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We Live on Stolen Lands, Part IV: The Machinations of the Ogden Land Company

No organization played so energetic a role in the efforts to remove and dispossess the New York Indians as the Ogden Land Company. The Ogden Company’s determination to remove the Seneca Indians would develop into a broader movement to effect the relocation of all the Iroquois from the state, and open their lands to settlement and development. Even as it called for Indian removal, however, the representatives of the Ogden Company recognized that they must pay attention to the requirements of federal law as embodied in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts.

David A. Ogden

I find it troubling that students in New York schools learn about the “Cherokee Removal” in their American history classes, but they hear nothing about efforts to drive the Indigenous people of New York to new homes somewhere in the west. New York’s Indian removals began long before Andrew Jackson became President and continued after he left.  It is the story of a conspiracy of interests, as Laurence Hauptman put it, that brought together wealthy businessmen, avaricious politicians, and corruptible federal agents.  It is a truly sordid story, and some of it played out in Geneseo where I teach. The Wadsworth family, after whom an important building on campus was named, has mansions on both ends of Main Street. Their money came from Seneca land, and they were in at the ground floor in as Ogden Company investors.

David A. Ogden, the company’s founder and president, purchased from the Holland Land Company in 1810 the pre-emptive rights to the Seneca reservations remaining to the tribe after the Big Tree Treaty of 1797, nearly 200,000 acres for fifty cents an acre.  To pay his debt, Ogden created an association of extraordinarily well-connected investors. They moved quickly to exercise that right. They would clear the Senecas out of western New York, gobble up their reservations, and sell the lands to settlers.

Ogden and his associates, it is essential to point out, thoroughly understood the requirements of the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, even if they wished the laws were not around to hinder their efforts. This is an important point: determined to drive out the Indians, the Ogden Company officials understood nonetheless that they must comply with federal laws. Robert Troup, one of the Company’s most active members, told the interpreter and federal agent Jasper Parrish in 1810 that the Company, in its attempt to acquire Seneca lands, would “leave everything in the hands of the Agents of the General Government, in full confidence that the Agents will do everything in their power, according to their instructions from the Government, to induce the Indians to accept of a grant of land to the west.” Nothing like friends in high places.

            The state of New York provided the Ogden Company with important assistance. In April of 1812, Governor Daniel Tompkins asked Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts “to cause a Superintendent to be appointed” for “holding a treaty with the native Indians for the purchase of their right in a part of the said [Holland Purchase] lands.” Two years later, Tompkins wrote to Secretary of War James Monroe, informing him that the Ogden Company requested the appointment of a federal commissioner. Tompkins told Monroe that “you will perceive that the State of New York is to have no agency in the contemplated treaty, & that the agent or Commissioner requested to be appointed by the United States is wanted for the purpose” of allowing the Ogden Company “to make a legal convention with the Seneca nation of Indians.”

            In March of 1818, Ogden told Governor DeWitt Clinton that Seneca opposition to removal resulted from the machinations of “designing men” who opposed his plan. Busy-body missionaries were getting in the way.  “The importance of obtaining a seat for our Indians to the west, and to which they may gradually retire,” Ogden wrote, “cannot be doubted.” If Clinton wondered why Ogden was contacting him, the land speculator pointed out “that the interest of the state of New York, in my opinion, is more deeply implicated in the removal of these Indians, than that of any individual interested in the preemption of their lands.” Might as well admit it, Ogden suggested: we all want to drive the Senecas from New York State.

            The Ogden Company wanted to remove the Senecas to some location in the west. Troup thought some spot west of the Mississippi, like Arkansas, would be best, but failing that someplace in the northwest, like the Michigan Territory “in the neighborhood of Green Bay,” would do. The Company called upon its allies for help.  With Company support, Parrish began the long trip to Washington early in 1817. Once there, he attempted to persuade the new Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, that removal was in the Indians’ best interest.  The Six Nations reservations in the state, Parrish said,

are more or less surrounded by Settlements of whites, in consequence of which there are frequent depredations, petty thefts, and trespasses committed between whites and Indians.  Most frequently on the part of the former. It causes the agents considerable time and trouble to settle with and  satisfy the injured person, so as to preserve our peace and friendship unbroken. Under these circumstances I think it would be for the interest of the United States, and also for the wellfare and the happiness of the Six Nations could they be persuaded to concentrate themselves.

It is an old story. Local settlers pressed upon Indians and their lands in defiance of the law. Parrish saw removal as a means to protect the Indians from the citizens of the state of New York, who encroached upon their lands, stole their possessions, and threatened the safety of all concerned. We needed to remove the Indians to save them. 

            The Company’s directors also called upon Lewis Cass, the territorial governor of Michigan, to help remove the Senecas.  Cass, in letters to federal agent Erastus Granger and Ogden, expressed a willingness to help, but suggested that if the Company were to succeed, it would need the support of federal officials in Washington.  Ogden, as well, asked Peter B. Porter, “one of the greatest promoters of the rise of western New York,” and an associate of the Company, to eliminate the problems caused by two unnamed white men who lived in the vicinity of Buffalo and who counseled the Senecas not to sell their lands.  If these men have influence, Ogden suggested, “it might possibly be advisable, to take means to quiet them.”

Ogden painted a bleak picture of the Senecas’ future.  The Senecas, Ogden reported, were unwilling to part with any of their lands, and this created a variety of problems.  “It has been the wise and constant policy of Government,” Ogden wrote in 1819,

to restrain the Indians from selling or leasing their lands to unauthorized individuals, and hence their reserved tracts remain principally uncleared.  The extensive forests operate as a barrier to the progress of improvement.  They are not subject to taxation and are made to contribute neither towards the expenses of roads or any other object of public utility. In proportion therefore as they can be withdrawn by proper means from the unprofitable occupation of the Natives and rendered acceptable to cultivation and settlement, they must add to the general prosperity and resources of the State.

The Senecas, he continued, based their resistance on the Canandaigua Treaty, a sophisticated notion that Ogden believed simple-minded Indians could not possibly have arrived at on their own.  The Senecas, he believed, incapable of thinking for themselves, had been duped by the deceptions of “designing” white men and those “intent on evangelizing this savage people.”

            An appeal to benevolence followed.  Removal of the Indians, Ogden argued, certainly would benefit the “Proprietors,” but it also would benefit the Indians.  “The History of every Indian tribe on the Atlantic Coast,” Ogden wrote, “proves that they cannot long exist in their savage character in the Neighborhood of civilized Society, that becoming partly Christian, partly Pagan, partly civilized, and partly savage, they are rendered more and more debased and degenerate and finally become extinct, without having rendered themselves capable of any national enjoyment, or having contributed in any degree, to the stock of the public good.”  Wiping away his crocodile tears, Ogden’s tone became increasingly urgent, and he hoped that the President would get his point: “The Savage,” Ogden said, “must and ought to yield to the civilized state, and that this change cannot be effected otherwise than by the Agency of the Government.” 

            Ogden found kindred spirits as well in the New York State Legislature.   Indeed, a committee of the New York State legislature reported early in 1819 that concentration was a desirable goal.  Alcohol ravaged the Indians, and squatters overran their lands, a problem “highly injurious to the interests of the State.” The conclusion was obvious: it was time for a change in policy. Regarding the Indians, the committee reported

 that their independence as a nation ought to cease, that they ought to yield to the public interest, and by a proper application of power they ought to be brought within the pale of civilization and law and if left to themselves will never reach that condition; that such bodies retaining such savage traits ought not to be in an independent condition and that our laws and manners ought to succeed theirs; suitable quantities of lands to be reserved for them.

The State Senate, shortly afterwards, requested that the governor “cooperate with the Government of the United States in such measures . . . to induce the several Indian tribes within this State to concentrate themselves in some suitable situation.”  The Senate, however, in a statement that aptly characterized the state’s approach to dealing with its Indians, insisted that the Governor take these actions “either with or without the cooperation of the government of the United States.”

            Rhetoric such as this from the New York State Legislature mirrored the arguments occurring at the same time in the southern states, where a states’ rights variant of constitutionalism developed and was nourished in disputes over federal Indian policy. As the federal government and its agents among the Creeks and Cherokees sought to protect the Indians from the aggression of their neighbors, and as missionaries and philanthropists sought their “civilization” and “improvement,” southern state legislatures and southern state courts argued that all who resided within a state, including Indians, must conform to its laws.  The Marshall Court, later, would reject this limited federalism, but southerners had the power to largely ignore officials of the national government. The resolution of 1819 shows that New York’s political leaders were developing a similar states’ rights ideology.

            After laying all the groundwork, Ogden requested of Secretary of War Calhoun “that a commissioner may be appointed to hold a treaty with all or any of the Tribes composing the Six Nations of Indians residing in this State.”  Calhoun appointed Morris Miller to serve as federal agent “in a treaty which the Proprietors of the Seneca Reservation in the State of New York wish to hold with that nation.”

John C. Calhoun

            Calhoun believed whole-heartedly in the philanthropic justifications for removal, but at the same time he believed that the practice of treating with Indians was a flawed and dated practice. The national government protected the Indians, Calhoun believed, and “is their best friend.” The Indians depended on the United States like a child relied upon its parents.  Calhoun believed that the Indians had not flourished in their homelands, and that they had picked up the vices, but none of the virtues, of the surrounding white population.  In this sense, removal seemed to Calhoun a logical solution to the new nation’s “Indian Problem.”  If Indians relocated to the western side of the Mississippi River they would distance themselves from the unsavory influence of frontier whites, and gain additional time to become “civilized.” He believed that the United States, rather than the tribes themselves, should decide what was in the Indians’ best interest.  He hoped that they would see the value of removal; at the same time, Calhoun believed strongly that removal could not be forced and that under law, the United States must oversee the process of Indian land sales. At least as long as it was convenient to do so.

            Aware that they had the support of the federal government, the Ogden associates played their cards carefully.  The object was limited: concentrate the Senecas at Allegany, and open their other lands to white settlement.  The best thing the Company could do, William Troup told Jasper Parrish, is “to be perfectly still, and to make no appearance whatever” at the Council, and “to leave everything entirely in the hands of the Commissioners of the General Government, in full confidence that the Agents will do every thing in their power, according to their instructions from the government, to induce the Indians to accept of a grant of land to the West.”

            Morris Miller, the United States agent, did try to persuade the Senecas to remove. He claimed to have the best interests of the Indians at heart. He told the Senecas that “I am not in any way instructed, pledged or interested to promote the views of the white men, where these views are prejudiciall to the rights of the red men.” Nonetheless, Morris’s boss, the Indians’ “Great Father,”

sees you scattered here and there, in small parcels everywhere, surrounded by white people. He sees that you are fast losing your national character, and are daily more and more exposed to the bad examples of your white Brothers, without the restraint of their laws  and religion. He sees that this frequent and uncontrolled intercourse, instead of doing good is doing injury to you and to them. Your great Father sees all these things, with grief and concern. He lays them much to heart; and thinks it impossible for you, under such circumstances, to retain the character of an independent nation.

The Great Father looked after his white children as well, Morris continued, and from them he heard of their dissatisfaction

at seeing the lands in your occupation remain wild and uncultivated; neither paying taxes, nor assisting to make roads and other improvements; nor in any way contributing to the public burthens, as white peoples’ lands do. Your Great Father has been further informed that you occupy more land  than you can advantageously till, or use for any valuable purpose; whilst at this same time the scarcity of game         prevents your engaging in those pursuits, to which your fathers were accustomed.

The solution was simple. The President, Morris told the Senecas, desires “that you should live at a greater distance from white people, so that you may be more secure in the enjoyment of your property. And that he can with greater convenience, and less expense cause you to be instructed in agriculture, and the useful arts; and your children to be taught to read and write, and that your nation may thus be rendered an industrious and happy people.”

            The Senecas, divided among traditionalists and those more willing to selectively adopt elements of white culture, rallied together to oppose cessions of Seneca land.  Quaker missionaries, too, supported the Senecas.  The Quakers argued that concentration at Allegheny would undermine the Friends’ efforts to Christianize and civilize the Senecas at Buffalo Creek, and that there was not an adequate supply of land at Allegheny to support all the Senecas.  The Quakers, in fact, long had opposed the Ogden Company’s agenda.  In 1817, for instance, the Society of Friends delivered a message “to the Chiefs and other Indians on the Allegany Reservation,” advising them that “the land on which you live is your own—and you know it to be good and some of it well-improved . . . It cannot be taken from you without your consent.”

            Timothy Pickering advised the Quakers on methods to help the Senecas hang on to their lands. “Knowing as I do,” he wrote,

the rapacity of some men among the Whites, I am not surprised at the attempts to seduce the Chiefs to sell the seats from under themselves, and their people. It is in the power of the government to defeat these attempts.  But artful men may apply to it for the  appointment of a commissioner to hold a treaty, and by false but plausible representations, and perhaps, too, aided by certificates of men apparently disinterested, obtain this request.

Pickering suggested to the Quakers that they have “the chiefs and all their people assemble in council, and enter into an agreement, never to sell their lands, or any part of them, without the assent of the warriors or grown men, as well as of the chiefs.” Further, Pickering reminded the Quakers that “by laws enacted from the year 1790 to 1802, no purchase of Indians’ land are valid, unless made at a treaty held under the authority of the United States.” Pickering’s statement shows that he understood that the federal government had a responsibility to protect Indian land from territorially aggressive interests in the states, and that stopping these forces, even with the support of the laws of the national government, would not be an easy task.

            Led by Red Jacket, the Senecas refused to sell to the Ogden Company in 1819, and their rejection “was so unqualified and so peremptory, as to forbid all reasonable expectation that any good purpose could be effected by adjourning the council,” Miller wrote, and so “it was therefore finally closed.”

            There can be no question that the United States gave aid and encouragement to the Ogden Land Company, those “artful men” so determined to acquire Seneca land in western New York.  The important point for our purposes, however, is that however reprehensible the practices of the Company, it recognized the rules of the game as spelled out in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, and actively requested the involvement of the United States to ensure the legality of its purchases.  It is unfortunate that New York State did not exercise the same due diligence.

We Live on Stolen Lands, Part III: A Story of Faithless Guardians

The Federal Constitution of 1787 clarified and significantly strengthened the powers of the national government to conduct and oversee Indian affairs, at least on paper. That little debate or discussion of Indian policy took place at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 suggests that the vast majority of the delegates believed that the administration of Indian affairs and the conduct of Indian policy should be placed firmly and unambiguously in the hands of the new national government.  Certainly to James Madison one of the most pressing inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation had been the de facto weakness of the national government in the realm of Indian affairs.  Madison had been disturbed by the conduct of the state of New York in its dealings with the Six Nations, but thought that “whatever may be the true boundary between the authority of Congs and that of N.Y., or however indiscreet the latter may have been . . . temperance on the part of the former will be the wisest policy.” He feared the consequences of a clash with defiant state authorities.  During the Philadelphia Convention, Madison pointed out that “in certain cases the authy. of the Confederacy was disregarded, as in violations not only of the Treaty of Peace [with Great Britain], but of Treaties with France & Holland, which were complained of to Congs.  In other cases,” he continued, “the Fedl. Authy. was violated by Treaties and wars with Indians as by [Georgia].”  He listed the behavior of the states in the realm of Indian affairs as one of the principal “vices of the political system of the United States” under the Articles of Confederation.

President George Washington and his Secretary of War Henry Knox, who together designed and implemented the Indian policy of the new nation, believed that they must preserve order along the new nation’s frontiers.  Post-Revolutionary claims that the Indian allies of Great Britain had been conquered during the war went unheeded by powerful Indian confederacies in the North, the Northwest, and the South.  Washington and Knox recognized that the pretense of conquest, coupled with the government’s inability to control its land hungry settlers, could only involve the young republic in a continuous cycle of expensive warfare, something that the new nation simply could not afford. The United States under its first president embarked on a policy consistent in its approach with the earlier goals of the British empire, and consistent with the desires of many men who oversaw Indian policy during the Confederation years.  This was a policy directed, in the words of historian Francis Paul Prucha, toward the “conciliation of the Indians by negotiation, a show of liberality, express guarantees of protection from encroachment beyond certain set boundaries, and a fostered and developed trade.”  To implement such a policy, more was needed than the guarantees contained in Indian treaties. Something had to be done to restrain frontier whites and the governments of the several states.  Hence the Indian and Trade and Intercourse Acts.

            Indeed, Washington wrote to his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, expressing his firm belief that peace with Indians was impossible “while land-jobbing and the disorderly conduct of our borderers is suffered with impunity, and whilst the States individually are omitting no occasion to interfere in matters which belong to the general Government.”  Referring specifically to New York, the President continued that “the interferences of the States, and the speculations of individuals, will be the bane of all our public measures.”  Hamilton agreed entirely with the President, lamenting that “our system is such as still to leave the public peace of the Union at the mercy of each State government.” There can be no doubt that Congress enacted the Trade and Intercourse Acts to defend Indians from violent and corrupt frontier settlers and the aggressive actions of the several states.

