Homo At Large

These have been the most stressful and emotionally turbulent couple weeks ever.

Some background: we have this land claim near my home on the reservation. I know, how stereotypical is that, right? Anyway, in Canada a land claim brought about by Native people is both judged and juried by the Canadian government. That is, the government that stole the land gets to decide if, and then how, we get the land back.

The chunk of land we're requesting is rather sizable. There's a portion of it, in fact, that cuts straight through the small town of about 2000 residents that neighbors my community. It's been the cause of some riled emotions, though only in the form of letters to the editor in the local newspapers. The "market value" of their property, for example, has plummeted, needless to say -- who would want to buy a house on land that will soon become an Indian reservation?

Our land claim was deemed valid by the Canadian government in 1995, and since then it has languished in what everyone involved calls "negotiations." For many of us, the simple question is: "What's to negotiate?"

There are legitimate interests. For example, the non-Native homeowners living on land that will soon return to us need to be compensated somehow. One of the issues that arose, then, is who will pay them off? The Canadian government, of course, says we should. We -- I mean, our so-called representatives on this community -- claim that we shouldn't be burdened with the expense of paying off people for decisions and mistakes we didn't make.

There are less legitimate claims to using the word "negotiate." A few members of our negotiating team have complained -- though only in private -- that the Canadian negotiators are intentionally stalling the process, inventing reasons to threaten to cease the "negotiation" until trivial demands are met.

More background: where I live, there are two governing bodies. Among the Six Nations or Haudenosaunee Confederacy there is a hundreds-year-old system of governance that, like our land, was forcibly taken from us over a hundred years ago. Literally, my ancestors were threatened physically if they chose to continue with our traditional ways of life back then. In its place, the Canadian government implemented legislation they called the Indian Act, which dictated how we would govern ourselves. Or, more truthfully, how Canada would govern us.

The problem with legislation like this -- at least among the Haudenosaunee ... that is the confederation of the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, and Tuscarora tribes -- is that we formed treaties with outside non-Native governing bodies long before the creation of Canada and the United States. These are treaties that, during a more conciliatory time, the leaders of Canada and the US fully adopted. People talk of the 'hand-outs' given the Indians but, in our case anyway, the funds we receive from the government -- as well as promises to support our healthcare, etc -- are part of these treaties that were agreed upon a couple hundred years ago.

So the confederacy is one governing body. The Canadian government recognizes it only when it absolutely must, when its feet are to the fire, if you will. Otherwise, the government claims that we (all Native people) are under the jurisdiction of the local governing bodies elected by means of the Indian Act legislation. For decades, the Canadian government has manipulated the understandings behind those treaty obligations, and re-written the agreements in paternalist language. This explains why folks get away with saying the government just "hands out" money to Indians.

(An aside: I'm wondering now how many of you I met during my recent visit are regretting the suggestions that I can write what I want!)

Anyway, the Canadian government is only negotiating the land claim with the Indian Act-sanctioned "chief and council" and not the traditional confederacy government. (All are Mohawks, of course, but each has chosen a different path, a different philosophy by which they believe we as a community should be governed). A bit complicating, I know. But this is how we live.

The chief and council -- because they're directly affiliated and complicit with the unequal relationship with and designed by Canada -- have no significant "negotiating" ability. As I mentioned earlier, these so-called "negotiations" go on, then they stall, then they start, then they stall. It's all very cumbersome and tedious, but everyone involved is in agreement that a good conclusion will arrive ... someday.

A collection of people in the community have become frustrated that the negotiation is taking so long. To complicate this matter further, non-Native developers have begun making public statements regarding their so-called interests in the disputed land. It turns out these developers have "purchased" land -- in some cases, after the land claim was deemed valid -- and are now looking for a lucrative payout.

Does it not seem, at this point, that I'm describing some cheesy movie? Such a limp, predictable plot, right? With characters who have such simplistic, binary interests! I repeat: this is how we live.

Some are suggesting the best way to a quick payout is to pledge that they'll develop on that disputed land, knowing that a great number of people from this Indian territory will show up, in protest, hoping to stop the use of land that is otherwise lost in an endless "negotiation."

Long story short, my brother was one of those traditional confederacy folk defending the land. The Ontario Provincial Police moved in and, after four days of "keeping the peace," invaded the land our Mohawks -- including my brother -- had been occupying for over a year. My brother has a million charges against him, half the community is in support of the sacrifice he's facing in support of his belief, and half the community doesn't know or fully understand what's going on.

(Think of all your neighbors who don't vote in elections. Indians ain't no different.)

Add to this, one of my oldest friends was sent to hospital this week and was told that though she's just five months pregnant she'll have to stay in hospital for the remainder of her pregnancy.

I haven't even got in to the emotions inherent to all this calamity, nor do I have a chance yet to share some of the quirky observations I've discovered these past two weeks. So stay tuned. I'll be back next week with all the gay details.

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We have a few surprises in there too. Maybe it's not all about tequila but it certainly has a theme going on. Take a look at some of these great tequila brands and start making some amazing margaritas today!

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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