportunity to consider, analyze and, when necessary, present another perspective. Through this way the people would move towards a common position, making changes, adding new ideas, taking some away so in the end there was a meeting of the minds without residual resentments.

In regard to Dundee I have stated my opposition and raised what I believe to be serious flaws in the proposed settlement. I have done so with respect and without accusing anyone of acting against what they believe to be the best interests of the people. I understand why the referendum was done in that way, but I do not think that the 25% level was either fair or reflective of the will of the Mohawk people. I believe the resulting tabulation summarized only those who voted and the exclusion of the vast majority of Akwesasronon does not bind them to the final count. We do not historically take part in this kind of land cession process which is why, I believe, Canada imposed this condition upon the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

Given my criticisms people have a right to expect me to provide alternatives, just as is the normal way within the longhouse. Here are my ideas to nullify the vote and replace it with different strategies.

1. The question before the people should have been” Do you support the return of the Dundee district to the active jurisdiction of the Mohawk people?” This would be presented at the longhouse and in every district so the people may speak directly to their concerns without having lawyers filtering the issue.

2. The Mohawk Nation Council and the MCA should then form a joint committee to carry out the wishes of the people. The area would be returned to those from who it was taken-meaning the MNC are the rightful inheritors and the MCA would oversee administration.

3. The entire area taken by Canada would be returned, not piecemeal but it would be clear that the lands as they were in 1888 would now become an active part of Akwesasne.

4. The joint MNC-MCA team would then assign lease agreements to the current non-Native occupants giving fair conditions but with the understanding they are living in the Dundee district of Akwesasne.

5. Canada would provide funds to buy out the leases at fair market value from those non-Natives who elect to leave-again with the understanding the land is part of Akwesasne.

6. The Dundee district land title would be held by the Mohawk people. It would not be Crown land. It would be governed by the Mohawk Nation Council with the administrative resources of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.

7.The Dundee leases would be subject to Mohawk jurisdiction as would all civil and criminal matters.

8.Those Mohawks who need housing would be given first opportunity to assume the lease of the non-Natives who elect to leave the Dundee District.

9. A complete environmental assessment would be conducted by the Haudenosaunee Task Force on the Environment with an overall plan for its use including farming, fishing, forestry, housing, business, recreation and the protecting of marshlands and other sensitive areas.

10.Canada will be responsible for the cleanup of any and all contaminated areas and their restoration.

11.The joint MNC-MCA team will insure those Mohawks who return to Dundee will be guaranteed representation, education, safety and all the other benefits used by the residents of the other three districts.

12.Canada will enter into immediate negotiations with the joint team to provide just and adequate compensation for the loss of the Dundee district from the time of alienation to the present.

I believe the above would receive universal support among the Akwesasronon and would not harm the current or future land reclamation efforts of our sister nations. I believe it would set a fair and workable process for the return of disputed lands without litigation. I believe it would make Akwesasne a stronger community and free us from the harsh qualifications of living on what Canada claims is “Crown” land but would have actual title vested in our nation. I believe Canada would ultimately support this plan as it is economically and politically viable.

There is precedent for this among the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Navajo Nation. The Obama administration’s “Land Buy Back” initiative also provided for the physical return of land with the US government, not the Native nation, paying the non-Natives to leave contested areas.

 

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