            Considerable disaffection remained among the Six Nations after the Revolution. The Senecas, the westernmost and most populous member of the Confederacy, felt particularly aggrieved by the terms of the punitive 1784 Fort Stanwix Treaty. The United States had demanded that they surrender their claims to lands in the west.  Others of the Six Nations expressed to President Washington anger regarding the state cessions of the Confederation era. Little could be done about those treaties, the President believed, because “these evils arose before the present Government of the United States was established, when the separate States, and individuals under their authority, undertook to treat with the Indian tribes respecting the sale of their lands.”

And land, of course, lay at the heart of the nation’s conflicts with Indians.  Armed with the new United States Constitution, the Trade and Intercourse Acts, and worried about the prospect of Iroquois warriors supplied by the British joining the powerful Ohio River confederacies, the President was determined now to set things right. The attention of the United States focused most heavily on the western tribes in the Ohio Country, who had badly defeated American forces on a number of occasions. The Six Nations, however, were not ignored.  United States officials first met with the Senecas at Tioga Point in 1790.  Timothy

Pickering, who had been appointed by the President to meet with the Six Nations, was not entirely prepared to meet with as many Indians as arrived at the council, but he learned quickly what was expected of him.  He followed Washington’s instructions and informed the gathered Indians “that all business between them and any part of the United States is hereafter to be transacted by the general government.” Shortly thereafter, the President met at Philadelphia with Cornplanter, the great accommodationist Seneca leader, and informed him that “the General Government only, has the power to treat with the Indian nations, and any treaty formed, and held, without its authority will not be binding.”

In 1791 Pickering again met with the Iroquois, this time at Newtown.  Pickering once again tried to conciliate the Six Nations, and he discouraged them from joining the powerful Ohio Valley communities who recently had done so much damage to the American armies sent to subdue them.  If Pickering overstepped his bounds in approving two leases of Iroquois lands to non-Indian members of the tribe, nobody seemed that concerned about the affair.  Certainly, in 1794, Washington felt comfortable reappointing Pickering to meet with the Six Nations at Canandaigua.

            When Pickering gathered with the Six Nations at Canandaigua in the autumn of 1794, he hoped to resolve the long-standing difficulties with the Senecas.  Seneca land, anthropologists Jack Campisi and William Starna point out, “was the central issue and Seneca neutrality the crucial concern.  The participation of the other tribes was more ceremonial and clearly incidental to the treaty’s primary purpose.”

            Still, the Oneidas attended the Council at Canandaigua and they raised concerns that Article II of the finished treaty ultimately addressed.  Indeed, the Oneidas arrived early at Canandaigua, giving Pickering an opportunity to meet with them before the formal commencement of the treaty.  They told Pickering that they felt troubled. “Our minds,” Captain John told Pickering, “are divided on account of our lands.” These difficulties could not be blamed upon the Oneidas. “’Tis you, Brothers of a white skin,” Captain John said,

who cause our uneasiness. You keep coming to our seats, one after another. You advise us to sell our lands. You way it will be to our advantage.

                        Pickering responded to the Oneidas’ speeches on the 13th of October.  He told the Oneidas that they should, in effect, become civilized by learning to work the land like white men. They should as well learn to read and write, for it would then be less likely that “bad whites” could dispossess them through agreements the Indians did not understand.  Pickering did more than lecture the Oneidas on their shortcomings, however.  He was sympathetic to their plight.  He reminded them that they did not need to part with their lands.  He reminded them of a law of the United States intended to guard

the Indians from the impositions of White People. The most important article of this law respects your lands. This article declares that no sale of Indian land should be valid, unless made at a public treaty held under the authority of the United States.


In Article II of the completed Canandaigua Treaty, the United States acknowledged “the lands reserved to the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga Nations, in their respective treaties with the state of New York, and called their reservations, to be their property.”  The United States, moreover, would never claim these lands and “the said reservations shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United States, who have the right to purchase.”

            Much of this should sound familiar to you. We have discussed some of this in the earlier posts in this series.  But it is important to note that New York officials did not believe that the Trade and Intercourse Acts bound them, and they continued to take any opportunity to acquire Iroquois land that presented itself. In 1793, the state had acquired land from the Onondagas in a duplicitous treaty. The state of New York had been trying to obtain the Oneidas’ lands as well.  In January of 1793 a small number of Oneidas petitioned the New York State Assembly.  They did not have enough land to live upon by hunting, they said, and they hoped that the state would permit “that we might lease it out to your people, and receive the proceeds to ourselves.” They had no interest in selling their lands, and wished the state to appoint “some good men as agents to assist us in leasing our land.”  Landlordism would allow the Oneidas a revenue now that hunting had failed them.

Timothy Pickering

            The state appointed commissioners, but they came to purchase the Oneidas’ lands, not to arrange a lease. When commissioners John Cantine and Simeon DeWitt met with the Oneidas, they immediately sensed that large numbers of Oneidas were opposed to any grant to the state of New York.  The Commissioners moved quickly, recognizing “that the only prospect of success in our mission would depend on the agency of persons who had influence with them.” They hired James Dean and Samuel Kirkland  to serve as interpreters, “whose connection and acquaintance with the Indians are well known, and whose fidelity in cooperating with us left no doubt that everything that could consistently be done was done to obtain the Object of the State.” What those objects were, and what the state commissioners told the Oneidas, were two different things.  The state needed the lands of the Cayugas, Onondagas, and Oneidas if it were to develop the state’s frontiers.  In return for acquisition of these lands, the state said it would pay to the Oneidas an annual rent for their lands.

            The Oneidas’ response must have disappointed the state commissioners.  The community was divided. Jacob Reed told Cantine and DeWitt that the petition was a mistake, the result of a misunderstanding between them and their federal superintendent Israel Chapin. The Onondagas and Cayugas had asked Chapin to petition the state legislature “for the privilege of leasing their lands, as their hunting failed and had become insufficient for their support.” Chapin, apparently, had assumed that the same would be advantageous for the Oneidas and, Reed said, Chapin “made the same request in their behalf.”  Whether or not Reed had his facts straight, none of the Oneidas seemed to want to enter into a relationship on the terms the state commissioners offered.  Reed apologized to the commissioners for troubling them and said “we were misled in our Petitions and we therefore sink it in the Earth and thus annihilate.” Captain Peter, another Oneida sachem, and Good Peter’s son, pointed out that the state had said that it would not ask the Oneidas for land again “for hundreds of Years.” Slyly, he suggested that “perhaps we have misapprehended your meaning—perhaps instead of years you Meant nights.”  The Oneidas, Captain Peter continued,

do not chuse to dispose of any more of our lands. It is common for brothers not to agree when they are about making bargains. We cannot think now of selling any more lands we therefore hope that you will not press us to it.

                        Cantine and DeWitt appear to have been deeply frustrated.  They continued their appeals, but the Commissioners’ arguments did not sway the Oneidas.  As Jacob Read told them,

Brothers–You know it is a common case that people undertake business and do not succeed in it–that often bargains are almost completed and then dropt–Let this be the case now since we cannot agree to part with our lands[,] let us part in peace–We wish you to possess your minds in peace–We informed you yesterday what our determination was and we intend to abide by the same–We think our reservation already small enough; we wish not to contract it any more.

                      Of course the New Yorkers did not possess their minds in peace, and the state’s commissioners continued to try to obtain Iroquois lands.  Timothy Pickering had appointed Israel Chapin, Jr., to succeed his recently deceased father as agent to the Six Nations in the spring of 1795.  Because, Pickering believed, the Canandaigua treaty had secured peace with the Six Nations, he instructed the younger Chapin that

your principal concern will be, to prevent the tribes under your superintendence, from injury and imposition, which too many of our own people are disposed to practice upon them; diligently to employ all means under your direction, to promote their comfort and improvement, and to apply the public money and goods placed in your hands with inviolable integrity and prudent economy.

                       Chapin was happy to have the job and told Pickering that “it will ever be my ambition to support and maintain that mutual friendship and intercourse which has so happily existed between the Six Nations and the people living on this frontier.”  Still, Chapin pointed out that it was going to be a tough assignment.  Canandaigua was far from Oneida, making “it difficult for the Superintendent to pay so strict attention to them as would be necessary.” He suggested that Pickering appoint an additional agent.

            Chapin appears at least to have tried to do his job, though it also appears that he was in well over his head, and not a competent representative of the government of the United States.  He learned that the state intended to hold treaties with the Cayugas and Onondagas, and informed Pickering of this. The new secretary of War instructed his agent to halt the proceedings and he obtained from the Attorney-General of the United States, William Bradford, an opinion declaring that New York’s actions violated the Trade and Intercourse Acts. Bradford stated that the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1793 was constitutional, and that New York could not purchase Indian lands “but by a treaty holden under the authority of the United States, and in the manner prescribed by Congress.” Pickering demanded that Chapin give “no countenance to this unlawful design . . . as it is repugnant to the law of the United States to regulate trade and Intercourse with the Indian tribes.”

Before Pickering’s letter and Bradford’s opinion could arrive at Canandaigua, Chapin departed to accompany the Onondagas and Cayugas to their meetings with the state commissioners, led now by Philip Schuyler. Chapin, in a letter written on the last day of July upon his return to Canandaigua, informed Pickering of what had happened. A young man alone against the state’s determined commissioners, Chapin “inquired of Genl. Schuyler how he construed the laws of Congress in regard to holding treaties with the Indian tribes?” Schuyler “made very little reply by saying it was very well where it would correspond with that of the individual states.”  Chapin clearly did not know what to do. Had he then knowledge of the contents of Pickering’s letter and the attorney-general’s opinion, he wrote, “I could have managed the business more to your mind but as I had supposed the Government of the State of New York had applied to the General Government and had obtained sufficient power to call the Indians to the treaty.” Chapin had been confused. He pledged to Pickering to leave at once for Oneida to try to “engage the treaty will not take place then under the present commissioners.”

            Pickering seems to have recognized that Chapin had little chance of succeeding against the force of a determined state.  “Seeing that the Commissioners” of the state “were acting in defiance of the law of the United States,” he wrote back to Chapin, “it was certainly proper not to give them a countenance; and as the law declares such purchases of the Indians as those Commissioners were attempting to make invalid, it was also right to inform the Indians of the law and of the illegality of the purchase.”  Go to Oneida, Pickering said, but “the negotiation is probably finished ere now.”

            Philip Schuyler rejected the federal government’s interpretation of the Trade and Intercourse Acts, and proceeded with the treaty. He learned from Chapin that the United States viewed the state’s actions as illegal.  In the end, he acquired for the state nearly 100,000 acres of the Oneida homeland.

            There seems now little doubt that New York violated the Trade and Intercourse Act with the 1795 purchase of Oneida lands.  It is important at this juncture to account for the failure of the United States to enforce its own laws in New York state. The first point that needs to be emphasized is that the new national government, despite the fears of the Antifederalists who dominated New York politics in 1787 and 1788, was indeed a tiny entity.  The 1790s, to put it mildly, was no era of big government.  The total number of non-uniformed employees of the national government in 1801, the first year for which we have good figures, was less than three thousand, and the vast majority of these worked in customs or other revenue related functions, or for the postal service.  Only 214 federal employees resided in all of New York state, nearly all of them in the immediate vicinity of New York City, and almost all of them employed in customs.

            Chapin was on his own.  The Trade and Intercourse Acts, the laws Congress charged him with enforcing, were not strictly speaking “Indian laws.” Rather, they were directed towards curbing the long list of abuses Indians had historically suffered from their white neighbors.  In enacting the Trade and Intercourse Acts, Congress assumed that white settlement would advance and Indians retreat, and its intent through the laws was to insure that the process, in Prucha’s words, “should be as free from disorder and injustice as possible.” Agents simply lacked the power to secure order on the frontier and compliance with federal law.  It is, sadly, an old and blood-drenched story.

            Indeed, the government of which Timothy Pickering was a part had learned that it ought not to announce loudly its weakness.  Take, for instance, the case of the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion, an event which has nothing to do with Indian affairs but is immensely revealing nonetheless about the weakness of the national government. The residents of four counties in western Pennsylvania had grown increasingly disaffected with a federal excise tax on whiskey enacted by Congress in 1791, part of Alexander Hamilton’s “Financial Program.” They resisted paying the tax and, on the 7th of August, 1794, President Washington decided to call out the militia in order to enforce the laws of the United States.  By the time the troops finally arrived in the vicinity of Pittsburgh in October, all signs of rebellion had disappeared.The rebels may have melted away, but still the government could not successfully collect the tax. The Whiskey Rebellion, in this sense, simultaneously strengthened the Democratic Republican opponents of the administration who feared a powerful centralized government and demonstrated that the new national government was, in the end, a paper tiger. The stakes would be considerably higher were the federal government to be faced down by a defiant state. 

            The federal complaints against New York’s behavior in 1795 may, however, have impacted the state’s subsequent behavior.  The Federalist John Jay succeeded George Clinton as state governor in the midst of the 1795 crisis.  Jay, along with Madison and Hamilton, had been one part of “Publius,” the group who wrote The Federalist; Jay served as well as the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Presumably, he knew something of the Constitution. When Pickering informed the new governor that the state’s treaties with the Oneidas were illegal, Jay did nothing.  The negotiations, he said, had been authorized and had commenced prior to his assuming office.  But a short time later, when a group of Mohawks from St. Regis approached the new governor about their lands in the northern part of the state, Jay wrote to Pickering “to request the President of the United States to appoint one or more Commissioners to hold a Treaty with these Indians . . . to the end that the negotiation of this State with them relative to the Justice and extinguishment of their Claim or Claims may be conducted and concluded conformably to the act of Congress of 1 March 1793.”  The new governor of New York clearly recognized the requirements of federal law, and specifically referred to the 1793 Trade and Intercourse Act.

            Early in 1798, a group of Oneidas approached Governor Jay, seeking to sell to the state a portion of their lands. Jay appointed state commissioners to negotiate a preliminary agreement with the Oneidas.  That effected, he told his visitors that he would “immediately apply to the President to have a treaty held, under the authority of the United States, for the purpose of perfecting and effecting the business.” President John Adams complied with Jay’s request, naming Joseph Hopkinson of Pennsylvania to serve as federal commissioner.  The treaty was formally negotiated and approved on the first of June, Hopkinson wrote, in “the manner prescribed by the act of Congress, entitled ‘an Act to regulate the trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes.’”

            When Governor Clinton replaced John Jay in 1799, he continued to follow the rules set by the federal government.  In March of 1802, Henry Dearborn, Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of war, informed the President that Clinton had recently requested “that a commissioner, on the part of the United States, might be appointed to attend a treaty with the Oneida Indians, for the purchase of about ten thousand acres of land, which that nation is desirous of selling, and which has, heretofore, been leased out to white people.”  Jefferson appointed John Tayler of New York to the post.  Nine months later, the President laid before the Senate the Oneida treaty and along with a number of others, “all of them conducted under the superintendence of a commissioner on the part of the United States, who reports that they have been adjusted with the fair and free consent and understanding of the parties.” On New Year’s Eve, the Senate assented to the1802 accord, but President Jefferson never proclaimed the treaty, so its actual ratification remains in doubt.

            The point of the foregoing discussion of the period following the ratification of the Federal Constitution is that New York, during this period, haltingly came to accept an oversight role for the United States government in land transactions with Indian tribes.  The 1798 and 1802 agreements with the Oneidas, which in essence had been agreed upon in advance, the state acknowledged could not take effect until they had been approved by the United States Senate and the President.  The United States government, though it possessed little effective coercive power to back up its decrees, did succeed over the course of the nation’s first fifteen years in persuading New York to follow federal law.

            This compliance, however, proved short-lived, and after 1802 the state purchased Indian lands on its own without federal oversight. The National government did nothing to stop it from doing so, a phenomenon that requires some explanation.  In March of 1805, state officials oversaw the negotiation of an “indenture” between the “Pagan” and “Christian” parties of Oneidas.  The two parties agreed to divide their remaining lands into two parts, one controlled by each faction.  As a result, state negotiators would begin to meet separately with “Christian” and “Pagan” Oneidas.

            This “Christian Party” of Oneidas in March of 1807 negotiated a cession of two parcels of its land in return for a payment of an annuity based on the value of those lands.  Two years later, in February of 1809, Governor George Clinton acquired from the Christian and Pagan parties additional cessions.  The state acquired additional cessions in 1809 and 1810. Clinton’s successor, Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, acquired even more land from the Christian Party at a treaty held in February of 1811. The following July, “the Tribe or Nation of Indians called the Oneidas” ceded lands lying east and south of its reservation to the state. No commissioner or other representative of the national government oversaw these transactions, and none of the agreements received approval by the Senate of the United States or proclamation by the President.

            The United States did maintain Indian agents in the state after 1802. Secretary of War Dearborn, in a proclamation issued on Valentine’s Day in 1803, informed Iroquois leaders that a federal agent and sub-agent “shall attend in your principal towns, a considerable part of each year, for the purpose of giving every aid in their power to such of you as shall discover a desire of making improvements in husbandry and manufactories, and to settle such disputes which may happen, that come within the limits of their power.” In Dearborn’s view, the agents would serve as missionaries in the name of civilization, trying to reclaim the Indians from their “savagery.”  It is important to point out that Dearborn and his successors do not appear to have considered it the job of the agent to oversee land transactions; under the provisions of the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, that function would be handled by commissioners specially appointed for the purpose by the President at the request of the states.  Dearborn did see the agents as playing a critical role in preserving peace on the frontier.  “Brothers,” he told the chiefs,

As evil designing people often attempt to fill our ears with stories calculated to excite uneasiness in your minds, you are requested in the future not to fail giving information to the Agent and Sub Agent of any such attempt, without delay, as the most sure means of preserving the friendship which so happily exists at present between your Nations and your Father the President.

                       The next day, Dearborn commissioned Jasper Parrish as his “Sub-Agent of the United States to the Six Nations.” Stationed at Canandaigua, Parrish would work in conjunction with agent Callender Irvine, who served only from 1802 until 1804, and thereafter with agent Erastus Granger of Buffalo Creek. Dearborn ordered Parrish to “endeavor to obtain and confirm the good will and affections of the Indians, to introduce the arts of civilization, domestic manufactures, and agriculture.”  He was to keep the Indians in his superintendence from drinking to excess, and report to the Secretary of War “every circumstance and event which may occur that is important to the government of the United States to be made acquainted with.” If Dearborn meant that land cessions be included within this list of circumstances, his agents failed him. Dearborn, in fact, complained in the summer of 1804 that he had not received regular quarterly reports from several agencies, among them Buffalo Creek.  If the agents knew all that the state was up to with regards to the Oneidas, they do not appear to have communicated that information to the War Department on as regular a basis as Dearborn expected.

            Chapin and Granger, indeed, did nothing to prevent the state of New York from purchasing Indian lands, a fact that has led the defendants’ experts to conclude that the United States approved of the state’s purchases. Yet there are a number of factors that can explain the inattention of the agents to the Oneidas.

            First, the agents did not seem to see themselves as responsible for overseeing treaties and purchases of land from the Indians, nor would anything in their instructions, strictly construed, have naturally led them to that conclusion.  Treaties, as we have seen in the case of the 1798 and 1802 Oneida treaties, generally had been overseen by commissioners specially appointed for that purpose by the President.  Another problem stemmed from the declining importance of the Oneidas in considerations of frontier order. Federal officials involved in managing the frontier and preserving order had bigger problems to worry about.  Parrish lived in Canandaigua, over one hundred miles from Oneida.  Granger, at Buffalo, lived seventy miles farther still to the west.  They focused their attention on the Senecas and those members of the Six Nations who had settled on the Seneca lands that remained after the 1797 Big Tree treaty. 

            Furthermore, Indian agency appears to have been part-time work for both Parrish and Granger.  Like many early Americans, they were opportunistic, and they looked for chances to make money beyond their federal salaries.  One way to do this was to work for the state of New York. As early as 1796, the state had hired Israel Chapin to deliver state payments to the Cayuga chief Fish Carrier. Chapin’s payment included the grant of a parcel of land one mile square.  In 1804, the state forwarded to Parrish at Canandaigua “the annuities in specie due the Indians for the last two years, with directions to pay it over.” Parrish asked for Dearborn’s advice.  Four years later, the two agents apparently saw in the payment of state annuities due to the Indians a healthy source of income.  Granger told Governor Daniel D. Tompkins that he had learned “that the expense of transporting and paying over the annuities from the State of New York to the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga Indians, has annually cost the state upward of five hundred dollars.” He and Parrish would do the job for $350.  In their capacity as federal agents they already had to visit Albany and the different Indian tribes.  These, Granger pointed out, “are reasons why we can do the business cheaper than any other person.” The United States government, if it was aware of the specifics, seems not to have objected to Parrish and Granger’s entrepreneurial spirit.

            When the agents did return their attention to the duties of their agency, they found it an enormous job.  Erastus Granger, for instance, wrote to Henry Dearborn in December of 1807, revealingly describing the difficulties he faced in protecting the Indians from their white New York neighbors.  The Tuscarora chiefs, Granger reported,

Eventually Granger apprehended the culprits, and he believed that in this instance he had “broken up this gang of Villains.”  Still, he told Dearborn that his efforts did not matter. The criminals, he believed, “will get clear on trial.”

                        made complaint to me that they had lost a number of Cattle, horses, and hogs, which they had reason to believe were stolen by the white people. At that time, I was about starting for the City of Washington, and knowing that their Cattle run in the woods, I concluded there was a possibility of their having strayed off–Accordingly I advertised them in different places. On my return to this place last spring, I learned tha tthe Cattle were not found, but more were not missing, & stronger proof of their having been stolen. I immediately undertook an investigation of the business, but before any discoveries were made sufficient to warrant a prosecution, four of the principal offenders made their escape to Canada.

One year later, in 1808, Granger elaborated for Dearborn on the problems he faced. The culprits had been caught, but none of them has been punished. The challenge, Granger said, was that “there exists in the minds of many white people a strong prejudice against Indians.” The New Yorkers, Granger said, “want to root them out of the Country, as they own the best of the land. Those people,” he continued, “are often on juries.” Exasperated, Granger believed that the desire of local whites for Indian land was too great to be controlled by two federal agents, and that the Six Nations would continue to suffer if they remained where they were. Granger called Dearborn’s attention to the Louisiana Purchase, that vast expanse of land west of the Mississippi River acquired by the United States from France five years before. If the United States, Granger suggested, “would dispose of a sufficient tract of land in that purchase to the Six Nations, so as to make it an object for them to remove, I think I could perswade them to go.”

            Red Jacket, the great Seneca orator, saw the abuses his people suffered at the hands of white New Yorkers as a violation of the Treaty of Canandaigua.  He complained to Dearborn’s successor, acting Secretary of War William Eustis, that

                        for three years past we have received injury from the white people. Our cattle and horses have been stolen and carried off; and although we have made complaint to your Agent yet we have not received any compensation for our losses.”

                        In Red Jacket’s view, the agents must restrain the citizens of New York from stealing Iroquois livestock, cutting Iroquois timber, and squatting on Iroquois lands.  The agents, a frustrated Red Jacket said, “have told us they had not the means in their hands to make satisfaction. We want to know,” he insisted,

                    whether the fault is in them. if it is not, we wish you now to instruct them that whenever we make satisfactory proof of losses, sustained by the bad conduct of your people, they should immediately satisfy our minds, by a reasonable compensation, thereby forever maintaining that league and friendship so necessary to both nations.   


            Red Jacket’s critique of federal policy, along with Granger’s despondent admission that order would remain elusive as long as Indians remained in the vicinity of the state’s growing numbers of white settlers, reveals the dimensions of the problem that the United States faced in its desire for an orderly frontier.

            Some began to consider seriously the possibility of “removing” the New York Indians to new homes in the west.  Indeed, removal as a solution to the nation’s Indian “problem” had been discussed as early as 1803 by Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson acted on his ideas several years later in negotiations with the Cherokees.  In 1813 his successor, James Madison, suggested to the Senecas that they abandon their remaining reservations and concentrate themselves at Allegheny.

            Still, an important point must be made. Even where it discussed the possibility of removal, the national government believed that the process must follow the guidelines spelled out in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts.  Shortly after the conclusion of the War of 1812, for instance, New York governor Daniel D. Tompkins wrote to President Madison suggesting to him the attractiveness of relocating the New York Indians to the far northwestern frontier.  The acting secretary of war, Alexander Dallas, informed Tompkins that the President was interested.  “I am instructed to inform you,” Dallas wrote, that President Madison desired greatly “to accommodate your wishes.” There were, however, “national views of the subject which must be combined with such a movement, on motives of state policy.” All land transactions with Indian tribes, Dallas concluded, are “delicate; and a removal of them from one region of the country to another, is critically so, as relates to the affect on the Indians themselves, and on the white neighbors to their new abode.” Any removal, in other words, must necessarily be overseen by the national government, since national interests were at stake. When William Crawford replaced Dallas a short time later he reiterated his predecessor’s message.  Crawford believed, like Dallas, that settling a friendly tribe of “Civilized” Indians in the vicinity of the Western Great Lakes could do much to bring security to the region.  Indeed,

                 the interest which the state of New York takes in this transaction, and the influence which the cession may have upon its happiness and prosperity, have induced the President to determine that a treaty shall be held, with a view to accomplish the wishes of your excellency, and to gratify the desires of the Indian tribes in question.”      

Crawford undoubtedly believed that removal would benefit everyone, but he believed as well that it could occur only through a treaty called by the government of the United States.

            By this point, Tompkins already had completed yet another state treaty with Christian Party Oneidas and, by the time Dallas’s letter arrived, he was well on his way to purchasing Grand Island and other islands in the Niagara River from the Senecas.

It is time to take stock, once again, and review what we have covered so far.  First, the post-revolutionary interpretation the state advanced of its historic relations with the Six Nations was based on a misreading of the empire’s Indian policy, a program that sought always to centralize authority over the conduct of Indian affairs in the hands of the Crown or his chosen designates.  Even during the era of the Articles of Confederation, the aggressiveness of Georgia, North Carolina, Franklin and New York in their relations with Indians within their claimed boundaries upset many members of Congress.  The new constitution, written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and implemented in 1789, clarified the ambiguities of the Articles of Confederation and placed all power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes” in the new national government.  The Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts effectively defined the federal role in Indian affairs under the constitution, and high government officials informed New York in the 1790s that its purchase of Indian lands violated federal law.  Indeed, nothing any responsible United States official said in the 1790s should have led New York to the conclusion that it had the right to purchase Indian lands without the superintendence of the United States government.  These federal warnings had an impact, however short-lived.  Through 1802 the state conformed to the requirements of the Trade and Intercourse Acts.

            Yet in the years after the War of 1812, federal oversight of Indian Affairs in New York was ineffective.  The federal agents in the state, Erastus Granger and Jasper Parrish, were busy men, and the other work they did at times worked against federal interests.  Granger, for instance, held multiple offices during his tenure at Buffalo and, quite accurately, can be viewed as much an employee of the state as an agent of the United States.  Granger retired in 1818 and the Six Nations Agency was reduced to a “sub-agency” with Jasper Parrish remaining in charge.  Parrish continued to handle the state’s Indian business, paying out state annuities in 1815 and 1816, for instance, to the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and to the “posterity of Fish Carrier.”  New York State paid him $20 for his services.  Later, state officials expected Parrish to guide a party of Onondagas to Albany to negotiate with the state for a sale of their lands. The point is that the defendants’ experts base their argument that the United States was complicit in Oneida dispossession in part on an assessment of the actions of two individuals (and only two) who spent perhaps as much of their time working for the state of New York as they did for the United States, and who did not feel it was their job to oversee matters relating to the transfer of Indian land.

            In addition to the conflicts of interest that hampered their ability and, perhaps, limited their willingness to enforce the Trade and Intercourse Acts, was the continued difficulty of the agent and sub-agent’s assignment. Illness, at times, kept Granger from doing his job.  The unwillingness of New Yorkers to listen to federal authority was a bigger problem. As early as 1805, Granger complained to Secretary of War Dearborn of white encroachments on the Cayuga Reservation.  “The Indians,” he said, “complain and are uneasy.” “The settlers refuse to remove.” Furthermore, “two families of White People have lately gone and settled in the Oneida villages and set up taverns” despite the fact that a “great majority of the Nation are opposed to the measure.”  Granger felt himself “at a loss how to proceed with those intruders.” He simply did not have the strength to force New Yorkers to obey the law.

            The agents also had difficulty finding the supplies they needed, either in Albany or in western New York.  In 1816 Granger reported to acting Secretary of War George Graham that the Indians were suffering greatly from a lack of provisions.  He needed their annuity in cash immediately, for any shipment of goods and supplies would arrive too late to save the Indians.  With the money, Granger hoped to purchase flour in Ontario and Cayuga counties. The money, he noted grimly, “I think will keep them alive.”

            In addition to these difficulties, I would argue that the “United States” (assuming that we mean by this something more than its two isolated agents in western New York) knew little specifically about New York’s purchases of land from the Oneidas.  In his annual “Statement” in 1816, Granger mentioned that the Oneida reservation was 180 miles from his place of residence at Buffalo.  Notice, as well, when most of the Oneida transactions took place: early in March of 1807; in February of 1809; in March of 1810; in February of 1811; in March of 1815; and in March of 1817. Small delegations of Oneidas traveled from their reservation (180 miles to Granger’s east) to Albany (nearly 300 miles away) in the heart of New York’s winter, to negotiate with the state.  Their instructions required that the federal agents travel to the different Indian reservations in the state, but only during “the warm season.”  The Erie Canal was not completed until 1825, and prior to that travel would have been difficult even in good weather. There is no evidence that either Granger or Parrish attended the state treaties at Albany and, I would suggest, there is good reason to ask how long it took them to find out about these winter negotiations.

Even the information that the United States government officials eventually received about these transactions is not without its problems. For instance, in November 1818 a group of Oneidas petitioned President James Monroe, informing him that they had

                        sold to the State of New York a great proportion of their reservation, and being thereby constrained to live in the neighborhood of your white children, have imperceptibly acquired many of their manners and customs, arts and sciences, and having been taught by a pious and learned friend have acquired so much knowledge of the Christian religion as to have formed themselves into a congregation, and lately erected at their own expense a very expensive church.

                        The members of this “Second Christian Party”did inform the President that they had sold lands to the state of New York. The information came from neither Granger nor Parrish, and the most recent land transaction to which the Oneida petitioners could possibly have referred was the cession they negotiated at Albany in March of 1817. The United States, then, unquestionably learned by November of 1818 that the state at some point previously had purchased Oneida land. All the evidence suggests that it received this information nearly twenty months after the sale had occurred, and even then the information was imprecise about the nature of the transaction.  Information arriving at the seat of the national government so late posed problems that could not easily be remedied.

We Live on Stolen Lands, Part II: The Dispossession of the Oneidas.

Many years ago I worked as a consultant for the United States Department of Justice in the Oneida Land Claim case. My job was simple.  The United States had joined the Oneidas in their suit, which asserted that because the State of New York had violated the federal Trade and Intercourse Act, the Oneidas’ sales were null and void.  One of the state’s defenses went something like this: “Well, if we purchased the land illegally, we did so because the federal government allowed us to do so. Therefore the United States is responsible.” I worked for many months through all sorts of documents to demonstrate that not only did New York negotiate some of its cessions with the Oneidas in direct defiance of federal authorities, but that in other instances the United States did not learn of Oneida cessions until long after they had taken effect. New York knowingly violated federal laws designed to regulate the cession of Indigenous land.

We should begin with the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution on the United States. Article IX, the longest in the entire document, spells out the powers of the unicameral national legislature the Articles created.  With regard to Indian affairs, the Articles of Confederation said that Congress had the power “of regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the states, provided, that the legislative right of any state within its own limits be not infringed or violated.”

That’s a mouthful. When I teach the Articles of Confederation, I ask my students to think about the phrasing of this item.  Which Indians, I ask, are subject to state authority and which are not.  I may show them a map so that they can think about the problem geographically. For instance, during the Confederation, the western boundary of Georgia was the Mississippi River.  Georgia did not cede its western lands to the United States until 1802.  So what about the Indians who lived within what would soon become the state of Alabama before 1802? Georgia claimed that this was their business, and the United States should not interfere. Authorities from the National government could see that Georgia’s aggressive land grabs threatened warfare that the United States could not afford. New York’s history during the Confederation mirrored Georgia’s. We’ve already discussed Massachusetts’ ownership of the right of preemption. Should the Six Nations be considered “members” of the State of New York? They lived within the state’s claimed boundaries, on land claimed by Massachusetts as well, but the state exercised no meaningful authority over them. The point, I try to show my students, is that the language of Article IX was ambiguous and confusing. The limits of federal authority was not clearly drawn. It was confusing at the time. And those states with significant Indigenous populations within their claimed boundaries were aggressive in pursuing Indian policies that threatened to set America’s western boundaries aflame.

            So New York, acting on the self-serving assumption that Article IX placed all authority over Indians affairs in the hands of its government, moved to take control of Indigenous land. Congress, for instance, late in 1783 appointed commissioners to negotiate a treaty of peace with the Six Nations.  New York state officials questioned the right of the federal commissioners to meet with Indians in the state.  The congressional commissioners, New York’s Governor George Clinton wrote, were welcome to meet Indians possessing “territory within the Jurisdiction of the United States,” but the governor demanded “that no agreement be entered into with the Indians, residing within the Jurisdiction of this State (and with whom only I mean to treat) prejudicial to its Rights.” You can read all about this in a document known as the Hough Report.[1]

            The state appointed its own Indian commissioners. They raced to Fort Stanwix (present-day Rome, New York,) and arrived ahead of the congressional commissioners.[2] But those Indians who gathered at Fort Stanwix chose not to treat with the state’s commissioners.  They would work with the men sent by Congress, and Aaron Hill, of the Mohawks, looked forward to the Six Nations transferring the “ancient covenant” that had existed between the Iroquois and the “Great King” (and not the province of New York) to the newly independent United States (and not to the State of New York).[3] The resulting treaty must have disappointed Hill, for the United States sought to punish the Senecas, Cayugas, Mohawks and Onondagas, all of whom had suffered for holding fast to the Covenant Chain during the Revolution.  The Oneidas, who emphasized their contributions to the American war effort, and who downplayed everything else about the war, were secured by the congressional commissioners “in the possession of the lands on which they are settled.”[4]

The Treaty of Fort Stanwix, October 1784, from the National Archives

            The power of the United States government under the Confederation was simply inadequate to control locals determined to seize Indian land, and in this sense, New York’s post-revolutionary history differed little from that of the southern states.[5]  Half a year after the Fort Stanwix treaty, agents from the state of New York sought to obtain a cession of the Oneidas’ lands.  The state’s attempt grew out of a minor land dispute involving a Revolutionary war veteran named John Harper, who had persuaded several Oneidas to sell him twenty-four square miles of territory along the Pennsylvania border.  Grasshopper, a principal sachem of the Oneidas, informed Governor Clinton of the unauthorized sale to Harper and asked that the “Writing might be destroyed.”[6] Clinton told the Oneidas that he wished to “perpetuate that Harmony and Friendship between you and us, by preventing Frauds and Impositions which might be attempted to be committed on you by our white people.”[7]  The Oneidas, he continued, must decide their course with “dispatch.”  He tried to rush them to make a hasty decision.[8]

            The Oneidas did not want to be rushed. That is not how Iroquois diplomatic protocol worked. “Petrus the Minister,” almost certainly the great Oneida leader Good Peter, responded to the governor’s address.  The United States, he said, had guaranteed the Oneidas in the

possession of their lands.  Now he asked the governor to take action to prevent New Yorkers from encroaching on Oneida lands.  Settlers at German Flats, for instance, had taken Oneida lands without payment.  Good Peter now “was willing to lease one tier of Farms in the manner they are done by the White People, along the Boundary Line throughout the extent of our Country, and that People of Influence might be settled on those Farms to prevent Encroachments, and that a person might be appointed to collect our Rents annually.”  Good Peter wanted friendship, and he was willing to lease a small tract if doing so formed a buffer that could protect the Oneida heartland from further encroachment.[9]

            Governor Clinton was not willing to accept these terms.  In fact, he seems to have been furious. Clinton could not tolerate having an Indian community as a landlord.  The Oneidas had believed that they were meeting with the state to brighten the chains of friendship that existed between them, but not to sell their lands.  Clinton told the Oneidas that he felt betrayed.  The Oneidas, out of a desire to placate the angry governor, then expressed a willingness to sell lands along a “line from the Mouth of the Unadilla River with a direct course to the Chenango River and so down the same.”  Peter cautioned the governor. His offer had been premised more upon a desire to preserve “Friendship, than out of a pecuniary reward, and that they could not part with more.”[10] He did not want the governor to misunderstand the Oneidas’ motives. Clinton still was unhappy.  He continued to press for a further cession.  The Oneidas, through the terms of the resulting Fort Herkimer treaty, reluctantly sold to the state 200,000 acres for $11,500.[11]

            The key point is that during the era in which the Articles of Confederation served as the governing instrument of the United States, national authority over the subject of Indian affairs was phrased in ambiguous terms.  Given the weakness of Congress, the states of Georgia, North Carolina, “Franklin”, and New York pursued their own independent Indian policies.  For the Oneidas, the 1785 agreement at Fort Herkimer was only the beginning.

We need to halt for a second before we go further. According to the State’s own records, Good Peter wanted to “lease” Oneida lands rather than sell them outright. We know, however, that he did not say that. He spoke in Oneida. The missionary Samuel Kirkland translated and recorded what he said. Good Peter said something and Kirkland racked his brain and decided that the best term available was “lease.” But think back to what we have said about the Senecas. They were willing to share vast expanses of their land with white settlers while keeping exclusive control of other tracts. I would argue that Good Peter wanted to do something similar. It would be a wonderful enterprise for experts in Haudenosaunee languages to take what their ancestors said in 1784, 1785, 1788 and so on, and “untranslate” their speeches back into their original languages. Then, these Indigenous language keepers can attempt to arrive at a richer understanding of what was said. I will bet you that “lease” is an insufficient term for getting inside what Good Peter and the Oneidas wanted.

This Brings us to 1788

            It seems reasonably fair to conclude that by 1788, the year in which he met with the Onondagas and Oneidas in New York’s Indian territory, Governor Clinton recognized that he presided over a state only nominally under his control.  British troops continued to garrison forts at Oswego and Niagara, despite the provisions of the Treaty of Paris that had formally ended the Revolutionary War in 1783.  These soldiers would not leave New York until 1795.  During the war, two of the eastern counties of the state and part of a third seceded, becoming in the process the independent republic of Vermont.  Talk of other parts of the state breaking away occurred commonly enough for James Duane, a prominent New York politician, to fear that west of the Hudson “a second Vermont may spring up.”[12] Though the punitive Treaty of Fort Stanwix extinguished Iroquois claims to lands largely to the west of New York, much of the territory in the Empire State remained firmly in Indian hands.  Clinton needed those lands for his state. Thus Clinton and his colleagues pursued a three-fold program: They hoped to eliminate “any claim of the United States Congress to sovereignty over Indian affairs in the State of New York,” historian Barbara Graymont wrote; they wanted to extinguish “the title of the Indians to the soil”; and they were determined to eradicate the sovereign status of the Six Nations.[13]

            Doing so would not be an easy task, for as we have seen New York State was not alone in trying to acquire the lands of the Six Nations.  Massachusetts claimed much of the land in what is now New York owing to its colonial charter, which specified no western boundary to its territorial limits.  The two states had worked out a compromise at Hartford late in 1786, with the result that New York exercised legal jurisdiction over the lands in question, but the Bay State retained the right of preemption, or first purchase, to Indian lands in upstate New York.  Massachusetts promptly sold these preemption rights to two speculators, Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham who, in July of 1788, concluded a treaty with the refugee Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas at Buffalo Creek.  Phelps and Gorham acquired nearly 2.6 million acres of Iroquois land in western New York for five thousand dollars and the payment of an annuity to the Indians of five hundred dollars.[14]

            In addition to the problems posed by the Phelps-Gorham purchase, Clinton and his associates worried about the activities of the New York Genesee Company of Adventurers, a wealthy and influential group of land barons led by John Livingston.  On the 13th of November, 1787, the Livingston Company negotiated a lease with “the Chiefs and Sachems of the Six Nations of Indians.”  The sachems “leased” to the Livingston Company, for a term of 999 years, “all that certain Tract or Parcel of Land, commonly called and known by the Name of the Lands of the six Nations of Indians, situate, lying and being in the State of New York, and now in the actual possession of the said Chiefs and Sachems of the Six Nations.” Livingston and his associates agreed to pay to the sachems “the yearly Rent or Sum of Two Thousand Spanish Milled Dollars, in and upon the fourth Day of July.” Two months later, the Company negotiated an additional lease with the Oneidas, “for the said term of nine hundred and ninety-nine years, on a rent reserved for the first year of twelve hundred dollars per annum, until it shall amount to fifteen hundred dollars, of all those lands in the said writing described, as the Tract of Land commonly called and known by the Territory of the Oneida Indians.”[15]

            Early in 1788, Governor Clinton and his associates in the State Assembly and Senate undertook a concerted campaign to consolidate their control over the conduct of Indian policy in New York and the disposition of those lands the Iroquois could be persuaded to part with.  Clinton and other New Yorkers wanted to acquire Iroquois lands for the settlement of the state’s obligations to its revolutionary war veterans.  Without question paying off the state’s obligations to its soldiers was important to Clinton, but as historian Laurence Hauptman has shown, other factors were important as well.  The consolidation of state control over its western lands, the development of the state’s economy, and the construction of a state wide transportation system all relied upon New Yorkers first acquiring title to Iroquois lands.  The Six Nations, and the Oneidas in particular, were in the way.[16]

            Early in 1788 the New York State Assembly invalidated the Genesee Company of Adventurers’ “leases” of Six Nations land.  According to a joint resolution approved by the State Senate and Assembly, the leases, by their terms, were for all intents and purposes “purchases of lands, and . . . by the constitution of this State, the said leases are not binding on the said Indians, and are not valid.”  They determined that “the force of the State, shall from time to time, as occasion may require, be exerted to prevent intrusions on and for preserving to the people of this state, their rights to the lands and territories comprehended within the boundaries specified in the said leases.”[17]

            To prevent problems like that presented by the Genesee Company of Adventurers for the future, the Assembly and Senate on the 26th of February enacted a law “for directing the manner of proving deeds and conveyances to be recorded.”  For a purchase of lands to be valid under New York state law, that purchase must be witnessed and recorded and proved “by one or more of the subscribing witnesses to the same, before one of the justices of the supreme court, or a master in chancery, or one of the judges of the court of common pleas in and for the county where such lands and real estate are situated.”  Through this enactment, the state tightened its control over the procedures through which land changed hands.[18]  Furthermore, the Legislature on the 18th of March approved a law “to punish infractions of that article of the Constitution of this State, prohibiting purchases of lands from the Indians, without the authority and consent of the legislature; and more effectually to provide against intrusions on the unappropriated lands of this State.”  No purchases of land from Indians, “within the limits of this State, shall be binding on the said Indians, or deemed valid, unless made under the authority, and with the consent of the Legislature of this State.”  Any person who acted without the permission of the Legislature would pay a fine of 100 pounds to the people of New York, “and shall be further punished by fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court.”[19]

            After taking these steps to ensure that no unauthorized parties acquired Indian lands within the state, and after depriving the New York Genesee Company of its ill-gotten gains, Clinton and his allies in the Legislature appointed commissioners to negotiate treaties with the Six Nations.  There is no evidence that the Iroquois knew that the New York State Legislature had invalidated the Livingston Leases and nothing Clinton or the state commissioners told the Onondagas and Oneidas in the summer of 1788 could have led them to that conclusion. Indeed, the governor and the state’s Indian commissioners continuously warned the Indians that their lands remained in jeopardy unless they negotiated with the state.[20]  The governor accompanied the state commissioners to Fort Schuyler, formerly Fort Stanwix, where they would meet with as many Indians as could be gathered.  The Six Nations, the governor hoped, would “open their ears to the voice of the Great Council of the State of New York,” and meet them to “brighten the Chain and renew the Covenant which had so long bound us together.” Clinton and the commissioners informed the Iroquois that they intended to protect the Indians from the many outside forces that clamored for their land.  Deceptively, the governor and the commissioners hoped to exploit the confusion then reigning in Iroquoia, and obtain from the Six Nations an enormous cession of Indian lands.[21]

            Governor Clinton appears to have wanted to move quickly. Once again, as in 1785, he attempted to rush the proceedings.  He informed the Onondaga sachems, for instance, that “the other public business of the State will not permit me to remain long from home and it will therefore be necessary for such of your people as propose to bee at the Treaty to come on with all possible haste or they may be too late.”[22]  Though there is no evidence that the Iroquois sachems clearly recognized, understood, or cared about the nature of that “public business,” Clinton indeed had plenty to worry about.  New Yorkers overwhelmingly had opposed the new Federal Constitution drawn up at the convention held in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, and the governor (albeit quietly) led the “Antifederalist” forces within his state.  Advocates of a stronger national government felt the need to replace the Articles of Confederation for a number of reasons, but the “father of the Constitution,” James Madison, listed high on his list of  “Vices of the Political System of the United States” the aggressive Indian policies pursued by several of the states, including New York.  Article I, Section 8, of the new Constitution replaced the vague and ambiguous language of Article IX of the Articles of Confederation, with an assertive statement of federal authority over the conduct of Indian affairs: once the Constitution became the “supreme law of the land,” Congress would possess the exclusive authority “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”[23]

Governor George Clinton. Not a good guy.

            New Yorkers had ratified the new constitution, reluctantly, in July, only a few short months before the gathering at Fort Schuyler.  When word of the Constitution’s ratification in New Hampshire and Virginia arrived earlier that month, the Antifederalists of New York realized that they no longer could safely oppose the Constitution: the United States would exist under a new and more powerful frame of government.  The question posed to the delegates at Poughkeepsie was now no longer whether or not New Yorkers would approve the Constitution, but whether or not they would become a member of the Union now that the requisite number of states had ratified.  Complete independence was never considered by New York’s Antifederalists, who recognized that they would soon have to work within the new federal system.  Governor Clinton must have felt the need to acquire for New York as much of the Iroquois estate as he could before the new government went into effect, and the rules of Indian diplomacy changed.[24]

            New York’s urgent appeal to the Six Nations was received by a people still recovering from the ravages of the Revolutionary War. Although the Oneidas suffered comparatively less than their brothers in the Confederacy, they may have been confused or concerned about Governor Clinton’s intentions.  Certainly representatives of the Genesee Company of Adventurers tried to disrupt the proceedings at Fort Schuyler.  A Seneca named Onyegat told New York’s Indian commissioners that men from the Genesee Company had told him that “the Governor’s Business at this proposed Treaty is to purchase your Lands, but you have leased them to us.  He means to pay you all at once for them, and then in a few Years to drive you off and tell you that you have no Property here.”[25]  A Frenchman named Dominique Debarges, a fur trader from Montreal and a Genesee Company agent, along with an Indian named “the Infant,” told sachems on their way to Fort Schuyler that “it will be your Destruction if you go down to the Treaty called by the Governor of New York.  I know his intentions,” Debarges continued, and “when you return you’ll have no Place to set your Foot on.  You will be like wild beasts which are hunted.” Debarges also told the Indians that “the Governor had his troops collected at German Flatts, ready to fall upon them as soon as they returned.”[26] The Oneidas, as well as the Onondagas, likely heard these rumors; the evidence suggests that the constituent members of the Confederacy regularly shared information and intelligence.[27] That the missionary Samuel Kirkland served as an interpreter at Fort Schuyler could only have further confused the Indians attending the council. The minister and missionary had served as an interpreter at the federal Fort Stanwix Treaty in 1784, and his presence at Fort Schuyler may have done much to grant a veneer of legitimacy to Clinton’s efforts and supported the Governor’s contested claim to represent the only jurisdiction with a legitimate right to negotiate with the Six Nations.[28]

            The state commissioners chose to treat with the Onondagas first. The Oneidas returned home, and would not return to Fort Schuyler until the meeting with the Onondagas had been completed. If you are interested in the dispossession of the Onondagas, you can read the article I published a while back in the journal New York History. By the middle of September, that business was finished, and the Oneidas returned to the fort. 

            Speaking through Kirkland, the Oneida spokesman Good Peter responded to the Commissioners’ invitation.[29] He expressed to the Governor and the state’s men his understanding of the purpose of the gathering. Good Peter wanted to protect the Oneidas’ lands.  He made clear to Governor Clinton that “in whatever Land we should cede to you, our Warriors should have the Privilege of Hunting and Fishing, and that a Line should be drawn round the Part we should reserve to ourselves to secure it to us and our Posterity.” In essence, Good Peter, like the Onondaga sachem Black Cap, and like the Senecas at Big Tree, offered to share the bulk of the Oneidas’ lands with the citizens of the state of New York in return for an annual payment. The remainder of their lands the tribe would keep for their own exclusive use.[30]

            Governor Clinton told the Oneidas that he desired to protect their lands from the Livingston Adventurers, who “had without any Authority from us, obtained from you a Lease of your Lands.”  He had, he said, no interest in buying lands from the Oneidas, for “we have already more lands than we have People to settle on them.”  His hope was to set things right, “to meet you at this Council Fire, and by a new agreement place Matters on such a footing as to prevent these Things for the future.”[31] This pleased Good Peter, who responded to the Governor’s speech on the 20th of September.  He was happy to hear that the state did not want the Oneidas’ land, and that New York would protect his people from the Livingston Company.  “The Wind,” he told Clinton, “seems always to blow and shake this beloved Tree, this Tree of Peace.” Good Peter recalled that in 1784 “the United States” had “Planted the Tree of Peace with four Roots, spreading branches, and beautiful leaves, whose top reached the Heavens.” He feared “that by and by some Twig of this beautiful Tree will be broken off. I Love this Tree of Peace as my Life, and my Protection. I know you love it.” To preserve this peace, Good Peter concluded, the Governor must “punish these disorderly People.”[32]

            The point is simple. Throughout his speeches at Fort Schuyler that September, and consistently in his recollections of the treaty four years later, Good Peter believed whole-heartedly that the Oneidas had met with the governor and the state’s Indian commissioners to protect his people from dispossession by the Livingston Company.  Indeed, at the close of the council, Good Peter proudly announced to Governor Clinton that “My Nation are now restored to a possession of their Property which they were in danger of having lost.” The 1788 Oneida treaty, Good Peter continued, secured to the Oneidas “so much of our Property which would otherwise have been lost.” Clearly Good Peter would have had no reason to make this statement if he knew, prior to the meeting at Fort Schuyler, that the Livingston leases had been invalidated by the State Legislature.[33]

            The 1788 transactions show the determination of Governor Clinton and the State’s appointed Indian Commissioners to acquire Onondaga and Oneida lands.  As a result of the treaties with the Onondagas and Oneidas, as interpreted by the state, New York could finally begin the long-delayed process of distributing bounty lands to its veterans.[34] During the Oneida land claim litigation, one of New York’s expert witnesses argued that in 1788 the Oneidas and Onondagas willingly ceded to the state all their lands in 1788, and that “New York State then granted back to each tribe a portion of the lands ceded.”] In this logic, New York “created” the reservations, and that therefore the state possessed some nebulous right to extinguish the Indians’ title to these lands. The problem is that this truly unprecedented argument is entirely unsupported by any reliable evidence.  At Fort Schuyler, for instance, the Oneida spokesman Good Peter expressed his happiness about the Onondagas’ treaty, “and that Part of their Country which they have reserved to themselves is secured to them.” Good Peter, we should remember, told Clinton as well that the Oneidas would retain hunting and fishing rights in whatever lands they ceded to the state, and that “a Line should be drawn round the Part we should reserve to ourselves.[36]  Clearly, in Good Peter’s view, it is the Onondagas who are doing the reserving, allowing the state to share with them a large portion of their lands in return for an annual payment and keeping the rest exclusively for themselves.  The Oneidas appear to have wanted to lease their lands, not sell them, and to reap from landlordism what they could no longer acquire through trade. The Onondagas, Clinton told the Oneidas, did “cede to us all their Lands, reserving to themselves a convenient Tract for their own Use and Habitation, where none of our People should come to settle.”[37]

We will continue the story of the Oneidas’ dispossession next week.

[1] Governor George Clinton to Richard Butler and Arthur Lee, 13 August 1784, Hough, ed., Proceedings, 21.

[2] William N. Fenton, The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998), 609.

[3] Henry S. Manley, The Treaty of Fort Stanwix, 1784, (Rome, NY, 1932), 88; Tiro, “People of the Standing Stone,” 146; Laurence Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State, (Syracuse, 1999), 28; Graymont, Iroquois and the American Revolution, 272.

[4] Kappler, comp, Indian Affairs, Treaties and Laws, 5-6.

[5] Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests, 27.

[6] Hough, ed., Proceedings, 73.

[7] Clinton’s Speech to the Oneidas, 23 June 1785, Hough, ed., Proceedings, 86.

[8] Ibid., 87.

[9] Ibid., 92-93.

[10] Ibid., 102-103.

[11] Ibid., 107; J. David Lehman, “The End of the Iroquois Mystique: The Oneida Land Cession Treaties of the 1780s,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 47 (1990), 536-538.

[12] Duane quoted in Lehman, “Iroquois Mystique,” 523.  See also Alexander, Revolutionary Conservative, 64.

[13] Barbara Graymont, “New York Indian Policy After the Revolution,” New York History, 58 (1976), 440.

[14] The “Agreement Between the Commissioners of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Commissioners of the State of New York, 16 December 1786,” is housed in the New York State Archives in Albany; Notebook containing Copies of Deeds from the Five Nations to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham, New York State Library, Albany, NY, Manuscripts, 11274; Christopher Densmore, Red Jacket: Iroquois Diplomat and Orator, (Syracuse, NY, 1999), 24-25. A copy of the Hartford Compact can be found as well in the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate the Indian Problem of the State of New York, Appointed by the New York State Assembly, 1888, Assembly Document 51, (Albany, 1889), 105 (Hereafter cited as Whipple Report).

[15] Journal of an Assembly of the State of New York, at their Eleventh Session, Begun and Holden at Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, the Ninth Day of January, 1787, (New York, 1788), 56.  Hough has different figures, and I am not certain how best to account for the discrepancy.  Of the Oneida lease, Hough says that the “lands were leased for a term of nine hundred and ninety-nine years, for a rent of $1000 for the first ten years, and increasing after that time at the Rate of $100 annually until the Sum amounted to $1500, which was to remain the Rent afterwards.” See Hough, ed., Proceedings, 123n.

[16]  Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests, Part One.

[17] Assembly Journal, Eleventh Session, p. 74.  Journal of the Senate of the State of New York, at their Eleventh Session, Begun and Holden at Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County the eleventh day of January, 1788, (Poughkeepsie, NY, 1788), 35.

[18] “An Act for Directing the Manner of Proving Deeds and Conveyances to be Recorded,” 26 February 1788, New York Session Laws, Eleventh Session, Chapter 44, p. 689.

[19] New York Session Laws, Eleventh Session, Chapter 85, p. 810-811; Assembly Journal, 11th Session, 106, 109, 121; Senate Journal, 11th Session, 57-59, 63, 68.

[20] Governor Clinton told the Onondagas, for instance, that it was wrong for them to have entered into a lease agreement with the Livingston Company.  The Livingson Company, he warned, “have promised you Money and a yearly Rent. If they refuse to pay you, how are you to compel them to it? It is not reasonable to expect that the State will interfere in your behalf in a Business conducted against their Will. Those people who settled upon your Lands, they will soon become too strong for you, and if you should go to War with them, their Scalps will neither cloath nor feed you.” See Hough, Proceedings, 185.

[21] Assembly Journal, 11th Session, 89; Senate Journal, 11th Session, 50; “Proceedings of the Commissioners Appointed by the State of New York to Hold Treaties with the Indians within that State, Under Statute Passed on 1 March 1788,” mss., Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, NY; Lehman, “Iroquois Mystique,” 541; Laurence M. Hauptman, “New York State’s Assault on the Oneida Tribal Estate: The 1780s,” Paper Presented at the Oneida Historical Conference, Syracuse, New York, June 2002), 8-9, 12; Jack Campisi, “The Oneida Treaty Period, 1783-1838,” in The Oneida Indian Experience: Two Perspectives, (Syracuse, NY, 1988), 53.

[22] “Proceedings of the Commissioners,” 54.

[23] James Madison, quoted in Jack P. Greene, ed., Colonies to Nation, 1763-1789: A Documentary History of the American Revolution,(New York, 1967), 514.

[24] For the Antifederalists in New York state, please see Edward Countryman, A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790, (Baltimore, 1981), 273-276; Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788, (Chapel Hill, NC, 1961), 233-242; Steven R. Boyd, The Politics of Opposition: Antifederalists and the Acceptance of the Constitution, (Millwood, NY, 1979), 131-134; John P. Kaminski, George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the New Republic, (Madison, WI, 1993), 135-138, 152-166.  We must take seriously the grounds of Antifederalist discontent with the new federal Constitution. New York’s Antifederalists, in particular, feared that the new national government created by the Constitution would be too large, and that it would destroy the vital protections of the citizens’ interests that existed in a truly representative government.  Though the National government never became the leviathan that the Antifederalists feared, those fears were real, as numerous historians have pointed out, and we as historians ought to take them seriously. In an interesting discussion of New York’s response to the Nullification Crisis of 1832, historian Saul Cornell argued that while the state rejected South Carolina’s controversial and dangerous position, New Yorkers defended their “own commitment to states’ rights federalism grounded in the tradition of dissent that evolved between 1788 and 1828.” See Cornell, The Other Founders: Anti-federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828, (Chapel Hill, 1999), 298-302.

[25] Hough, ed., Proceedings, 182-183.

[26] Ibid., 191-192.

[27] A number of recent works on the Iroquois emphasize the importance of the contacts between the constituent communities of the Six Nations.  See Richter, Ordeal of the Longhouse, passim., for an example of this phenomenon during the colonial period, and Tiro, “People of the Standing Stone” for the revolutionary era. 

[28] My understanding of Kirkland’s role as an interpreter has been influenced by Karim Tiro’s fine article, “James Dean in Iroquoia,” New York History, 80 (October 1999), 391-422.  Tiro argues that Dean’s employment by different agencies “contributed to the atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty surrounding the land deals—a situation that ultimately made it more difficult for Natives to resist dispossession.” (quote on p. 415). A similar process seems to have been at work with Kirkland’s involvement in numerous treaties. On Kirkland as a land speculator and for his agency in Iroquois dispossession, see Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests, 37-45, 70-72.

[29] In the opinion of historian Laurence Hauptman, the leading expert on Iroquois history in New York State, the principled and devout Kirkland of the pre-Revolutionary period had by 1788 “compromised his principles under the pressures of family and mission financial exigencies and under his all-consuming passion to create the Hamilton-Oneida Academy.”  See Hauptman, “Command Performance,” 44.

[30] Hough, ed., Proceedings, 221.  After the Onondagas had completed negotiating their treaty with the state of New York, a treaty they appeared to have viewed as something akin to a joint-use agreement, Black Cap thanked Governor Clinton for helping his people hang on to their lands.  “You have now secured to us,” Black Cap told the Governor, “what we consider as a territory sufficiently large for us and all our Posterity to live upon, and every Privilege arising from our whole Territory we enjoy and shall continue to enjoy.” Black Cap believed that the land still belonged to the Onondagas, and that the written treaty formally stated this. See Hough, ed., Proceedings, 204-205.

[31] Ibid., 223-224.

[32] Ibid., 228-229.

[33] Ibid., 235. See also Lehman, “Iroquois Mystique,” 544 and Anthony Wonderly, “’Good Peter’s Narrative of Several Transactions Respecting Indian Lands’: An Oneida View of Dispossession,” New York History, 84 (Summer 2003), 237-276.

[34] Ruth L. Higgins, Expansion in New York, with Especial Reference to the Eighteenth Century, reprint, ed., (Philadelphia, 1976), 106.

[36] Hough, ed., Proceedings, 221 (emphasis added).

[37] Ibid., 225 (emphasis added).

We Live on Stolen Lands

            In November of 1794, the six Iroquois Nations entered into a treaty at Canandaigua with the United States that recognized their Nations’ right to the “free use and enjoyment” of their lands. That phrase is used three times in the treaty, thus making it central to the entire diplomatic accord. In exchange for a promise that they would never join with those Indigenous peoples who had warred against the United States, and a specific grant of permission allowing citizens of the United States to pass through their lands “for the purposes of travelling and transportation,” the Six Nations were guaranteed an annuity of $4500, the return of lands along the Niagara River that they had ceded a decade before, and the recognition of their sovereignty and nationhood: the free use and enjoyment of their lands.

The National Archives copy of the Treaty of Canandaigua. Look closely and you will see that both the Senate’s ratification, and the President’s proclamation of the treaty, are physically stitched on to the document.

            There are two principles I would like you to understand before we go any farther, one derived from the American constitutionalism, and the other from the history, culture, and traditions of the Haudenosaunee. For the first, I will have you think for a second about what the United States constitution says about the rights of Indigenous peoples. There is the Supremacy Clause, of course, which states that treaties and acts of congress are the “supreme law of the land.” That passage does not specifically mention Indigenous peoples, but its relevance should be clear enough.  There is also the passage in Article I, Section 8, through which “we the people” granted to the Congress the right to “regulate commerce” with the Indian tribes. We call this the Indian Commerce Clause.

            The language in the Constitution, my students find when they read it for the first time in their lives, is brief, skeletal. It was left up to the first federal congress to enact the legislation necessary and proper to carry these constitutional provisions into effect. In 1790, Congress passed into law the first of several federal Trade and Intercourse Acts. The law was revised periodically between 1790 and 1834, but one principle remained clear: The United States claimed no real authority over what was coming to be referred to as “Indian Country.” The Trade and Intercourse Acts regulated the conduct of white people, not Indians.  You want to trade with an Indian? You need a license from a federal agent. If you want to purchase land, the negotiations must be overseen by the United States and resulting agreement ratified by a two-third vote of the United States senate. Without that approval and oversight, the sale was null and void. The United States worked to regulate the conduct of its own citizens. It claimed no authority over the internal workings of Indigenous nations.

            The second principle goes by the name Guswenta, and it is represented by the Two-Row Wampum. Parallel lines that do not cross, the lines represent a European ship and an Indigenous canoe. They travel the same river, and share the same space, yet the lines never cross. Non-interference, independence, and autonomy: You do not dictate to us, the Iroquois might have said, and we will exercise no authority over you. Guswenta, originally a generic word representing a belt of wampum, came to be applied to this specific belt which justly reflected the cardinal values of Haudenosaunee diplomats.

            So, to come back to the Treaty of Canandaigua, we have an agreement recognizing an Indigenous right to the “free use and enjoyment” of the land that is consistent with both these formulations. Think of it this way: You have a sheet of white paper in front of you. That white sheet represents all the land from the Genesee River west to the Niagara River and Lake Erie, and from Lake Ontario in the north to the boundary of Pennsylvania. In that vast tract, the Senecas can do what they want. Americans had no power there save for whatever the Senecas gave to them, and in this treaty, that grant to the Americans is pretty limited. Free use and enjoyment: keep thinking about what that means.

            Despite Canandaigua, settlers, and more importantly land developers, coveted the rich, dark soil of western New York. The Senecas numbered a bit over 2000 people, but there were many times that number of land-hungry Americans who wanted their land. They were ready to seize the opportunity. They were willing to come and ready to take it. So, in 1797, at Big Tree near today’s Geneseo, New York, the Senecas, the westernmost of the Six Iroquois Nations, entered into a treaty with Robert Morris and his son Thomas, overseen by a federal agent in accord with federal law.

            A little background is in order here. First of all, much of New York was claimed by Massachusetts, the colonial charter of which specified its northern and southern bounds but not its western. So, if you drew those northern and southern lines across the continent westward you can envision the breadth of Massachusetts’ claim. (The state of Connecticut claimed a chunk of northern Pennsylvania for similar reasons). Massachusetts and New York worked out an agreement in Hartford in 1786 which gave New York jurisdiction over the disputed territory, and to Massachusetts the right of preemption. Preemption was essentially the right to first purchase of the land, a type of title that might sit dormant until the Indians’ right of occupancy was extinguished.  Massachusetts emerged from the Hartford agreement positioned to tell the Iroquois that because of our preemption rights, you can only sell your lands to us.

            Claiming a preemption right over Indigenous land was consequential. It certainly had the practical effect of reducing the value of those lands by eliminating any other potential buyers. Preemption was based on notions that Europeans had a claim to indigenous land that needed only the removal of the Indians’ claim to become real. Europeans, the logic went, had title, and Indigenous peoples a right of occupancy. Where did this seemingly dotty notion come from? From the same place men of small imagination always have found justification for their awful beliefs.  It’s called the “Doctrine of Discovery.” While more has been made of the Discovery Doctrine than I think is warranted, it derived from the Old Testament.  Europeans owned title to the land because at the time they found it, Indigenous people were not making use of the land properly. Indigenous peoples did not break turf and twig, clear the land and plow it, and follow the Biblical command to make it fruitful. This is one reason depictions of Indigenous peoples as wanderers and hunters and nomads are not only factually incorrect, because they did plant crops and live in horticultural settlements, but pernicious as well.

            Especially when preemption rights became something that could be bought and sold. Massachusetts sold its preemption rights to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham. They acquired a lot of Haudenosaunee land east of the Genesee before their enterprise went belly up. Massachusetts foreclosed and sold the preemption right to the remaining lands to Robert Morris, widely considered the most important financial policy maker of the American Revolution. Morris hoped to sell these rights to the Holland Land Company, but before they would pay, they insisted that Morris eliminate the Indians’ right of occupancy.  Morris was ill, so he sent his son Thomas to Big Tree, today’s Geneseo, to negotiate a treaty with the Senecas.

            The Big Tree Treaty council was an ugly affair. Morris bribed people and dispensed alcohol freely. In the end, he emerged with a document that granted him ownership of all Seneca lands except for twelve reservations scattered throughout the western quarter of New York State. Come back to your piece of paper. Draw twelve circles on the paper. These can represent the twelve reservation defined in the Big Tree treaty. Everything not inside one of these circles, the treaty reads, the Senecas gave up to Robert Morris in exchange for the annual payment of the interest on a $100,000 investment in stock in the Bank of the United States.

Why would the Senecas do this? Some historians have emphasized the bribes and the alcohol.  There can be no denying how important these were to accomplish the treaty. But I would suggest you look at it another way. Tens of thousands of Americans were on the move westward. A handful of Senecas stood in the way. The Senecas could not halt the onslaught.  The Sullivan-Clinton campaign of 1779, a military invasion of their homelands, taught them the price of resistance. They faced a dilemma. They could receive something for their land or lose these lands outright to the men who were coming to take them. The Senecas met the Americans with limited bargaining power.

            But think about this: In the “Rough Memoranda of the Treaty of Big Tree,” a record of the proceedings housed in the O’Reilly Papers at the New York Historical Society, Thomas Morris told the Senecas that if they agreed to sell their lands, that we the purchasers “do not mean that you should all rise from your seats and abandon your villages but that you should relinquish that part which is totally unproductive to you, reserving to yourselves in and about your different settlements only as much is necessary for your actual occupation.”  The dozen circles that I asked you to draw on that page: each one of them was a settlement site, a Seneca town, of cultural and historical significance to them and that they reserved for their own exclusive use.

            The Senecas made good use of this land. They reoccupied much of what they had fled from during the Revolution. In October of 1791, the missionary Samuel Kirkland completed a census of the Iroquois.  For the Senecas residing on the west side of the Genesee River, he mentioned “six small villages.”  “Kanawages—about 20 miles south of Lake Ontario containing 14 wigwams—Oahgwataiyegh alias hot-bread their chief.  112 lived there. 120 people were at Big Tree’s town, “about 8 miles farther south, containing 15 houses.   Big tree, alias Kaondowanea their chief.” “Little Beard’s town, about five miles south and on the great flatts—containing 14 wigwams.”  112 people lived there. Also, “the town upon the hill, about 3 miles south & near the forks of the Genesee River—containing 26 houses, under the direction of Big Tree & Little Beard.” 208 lived there. There was also “Onondaough 12 miles southwardly lyong on the west branch of the Genesee—6 houses–& under the direction of Big Tree & Little Beard.” 48 lived there.  Finally there was “Haloughyatilong—12 miles farther south–& on the forementioned branch containing 22 houses.” Population here was 176.  Furthermore, there were 25 houses of Tuscaroras with a population of 208 living near Big Tree. This would be the site of Ohagi.

            Meanwhile, there were 2048 Senecas, Onondagas, and Cayugas residing on Buffalo Creek. Francois-Alexandere-Frederic La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, a French observer who traveled through “the Country of the Iroquois” in 1795, visited the towns that would be recognized as Seneca ground in the Big Tree Treaty.   Rochefoucauld-Liancourt visited Canawaugus, where an “Indian, who speaks French, is waiting for us.” At “Captain Watsworth’s” in Geneseo, uphill from Little Beard’s Town and Big Tree, he and his companions noticed how “several parts of the forest have been burnt down by the Indians, who possessed this country from time immemorial.”  As he traveled, he said, “we frequently traced or met with Indian camps, as they are called, i.e. places where troops of them, who were either hunting or travelling, had passed the night.” Wadsworth’s house was a vile hole filled with noisome odors. Liancourt encountered Wadsworth “undergoing the operation of hair dressing by his negro woman,” after he “had just sold a barrel of whisky to an Indian.”  Liancourt learned that the Indians were easy prey to unscrupulous traders.  “A little whisky will bribe their chieftains to give their consent to the largest cessions; and these rich lands, this extensive tract of territory, will be bartered away, with the consent of all parties, for a few rings, a few handkerchiefs, some barrels of rum, and perhaps some money, which the unfortunate natives know not how to make use of, and which, by corrupting what little virtue is yet left among them, will, ere long, render them completely wretched.”

            Liancourt traveled twelve miles and visited Squawky Hill and another Seneca village on “Mountmorris.”  “They both contain Indian villages. That situate on the former height consists of about fifteen, and that seated on the latter of about four or five small log-houses, standing close together, roughly built, and overlaid with bark.  In the inside appears a sort of room not floored; on the sides they construct shelves, covered with deer skins, which serve as their cabins or sleeping places.  IN the midst of the room appears the hearth, and over it is an opening in the roof to let out the smoke.” 

So back to the council at Big Tree. Thomas Morris resumed his speech . He said

What then Brothers you may ask will be the advantages of your selling—I will tell you Brother. You will receive a larger sume of money than has ever yet been paid to you for your lands.. This money can be so disposed of that not only you but your children and your Children’s children can derive from it a lasting benefit. It can be placed in the Bank of the United States forever whence a sufficient income can annual be delivered by the President your Father to make you and your posterity forever, then the wants of your old and poor can be supplied and in times of scarcity, your nation can be fed and you will no longer experience the miseries resulting from nakedness and want. Brothers, the white people do not want your lands for the purpose of hunting but for that of cultivation—the Great Spirit has implanted in you a desire to pursue the beasts of the forest and in us to cultivate the soil.  This cultivation, Brothers, does neither diminish nor destroy the Game, your hunting grounds will be of as much advantage to you in the hands of the white People as in your own, for you can reserve to yourselves the full and ample right of hunting over them forever. . . . .By selling your Lands therefore Brothers and reserving to yourselves the perpetual right of hunting on it then you retain every solid advantage for the comforts of life that which at present produces you nothing.”

In the actual text of the Big Tree treaty, 15 September 1797, we are told that the Senecas reserved for their exclusive use some lands, gave up others, “Excepting and reserving to them, the said parties of the first part and their heirs, the privilege of fishing and hunting on the said tract of land hereby intended to be conveyed.

The US believed that by entering into this agreement, Morris had paid funds that extinguished the Indians’ right of possession.  Morris had obtained the right of preemption from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and, with the Indians’ occupancy right paid for, the US believed that he was free to transfer that land to the Holland Land Company, which was better equipped than he to begin the complicated work of settling townships and overseeing its sale. Morris, the United States, Massachusetts and New York officials were remarkably consistent on this point and no significant disagreements existed.

Within a year of the treaty, Seneca women had complained that some of the reservations were too small.  Speaking for the women in a 1798 council at Big Tree, Red Jacket said they were the owners of the land, “& now we are sorry our seats are so small, as we Women since the bargain it has given our minds much uneasiness to think our seats so small.” I think it is important to look into this, because clearly some Senecas wanted to renegotiate.  In response to these demands, adjustments were made to the Tuscarora and Cattaraugus reservations. In 1801, Red Jacket made it abundantly clear that many of his followers had followed the advice of the United States.  They expected, as a result of Canandaigua and the Big Tree annuity, “that we should be furnished with farming utensils for cultivating the ground & raise wheat & other grain—that we must have spinning wheels & learn our children to spin & knit—we were told we must make use of Cattle instead of moose, Elk etc & swine instead of beans, sheep, in place of dear, etc. etc.”

            Red Jacket noted that “We finde ourselves in a situation which we believe our fore Fathers never thought of—instead of finding our game at our doors we are obliged to go to a great distance for it, & then finde it but scarce compared to what it us’d to be.”  White people, Red Jacket continued, “are seated so thick over the Country that the dear have almost fled form us, and we finde ourselves obliged to pursue some other mode of getting our living, and are determined in all our Villages to take to husbandry, and for this purpose we want to be helped.”  This is such an important insight: Red Jacket expected for his people to be able to draw subsistence from the lands they ceded, but now they found so many non-native people settling there that it had altered the game potential of the land. He complained of American violations of Big Tree.

            So let’s take stock. You have your paper with 12 circles drawn on it. Imagine that you have shaded every inch of your page that is not one of those circles gray.  Each of those circles is a Seneca reservation, in which there is no legitimate American right or claim to power to limit in any way the Senecas’ “free use and enjoyment of these lands.” Settlers, under the direction of the Holland Land Company, have access to everything not in a circle with one important exception.  The Senecas retained the right to hunt and fish over the entire extent of the ceded lands. Everything you have shaded gray is territory these treaties guarantee to Seneca hunters.

Now, it is time for another Haudenosaunee concept, and that is the division of physical space into woods and clearings. These divisions, I suppose, can be drawn too starkly, but in general I believe they retain a great deal of value. Haudenosaunee people conceived of the world as divided into woods and clearings. Women exercised enormous influence in the clearings. This is where they gave birth, reared children, and planted and tended crops. It is here where the clan mothers would appoint the men who would lead their communities as sachems. Men’s realm was the woods. It was here where they hunted and, at times, fished. They passed through the woods to engage in warfare and take captives. If woman’s place in the cosmos was defined by the power to create life, men were life-sustaining killers as hunters and warriors. Indigenous communities claimed specific parts of the woods. These claims could be contested and fought over.

            Here is the point: In the woods, men hunted, fished, and fought. Ownership was defined by use and use was defined by gender. To say that the men of an Indigenous community have the right to hunt and fish on certain lands, I hope you see, is analogous to saying that the community to which they belonged owns the land. It is possible to argue, then, that at Big Tree the Senecas obtained recognition of their right to the exclusive use of the clearings, where white people could not intrude and where Americans exercise no power and authority, and that they willingly would allow white settlers to share with them the woods. This helps us make sense of Red Jacket’s complaints a year after Big Tree about the Americans’ alteration of the gaming potential in the Woods and, a year later, Handsome Lake’s denunciation of land sales in the Gaiwiio, the new religion that the prophet Handsome Lake brought to the fore.

Handsome Lake preaching at the Tonawanda Longhouse. Painting by Ernest Smith, housed at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.

            Twelve circles. Twelve towns. Twelve places that meant as much to the Senecas as any place has ever mattered to you. Buffalo Creek, Allegany, Tonawanda, Cattaraugus, Big Tree, Squawky Hill, Canawaugus, Gardeau.  I could go on. I hope you drew those circles in pencil, because now we enter a period where we begin to erase the circles and shade that space they occupied gray: a strip along the Niagara River and Little Beard’s Town along the Genesee in 1802. Familiar themes appear in these cessions. The actual language of the 1802 mile strip treaty notes that the Senecas sold the land, but reserved “to themselves…the right and privilege of encamping their fishing parties on the beach of said river, for the purpose of fishing, which is the common right of both parties, and to be enjoyed without hindrance or interruption from either; and while there encamped, to use the drift-wood for fuel, bit not to trespass on or injure, the proprietor or proprietors of the adjacent lands.”  They also reserved the right to cross on any ferries and any bridges to be built in the future without tolls.

Map of the Squawky Hill Reservation

            You can erase two circles. Shade where they were gray.

            Then we have the large sale of 1826. Again, a little background is in order. In the early 1800s, the Holland Land Company sold the preemption rights to the remaining Seneca reservations to an entity called the Ogden Land Company.  To be clear, that means that the Holland Company sold to the Ogden Company the right to obtain all the land in the remaining circles you have drawn on the page. The Ogden Company operated essentially in two parts of the state: around the larger reservations in the west—Allegany, Cattaraugus, Buffalo Creek, and Tonawanda– and in the Genesee Valley, where the lands set aside at Big Tree in 1797 were much smaller.  In the west, Senecas had forcefully resisted any attempt to purchase their lands.  In the Genesee Valley, this resistance was more difficult to maintain. But owing to bribes paid out by Horatio Jones and Jellis Clute, and the pressure white squatters placed on Seneca lands in the Genesee Valley, by the middle of the 1820s, some there were willing to contemplate a sale of lands.  Indeed, in 1823 in Moscow (today’s Leicester, NY), Mary Jemison ceded all but two square miles of the Gardeau Reservation to John Greig and Henry Gibson.  Greig was an employee of the Ogden Land Company.  The cession, acquired for $4286 (less than .30 an acre) was never submitted to the Senate for ratification.

            How did this happen and how did Mary Jemison have the standing to make this sale? According to historian Larry Hauptman, in April of 1817 Micah Brooks and Thomas Clute successfully persuaded the New York State Legislature to pass a bill making Jemison a citizen of the State of New York and “confirming her title to the Gardeau Reservation. Four days after this bill was passed, according to Hauptman, in return for $3000 and a mortgage to secure $4286, the aged Jemison executed a deed of seven thousand acres on the east side of the reservation to the same Micah Brooks and Jellis Clute.  At the urging of John Jemison, Mary’s son, Mary agreed, because of her advanced age and her inability to manage her property, to hire Thomas Clute as her guardian.  In payment for his services Thomas Clute was given a great deal of land on the west side of the Gardeau Reservation. On August 24, 1817, Mary Jemison leased all of the remaining Gardeau reservation, except for four thousand acres and Thomas Clute’s lot, to Micah Brooks and Jellis Clute.  Jemison’s words are revaling about this transaction: ‘Finding their [Brooks and Clute] title still incomplete, on account of the United States government and Seneca chiefs not having sanctioned my acts, they [Brooks and Clute] solicited me to renew the contract, and have the conveyance made to them in such a manner as that they should thereby be constituted sole proprietors of the soil.”

In the 1823 cession, the Senecas relinquished to Grieg and Gibson all but two square miles of the reservation, which would remain Seneca property “in as full and ample a manner, as if these presents had not been executed: together with all and singular the rights, privileges, hereditaments, and appurtenances, to the said hereby granted premises belonging or in anywise appertaining, and all the estate, right, title, and interest, whatsoever, of them the said parties of the first part, and of their nation, of, in, and to, the said tract of land above described.”

            In February of 1824, Secretary of War Calhoun wrote to Jasper Parrish and informed him that the Gardeau purchase did not require Senate ratification “because it was ‘considered in the nature of a private contract [that] does not require the special ratification of the Government as in treaties between the Indians and the United States.”  Calhoun believed that as a result, “there is nothing to prevent its execution by the parties concerned, as soon as they may think it proper.”  Three years later, the commissioner of Indian affairs wrote the secretary of war, indicating that the Gardeau deed did not need Senate approval because it was “esteemed to be a useless ceremony; the President approving it only.”

            All of this occurred before the 1826 treaty. In May of 1826, the House Committee on Indian Affairs published a report with the title, “To Hold a Treaty with the Seneca Indians.”  In it, the House committee members claimed that most Senecas wanted to sell their lands, that they wanted to become “civilized” on an American model, and that a federal commissioner should be appointed by the president to negotiate with them. Oliver Forward, a Buffalo politician, was appointed federal commissioner.

            The treaty council, which was held at Buffalo Creek, was something of a debacle.  The treaty was signed at the end of August in 1826.  In it the Senecas’ ceded all their lands along the Genesee to the Ogden Land Company. Furthermore, the size of the Buffalo Creek, Tonawanda, and Cattaraugus Reservations was reduced significantly as well. All told, the Seneca estate had been reduced by 86,887 acres, being, Forward said, “something more than one third of the lands they own in the western part of this state.”

            In exchange for this enormous cession, the Ogden Company agreed to deliver over a sum of $48,260, “lawful money of the United States.”  As with the Big Tree Treaty of 1797, most of these funds were invested, with the annual interest earned on the purchase price paid out to the Seneca.  This annual payment, calculated at an interest rate of 6% per year, came to be known as the Greig and Gibson annuity.  Although the treaty said nothing about it, the Ogden Company apparently agreed to pay as well certain life annuities to Seneca leaders who aided in the negotiation of the agreement.  Ten Seneca leaders received payments each year totaling $460.00.  Addressing concerns about these payments in a letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas L. McKenney, Jasper Parrish said that the negotiations had “been conducted with perfect fairness, openness and propriety,” and that “no threats, or menaces, or bribes were made use of to my knowledge: but, as in every case of the kind, certain gratuities were made, after the conclusion of the treaty.”  Only $43,050 was ever invested, leaving close to $5000.00 from the purchase price missing. 

            Some Senecas and their supporters immediately challenged and contested the legality and the morality of the treaty. They complained, while others sent petitions and memorials to Washington supporting the treaty. To sort all this out took some time.  Those who signed the treaty, according to the author of the best account of the period, did so because they feared that if they did not sell, they would lose their lands outright to the squatters that nobody seemed able to control.  Some of the chiefs who signed the treaty, moreover, believed that by doing so they would satisfy the Ogden Company’s voracious appetite for Seneca lands.  They sold lands to avoid the prospect of removal to the west. They expected that after this cession, which they agreed to reluctantly, the Ogden Company would leave the Senecas in peace upon their remaining lands.  The United States Senate finally voted on the treaty in late February of 1828 but the vote was a 20-20 tie. John C. Calhoun, now vice-president, was not in attendance to break the tie.  The agreement thus did not receive the two-third vote required by the Constitution for ratification, but the Senators, apparently in an effort to clarify the reason for their vote,  passed an unprecedented resolution that read that “by the refusal of the Senate to ratify the treaty with the Seneca Indians, it is not intended to express any disapprobation of the terms of the contract entered into by individuals who are parties to the contract, but merely to disclaim the necessity of an interference by the Senate with the subject matter.” Viewed by more than twenty senators as a private agreement between the Ogden investors and the Senecas, they apparently believed that no reason existed for them to interfere. So why vote? Makes no sense.

            Protests from Red Jacket, from the Quakers, and from others continued, however, and they finally had an effect. President John Quincy Adams ordered his secretary of war to conduct an investigation. Richard Livingston undertook the task. He conducted his investigation, and found evidence of considerable corruption and fraud at the treaty council.  According to Seneca informants, the interpreters at the council threatened the gathered Indians with removal if they refused to sell.  Jasper Parrish, an employee of the United States in Indian affairs, reportedly offered bribes to certain Senecas in return for signatures. As a result, the flawed treaty was never resubmitted to the senate, and it never received proper ratification.  Still, the damage had been done, and by doing nothing, the United States government in effect acquiesced in a fraudulent, unethical and illegal treaty that carved a huge gash of territory out of the Seneca estate.

If the Ogdens achieved their goals in the Genesee valley, they struggled in their efforts to acquire the four largest Seneca reservations. In an 1819 memorial that Thomas L. Ogden sent to President James Monroe, he referred to himself as the “proprietor” of the lands presently “occupied by the Remains of the Seneca Nation of Indians.”  Ogden, four years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. McIntosh, asserted that he was the titleholder to the remaining Seneca reservations in the state of New York, and the Indians mere occupants.

The Senecas did not share this view. Ogden wrote to Madison in the aftermath of Seneca refusals to sell their lands. Indeed the Senecas seemed uninterested in listening to the Ogden appeals to sell, and seem genuinely offended by the Ogden men.  In the Memorial, Ogden seemed surprised that the Senecas asserted “an unqualified title to the lands they occupy.” To prove their points, the Senecas produced their copy of the Treaty of Canandaigua, and cited it as evidence of their title to their lands. 

The Ogden Company’s position had supporters within the United States government. Shortly after Ogden’s memorial, Attorney General William Wirt wrote an opinion addressing the question of the Senecas’ land title.  He said that their right to the land, “however narrow,” was still “a title in fee simple” that the Senecas held as “a title of perpetual inheritance because it will be admitted on all hands that neither the present occupants nor their heirs so long as the nation subsists can be rightfully driven from their possessions.’ But that ‘fee simple’ title was qualified in some way, and Wirt saw it as “legal anomaly” because the Senecas, he believed, lacked the ‘right of alienation.” Wirt asserted that the Senecas had a right to lease as well as to sell their land, and he endorsed significant restrictions in the ways that Senecas might legally use their property.  He wrote, “They have no more right to sell the standing timber, the natural production of the soil as an article of traffic than they have to sell the soil itself.” Wirt believed that the Senecas might use their land for “the purpose of subsistence,” but not a type of property they might exploit, use or develop for their community’s good. Cutting and selling timber would “waste” or destroy the value of their reserves; therefore, not only was logging without the Senecas’ permission illegal—it was “a trespass against their right”—but even timber harvesting by the Senecas themselves or their lessees was prohibited because it violated the rights of preemption title holders.

However, Wirt’s view was not accepted by all inside the government.  Livingston, President John Quincy Adams’ appointee to investigate charges of bribery, corruption and coercion in the negotiation of the 1826 treaty, argued that “It cannot be that the Company can say to the Indians ‘when the right of preemption was granted[,] your Hunter condition was a Guarrantee to the purchasers that you should always remain wandering & never till the ground or cut the timber (which until recently was as valueless except to cover the game—as the game is now & could not have entered into the estimate at the time of the Purchase).’’ It is a fascinating statement.  Livingston recognized Seneca social and economic transformation, and the importance of land in that process.  The final article of the Canandaigua treaty provided an annuity to be paid in livestock, tools, and supplies to help the Indians make the transformation to an agrarian style of life similar to that of white American farmers.  Statements from Washington, Henry Knox, and many others echoed this desire.  Indians would stay on their lands, and in the eyes of the United States become “civilized.” 

Livingston believed that the Senecas were doing just that. “The Company seeks to restrict the Indians to their aboriginal use of their acknowledged right of occupancy. I assumed the liberty of telling the Indians that they had the right of occupancy in perpetuity unrestricted as to the mode of occupying and that as they had left the Hunter state & adopted the agricultural they had the right to fell their trees to make room for the plough—that it would be advancing their interests to do so—that the trees cut with such intentions would be theirs.”  Free use and enjoyment, right?  This is all spelled out in Livingston’s report on the 1826 treaty.

What, then, did the Senecas think that they were giving up in 1826? The Senecas understood that by relenting to the Ogden Company’s demands they would reduce the size of their reservations and allow additional white settlement in western New York. Again, think of your piece of paper. You have some circles remaining on that piece of paper, each representing one of the Seneca reservations, with much of the rest shaded gray.  I have tried to persuade you that in the Senecas’ view the reservations were for their exclusive use, lands that white people could not enter without their permission.  The rest, we have established, was land to which they granted white people access, but on which they retained the right to hunt and fish.   I have argued that this is something very close to ownership in the Senecas’ understanding of the land.  You have circles on that piece of paper and areas shaded gray. As a result of the 1826 treaty, you can erase all but four of those circles, increasing the gray area. Those represent the Genesee Valley reservations sold in the unratified 1826 treaty.  Of the four that remain, you can make each about a third smaller, reflecting the amount of land with which the Senecas ostensibly parted.  The four reservations remain land for their exclusive use.  The treaty said nothing about Seneca hunting and fishing rights, so they retained to the right to hunt and fish on the lands they supposedly had ceded.

Perhaps we are missing the larger point, the larger significance of what happened in 1826. The United States, after all, never ratified the treaty. There is no disputing this. The Secretary of War and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs both explained why they felt ratification was unnecessary, but their reasoning has frustrated historians ever since.  Even the Committee appointed in the 1880s to investigate “the Indian Problem” in New York State concluded that the 1826 treaty “was never ratified by the Senate of the United States, or proclaimed by the President, and the Indians have for a long time past claimed that the treaty was invalid for this reason.”

The Senecas who did sign the agreement made clear that they were either deceived or coerced into signing.  Those who agreed to the cession did so under duress. R. M. Livingston, who indicated that the combined population of Canawaugus, Squawky Hill, Big Tree and Gardeau was 448 in August 1826, collected depositions that make abundantly clear that the Senecas opposed sale of their lands until the company promised that it would ask them to sell no more of their lands if they assented to this sale.  An exception was apparently made, according to white people affiliated with the Ogdens, for the President, who could initiate discussions of a sale.  Jasper Parrish, in his deposition, stated that “among other things inducing them to sign the Treaty was an agreement by the Proprietors never to urge them to sell any more land.” 

In Livingston’s 1828 report, for instance, there are the following statements from Senecas:

*           William Jones, a “half blood (& interpreter to the missionary establishment), testified that “among other things inducing them to sign the Treaty was an agreement by the Proprietors never to urge them to sell any more land. Deponent thinks that the Donations aided in producing their assent to sell.” Jones was given $50 a year for life if he helped effect a sale. Jasper Parrish, who worked with the state, the federal government, and the Ogdens, said “that until the stipulation was signed by which the Indians believed themselves relieved from or secured against future importunities to sell, none of them signed the treaty.”

*           Captain Strong, a Cattaraugus chief, said “We understood that we were either to sell or remove.”

*           Chief Warrior, another Cattaraugus chief, said that Dr. Jimison “came and said he was sent up by Judge Forward, to inform the Chiefs that if they concluded not to sell, he would write on to the Sec’y of War, and there would be a road prepared for them to the Cherokee Nation. From that time they began to feel disposed to sell.”

*           Black Snake said the same thing in his deposition. “Forward told them that they had either to sell, or that a path would be opened for them to the Cherokee Country.  Greig told them that if they sold what was then wanted, the Company would never ask them to sell any more.” Black Snake assented to the sale “because they dreaded the thought of being removed.”

In the treaty itself, when it says that the Senecas retained the part of the reservations they did not cede “in as full or ample a manner as if these Presents had not been executed. Together with all and singular the rights, privileges, and appurtenances to the said, hereby granted premises, belonging or in any way appertaining and all the estate rights, title or interest, claim and demand whatever of them the said parties of the first part and of their Nation of in and to the said several tracts, pieces and parcels of land above describe except as above accepted.” The Senecas understood from the treaty that possession of their remaining lands would be undisturbed and unaffected by the sale. Livingston himself, in a letter to Secretary of War Peter Porter, indicated that the Senecas determination at the treaty not to sell their lands was viewed by the Ogden Company men as “an insuperable act of nonconformity to the will of government and the just claims of the Proprietors. The terrors of a removal enchained their minds in duress, and becoming petitioners in turn they submitted to the terms dictated—to sell a part to preserve the residue.”  The Senecas, Livingston continued, “esteemed” this guarantee to pressure them no more to sell lands as “a Guarantee for the quiet enjoyments of the residue of their lands.”

Let’s jump ahead. We will move more than a century forward. We will move past the State of New York’s concerted efforts to allot Seneca lands and dismantle Seneca families by placing their children in boarding schools, like the Thomas School, which remained open into the latter half of the 1950s. We will move past many of the state’s efforts to skim the cream from whatever fragile prosperity that came to Seneca lands. Frustrated by the determination of the Senecas and other Haudenosaunee peoples to hang on to their lands, their culture, and their systems of governance, the state’s leaders successfully lobbied Congress to enact legislation to limit the power of New York’s Indigenous nations. The resulting legislation, known as the “Spite Bills” of 1948 and 1950, extended state criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indigenous lands in New York State. This occurred at the beginning of a period in American Indian policy known as the Termination Era.  But even these laws, which did what Haudenosaunee people had feared for so long, recognized an important point: while extending its criminal jurisdiction over Indigenous nations, the law provided “that nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to deprive any Indian tribe, band, or community, or members thereof, hunting and fishing rights as guaranteed them by agreement, treaty or custom, nor require them to obtain state fish and game licenses for the exercise of such rights.”

            A final point. A couple of years ago, Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s first appointment to the United States Supreme Court, ruled in a case called McGirt v Oklahoma that treaty rights can never lapse, expire, or disappear because of the mere passage of time. Over many years, the Supreme Court held that Congress possessed plenary authority over Indian affairs.  Treaty rights exist, in other words, until Congress decides to exercise its plenary power to do something specific and unambiguous to make those treaty rights go away. I have in this essay tried to show you that these rights existed, that they extended beyond reservations, and that Congress has done nothing to abolish or repeal these rights. They still exist.

            New York became the Empire State through a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession. In places, this process violated federal law. Dispossession was not a product of conquest. It was not inevitable. Nor was it the American Nation’s “Manifest Destiny.” In places it was quite simply a crime against the laws of the United States. Even when the United States acquired lands in a manner that was “legal,” the practices deployed by the land companies and their allies will repel people of conscience. They used deceit and coercion.  Nobody who has looked at the historical record will deny this.  We who own land in this state, as a result, are the beneficiaries of an unjust process of dispossession. We have run up an enormous debt. The question, for me, really is not a matter of whether or not this debt exists, but what am I, and what are you, going to do about it.  You can pass laws proscribing the teaching of certain subjects. You can dismiss this as “woke” history, as some have done.  But that’s chicken shit.

It’s not an answer. It’s not an argument. It’s an abdication, and an admission, in my mind, of complicity in a crime that too many people are too unwilling to talk about.


Haudenosaunee History, Spring 2024

It has been many years since I last taught the history of the Iroquois, even though nearly all of my research the past ten years has been focused on them. During the Obama years, I offered this course every fourth semester or so but, more recently, I moved in other directions because there were so many other demands on my teaching time. That is what I told myself. The truth is that I find this an immensely challenging course to teach. It is directed towards juniors and seniors, but few of them will have had any previous exposure to Haudenosaunee history. Upper-division courses in Geneseo’s History Department tend to be more narrowly focused, but this course covers five hundred years of history. It is a paradox, a challenge, and frankly it is intimidating to teach. There is loads of bad information about the Haudenosaunee. I want to make sure that what I expose the students to is of value. I offer them little more than a sampling of a rich, diverse, and complicated history, and after a long time away from teaching this course, I am eager once again to face the challenges it presents. I would love to hear your thoughts. I am sure I am not the only history professor who feels daunted by the gravity of the subject they teach.

After all, students at Geneseo could have seen this Territorial Acknowledgment in one of the athletic buildings. New York students learn hardly anything about Indigenous peoples, their history, and their culture.

History 465                  Iroquois History from Prehistory to Present        Spring 2024     

Instructor: Michael Oberg

Meetings, MW, 10:30-12:10, Bailey 246


Office: MW 12:30-1:30, Doty 208


Required Readings:

Roger Carpenter, The Renewed, the Destroyed, and the Remade, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004).

Laurence M. Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State,   (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

Michael Leroy Oberg, Peacemakers: The Iroquois, the United States, and the Treaty of Canandaigua, 1794, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009)   

Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Readings online and on Brightspace

Course Description:

            In this course we will cover the history of the native peoples who formed the Iroquois League and Confederacy, from the time of their first contact with Europeans through the present-day controversies that occur across the state.  We will look at the formation of the League, the consequences of Iroquois involvement in the European Wars of Empire, and the rapid dispossession of the Iroquois in the decades that followed the American Revolution.  We will look at the application of various government policies in the United States and Canada to the Iroquois, and how the Iroquois have reacted to and adapted to these changes.  Throughout, we will keep in mind the different histories of the constituent Iroquois communities that occupy present-day New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Canada.

            Your grade for the course will be based on the following assignments: 

  1. Journals: On seven occasions during the semester I will read your journals.  I want you to think about what you are reading and write about that experience. You will submit your journals on Brightspace. You should plan on writing a minimum of 300 words a week. DO NOT SUMMARIZE OUR CLASS DISCUSSIONS.  DO NOT SUMMARIZE THE READINGS. I hope you will take this assignment as an opportunity to reflect upon what you are reading in class and to discuss the things you wish that we had a chance to discuss in class, or to say what you wanted to say during one of our class meetings. Use your journal as an opportunity to reflect on the contents of one of the documents you have read. Show me that you are thinking about the material we cover in our readings and in the classroom.  Discuss the challenges you are confronting as you work on your research paper. Write each entry in the spirit of an essay, with a thesis and evidence to support your reasoning.  The due dates—always on a Friday, always on Brightspace—are listed below
  2. Research Paper: I expect all students enrolled in this course to complete a research paper of approximately 15-20 pages in length, based upon primary source research and a thorough grounding in the secondary source literature.  I urge you to visit with me regularly during office hours as the semester progresses, to ensure that your research project develops as it should. You will work on your paper in stages, completing preliminary assignments along the way towards the completion of a final draft. Those components are as follows:

a). Question and Sources: In this one-page paper, you will state the question you hope to investigate for your research paper. You should list the sources you think you will need to answer that question in a bibliography that follows the format of the Turabian Manual. Due on Brightspace February 5th

b). Topic Statement: A more-refined and specific statement of the topic you would like to research and the sources you will need to answer your specific historical question.  Due on Brightspace, February 19th.

c). Thesis statement and outline. Due on Brightspace, April 1st.

d). Hard Copy of Draft to be turned in at end of class on April 22nd.

e). Hard Copy of Final Paper, due on May 8th at end of class period.

I will write extensive comments on your written work.  I will ask you challenging questions, offer what I hope you will view as constructive criticism, and encourage you to push yourself as a writer and a thinker. But I will not give you grades, in the traditional sense, on this work. I want you to benefit from this course. On the date of our first meeting, we will discuss the standards for the class.  You and I will work together to arrive at a set of expectations for the sort of work that will earn a specific grade.   In your final journal, and in individual meetings scheduled during Finals Week, we will discuss how well you think you did in meeting the agreed upon standards, and what your grade for the course ought to be. A proposed grading framework can be found, below.

  • Participation: I assign a large quantity of reading.  I expect each of you to participate regularly in our class discussions. To receive a strong grade in this course, you must speak up in class. The discussion questions, below, are intended to serve as a guide to help you with the reading assignments.  If you are able to answer these questions, you should be able to participate without much difficulty. Participation is much, much more than attendance.

A Note on Phones: I ask that all cellphones be stored during the entirety of our class meeting.  If you expect an important call that just cannot wait, please inform me before class. Otherwise, I expect you to refrain from using your cellphone and I expect you to keep it out of sight. Please be present in mind and body. Much of the reading for this course will be online or available on Brightspace. You will need to bring your laptop to class, but I expect you to use it for class-related work only.  Students who violate these policies will be asked to leave the class.

Lecture/Discussion Schedule

22 January        Introduction to the Course: The Importance of the Iroquois

Reading: Carpenter, Renewed, xi-xxii; Preston, Texture, Acknowledgments, and Introduction; Oberg, Peacemakers, Acknowledgments and Introduction; Hauptman, Conspiracy, Preface; Simpson, Mohawk, Acknowledgments and Chapter One. Visit some of the websites of Iroquois communities in New York State, such as:

            Seneca Nation of Indians

            Onondaga Nation

            Cayuga Nation

            Oneida Indian Nation

            St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Also worth your time is the web project entitled Chenussio: An Indigenous History of Livingston County. If you know nothing about the history of the Iroquois, the “Overview of Seneca History” might be useful (the sections are meant to be opened left to right, beginning on the top row). It focuses only on the Senecas, but the larger themes will be important for you to know. Be sure to click on the Livingston County First Nations Sites on the landing page, to learn a bit more about the area in which you are studying.


For Discussion: What do you know to be true about the Iroquois in New York,  Canada, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma?  What do you learn about the scholars you will be reading this semester from reading the front matter in their books? What are your thoughts about the grading agreement at the back end of the syllabus? Do you feel it is fair and, if not, in what ways might we work together to improve it?

24 January        Tales of Creation

Reading:  Carpenter, Renewed, Chapter 1; Kuhn and Sempowski, “A New Approach to Dating the League of the Iroquois,” American Antiquity, 66, No. 2, (April 2001), 301-314; Christopher Vecsey, “The Story and Structure of the Iroquois Confederacy,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 54 (Spring 1986), 79-106; John Arthur Gibson, Concerning the League: The Iroquois League Tradition as Dictated in Onondaga, ed. And trans, Hani Woodbury, in collaboration with Reg Henry and HarryWebster. Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. Memoir No. 9, (Winnipeg, 1992). (All on Brightspace).

For Discussion: What are the key elements, concepts, and values that emerge from the creation stories of the Iroquois? What are the most important themes in the Deganawidah Epic? How did the League form and how does that information help us understand the Iroquois League?

29 January        The League and Early European Contacts

Reading: Carpenter, Renewed, Chapter 2; David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 317-342; Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, “A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634-1635,” in In Mohawk Country: Early Narratives about a Native People, eds. Dean R. Snow, Charles T. Gehring, and William A. Starna, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996) (on Brightspace)

For Discussion:  How did Iroquois apply the lessons and values of the Deganawidah Epic in their relations with other peoples? How would you characterize exchange and trade between Iroquois people and the early European settlers? Was it primarily an economic relationship, or something else?  What thesis is Carpenter arguing?

31 January        The Destruction of Huronia

Reading:Carpenter, Renewed, Chapters 3-4, 8-9. (You should skim Chapters 5-7  closely enough that you understand how the French in general, and the Jesuits specifically, altered the Wendat thought world. We will come back to Chapters 5-7 in detail later).

For Discussion:  What significance do we attach to the Iroquois warfare that took place between 1634 and 1649?  

2 February       Journal 1 Due on Brightspace

5 February       The Mourning Wars

Reading: Daniel K. Richter, “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience,” WMQ 40 (October 1983), 528-559; Jose António Brandǎo, “Iroquois Expansion in the Seventeenth Century: A Review of Causes,” Native American Studies, 15 (2001), 7-18 (Brightspace).

Question and Sources Due! On Brightspace

For Discussion: In what ways do Richter and Brandǎo differ in their interpretation of Haudenosaunee warfare in the second half of the seventeenth-century?

7 February       The Covenant Chain

Reading: Jon Parmenter, “After the Mourning Wars: The Iroquois as Allies in Colonial North American Campaigns, 1676-1760,” William and Mary Quarterly, 64 (January 2007), 39-76

For Discussion: How did the Covenant Chain alliance benefit the Five Nations? How did it benefit the English?  Did it benefit certain English more than others?  What was the nature of this alliance? How did it work? How important is the Covenant Chain for understanding the history of European colonialism in 17th Century America?

12 February      Christians and Iroquois

Reading:  Carpenter, Renewed, Chapters 5-7; Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 1; The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America, ed. Allan Greer, (Boston: Bedford, 2000), Chapters 6-7.

For Discussion: What did it mean to the Jesuit Fathers for one to be a Christian?  How did the Jesuit Fathers view the religion of the Five Nations and the Wendats? Be prepared to discuss the nature of Iroquois Christianity.

14 February      To the “Grand Settlement” of 1701

Reading: Brandao, J. A. and William A. Starna, “The Treaties of 1701: A Triumph of Iroquois Diplomacy,” Ethnohistory, 43 (Spring 1996), 209-244.

 For Discussion: What was the significance of the treaties of 1701? 

16 February       Journal 2 Due on Brightspace

19 February      The Haudenosaunee and the English Empire in America

Reading: Oberg, Peacemakers, Chapter 1; Parmenter, “’L’Arbre de Paix’: Eighteenth-Century Franco-Iroquois Relations,” French Colonial History, 4 (2003), 63-80.

For Discussion: Are the eighteenth-century Iroquois best characterized as subjects of the English empire or as allies of the Empire? How does one best characterize the functioning of the Covenant Chain? How would you characterize the Haudenosaunee relationship with New France?

Topic Statement Due!

21 February      Brother Onas

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 3

Kurt A. Jordan, “Seneca Iroquois Settlement Pattern, Community Structure, and Housing, 1677-1779,” Northeast Anthropology, 67 (2004), 23-64.

For Discussion: Describe the Importance of Pennsylvania to the Iroquois.

26 February       Economic Life in Iroquoia in the Middle of the Eighteenth Century

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 2                  

For discussion: Last time we briefly discussed Kurt Jordan’s important archaeological work on Seneca settlement patterns.  Based on your reading of Preston, how would you characterize the relationship of Iroquois peoples with the larger colonial economy? Are they dependent on the colonists? Did they manage to preserve a degree of autonomy in their relations with outsiders?  How does one characterize this “frontier”?

28 February      The Albany Congress and Mounting Tensions in Pennsylvania

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 4; Levy, “Exemplars of Taking Liberties.”

For Discussion:  Haudenosaunee people emphasize the importance of the Covenant Chain. Are they correct to do so? What were the sources of conflict for Iroquois peoples in the middle of the eighteenth century?

1 March            Journal 3 Due on Brightspace

4 March           The Great War for Empire

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapters 5-6

For Discussion:  What were the causes of Great War and how did the conflict between France and Great Britain for control of North America impact Haudenosaunee peoples in the Ohio Country, Pennsylvania, and the western parts of today’s New York?

6 March           The Haudenosaunee and the American Revolution

                        Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Epilogue; Oberg, Peacemakers, Ch 2.                      

For Discussion: To what extent was the American Revolution a civil war for the Six Nations?  What factors influenced the reactions of Iroquoian peoples to the outbreak of fighting between American Patriots and British soldiers? In what ways did the Revolution matter to the Iroquois? Was it a significant event? Did it merely continue the assaults on Iroquois lands that began long before the Revolution?  In what ways did the Revolution impact the Iroquois?

Spring Break

18 March          The Post-Revolutionary Diaspora

Reading: Oberg, Peacemakers, Chapters 3-8 and Appendix.

For Discussion: How did the State of New York and the United States claim and exercise jurisdiction over the Iroquois homeland?  How would you characterize federal Indian policy in the years immediately following the American Revolution? How significant an accomplishment was the Treaty of Canandaigua?

20 March          New York’s Assault on Iroquois Land

Reading:  Oberg, Peacemakers, Chapter 9 and Conclusion; Hauptman, Conspiracy, Introduction, Part One

For Discussion:  To what extent was New York engaging in illegal activity when it seized native lands? What was New York’s interest in the dispossession of the Iroquois? What factors made the Iroquois particularly susceptible to attempts to dispossess them? What happened at the treaty council held in 1795? How do you account the willingness of the Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas to sign treaties ceding land to the state of New York?

22 March           Journal 4 Due on Brightspace

25 March          Seneca Land

Reading: Hauptman, Conspiracy, Chapters 7-8; Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Iroquois, reprint ed., (New York: Citadel Press, 1962), Part II, Chapter III

For Discussion: What was Handsome Lake’s message? Of what elements did it consist of? What changed as a result of Handsome Lake’s teachings? What, to Dennis, is the fundamental importance of the Handsome Lake religion?

27 March          Seneca Land, Continued

Reading: Hauptman, Conspiracy, Chapters 9-10

For Discussion:  Why did the Senecas agree to sell their land?  Describe the nature of the relationship between Quaker missionaries and the Seneca Indians. How did the Senecas make use of the Quakers’ message? What did the Quakers and Senecas hope to achieve through their relationship with the other?

1 April              The Iroquois and Indian Removal

Reading: Oberg, Professional Indian: The American Odyssey of Eleazer Williams, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), Chapter 3, Brightspace.

For Discussion: What force or forces were most responsible for the “removal” of the New York Indians?

Thesis Statement and Outline Due!

3 April              The Seneca Revolution of 1848

Reading: Henry Schoolcraft’s Notes on the Iroquois, Chapter One; Documents on the Seneca Revolution.

For Discussion:  To what extent was the Seneca Revolution consistent with the new Seneca Nation’s understanding of its earlier treaties with the United States?  How significant an expression of Iroquois sovereignty was the new Seneca Nation government? Indeed, what is the meaning of the Seneca Revolution?

5 April              Journal 5 Due on Brightspace

8 April              Solar Eclipse—No Class.

10 April             The Iroquois and the Civil War

                        The Thomas School and Carlisle

Reading:  Laurence Hauptman, The Iroquois in the Civil War: From Battlefield to Reservation, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), Chapter One; Carlisle Student Records, available here. Under the “Nation” pull-down menu, search for student records from the Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Mohawks and Cayugas.  Read at least five student files.  What can you learn about the Iroquois experience at Carlisle from these records?

For Discussion: The involvement of native peoples in the American Civil War has been an understudied aspect of this important event in American history. How did Iroquois peoples respond to the outbreak of the American Civil War? Was the Civil War actually an event for Haudenosaunee peoples? What impact did it have upon them?

15 April            The Legal Status of the Six Nations: Allotment, the Kansas Claims, and the Everett Commission

Reading: New York State Legislature.  Assembly Doc. No. 51.  Report of the Special Committee to Investigate the Indian Problem of the State of New York, Appointed by the Assembly of 1888, 2 vols. (Albany: Troy Press, 1889) (excerpts); Arthur C. Parker, “The Legal Status of the American Indian;” Everett Commission Report, pp 2-14

 For Discussion: Many Haudenosaunee see the Everett Commission Report as a document of great significance.  Why?

17 April             Citizenship and the State

Reading: Sidney L. Harring, “Red Lilac of the Cayugas: Traditional Indian Law and Culture Conflict in a Witchcraft Trial in Buffalo, New York, 1930,” New York History 73 (1992), 65-94; Indian Citizenship Act (1924); Indian Reorganization Act (1934); Documents on Death Feasts (All on Brightspace).

For Discussion: Who killed Cothilde Marchand, and why should we care? Why did the Iroquois, in general, oppose the Indian Reorganization Act?

19 April            Journal 6 Due on Brightspace

22 April            Iroquois in the Era of World War II


At the New York State Library website, look at one of the following documents. All of them relate to issues facing the Haudenosaunee during the Second World War and are influenced by federal debates about the policy of termination, and whether or not the State of New York ought to have criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian reservations in New York State.

1). Public Hearing had at Salamanca, New York Court Room, City Hall, August 4-5, 1945.

 2).  Public Hearing had at Thomas Indian School, Cattaraugus Reservation,  N.Y., Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1943

3).  Hearing Before the Joint Committee on Indian Affairs on Thursday, Jan. 4, 1945 at Ten Eyck Hotel, Albany, N.Y.

For Discussion:  Based on your skimming of the above documents, and your close reading of one of them, how would you characterize the challenges facing the Iroquois during the early 1940s?

Hard Copy of Draft Due!

24 April            GREAT DAY: No Classes

29 April            The Haudenosaunee in the Post-War Era

Reading Laurence Hauptman, “Where the Patridge Drums: Ernest Benedict, Mohawk Intellectual as Activist,” in Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008). We will watch together in class “Lake of Betrayal,” a film about Kinzua Dam and the flooding of the Senecas’ Allegany Reservation.

For Discussion: Based on the three essays I have asked you to read, how would you describe the principal issues facing the Mohawks and Senecas in the post-war era?  How would you characterize Seneca and Mohawk responses to the challenges they faced?

1 May               The Six Nations and Red Power

Reading:  Hauptman, “The Iroquois on the Road to Wounded Knee,” in The Iroquois Struggle for Survival: World War II to Red Power, 1986); “Basic Call to Consciousness;” Film, “Lake of Betrayal.”

For Discussion:  What has the era of “Self-Determination” meant to the Six Nations? What significance do you attach to Iroquois efforts to recover their stolen lands?

3 May               Journal 7 Due on Brightspace

6 May               Haudenosaunee Nationhood

Reading: Simpson, Mohawk, Chapters 2-4

For Discussion: What obstacles to a meaningful nationhood still face the people of the Longhouse?

8 May               Final Class Meeting: Indigenous Nationhood in the Future

For Discussion: Finish reading Simpson, Mohawk; Town of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005).

Term Papers Due!

14 May             8:00-11:20. Final Exam Period: Individual Meetings to discuss your final grade.

A Note on the Term Paper:

            Our humble temporary library contains an extraordinary amount of material for conducting research in Iroquois history.  Most importantly, we have a copy of the Iroquois Indians Microfilm Collection, compiled in the 1980s by the Newberry Library in Chicago. This fifty-reel collection includes copies of nearly every important document related to Iroquois relations with outsiders, a vast collection covering the period from the early seventeenth- through to the end of the nineteenth century from libraries throughout North America and Europe.  Using the Iroquois Indians Microfilm collection has spared me the necessity of making numerous research trips to Albany, Ottawa, and Buffalo.  We subscribe to many of the journals and own many of the books mentioned in the excellent bibliographies included in the back of the Hauptman, Taylor, and Shannon books (Richter’s bibliography is excellent as well, though his book is now a bit dated—he is a great place to start, but you will need to look elsewhere).   For those of you interested in the Revolutionary period, we have the entire run of the Papers of the Continental Congress. The library’s Genesee Valley Collection is especially strong on the history of the Senecas, as is the phenomenal range of materials housed at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.   The Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester has many of the materials that our library does not have.  Many papers documenting early relations between the United States and the Six Nations can be found at the “Century of Lawmaking” website at the Library of Congress. Both the New York State Library and the New York State Archives, on their respective websites, have made an intriguing selection of documents readily available to those who cannot travel to Albany to conduct research. Additionally, I have copies of the federal records dealing with the Iroquois through the middle of the nineteenth century. These I will put on reserve should any of you be interested.  And with Google Books and the resources placed online by the New York State Archives and New York State Library, an enormous amount of primary source material is readily available to you.  Indeed, the most important New York State collections of documents (the Hough Collection, the Whipple Report, and the Everett Report) are all available online.  The “Digital Turn” in the Humanities has resulted in large numbers of archival and manuscript collections being placed online.  It is easier to do significant research than ever before.  But only if you start early, work diligently, and seek help in overcoming the roadblocks you inevitably will face.

            If you have no idea what to choose as the topic for your research paper, I encourage you to look at websites like INDIANZ.COM, and use the search feature to look up articles that have appeared in North American newspapers in recent months on Iroquois communities. Consider the individual New York Iroquois communities, or the Oneidas in Wisconsin or the Seneca-Cayugas of Oklahoma.   Perhaps you could look into the historical background of some present-day controversies.  You can also read through Volume 15 of the Smithsonian Handbook of Americans, located in the reference section of our library. Included are a number of useful articles on the history of the Iroquois League, and of the different Iroquois communities in New York, Canada, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.  The listing of primary sources in this old handbook is still quite useful, and reading it can give you a thumbnail sketch of Iroquois history and perhaps focus your attention on something you would like to investigate further.  If none of these endeavors pan out, please feel free to read ahead: perhaps some of the readings that we will discuss late in the semester will suggest to you lines of inquiry that would make for a fine paper. I have compiled a 600+ page annotated bibliography on Onondaga Nation history.  I have placed a copy of that bibliography on my departmental webpage.

            The best advice I can give you about the research paper is to stop by during office hours, email me, or talk to me after class.  You probably cannot have too much guidance, and I encourage you to visit with me if you have any concerns about the research paper. If this class goes according to plan, you will produce a research project that we both learn from, and I am more than willing to help you achieve that goal. Do not hesitate to ask for help.  AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!  The most successful students decide upon and begin work on a narrowly focused and well-conceived project early in the semester.

Integrative and Applied Learning Outcomes at SUNY Geneseo: Your research project and journal writing are intended to develop in you the following skills:

  • Structured, Intentional, and Authentic Experiences​: Integrative and applied learning experiences should include a course syllabus or learning contract between parties and should have hands-on and/or real-world elements.
  • Preparation, Orientation, and Training​: Integrative and applied learning experiences should include sufficient background and foundational education and should include expectations that are expressed as learning outcomes that structure the experience and ongoing work.
  • Monitoring and Continuous Improvement​: Integrative and applied learning experiences should include in-experience mechanisms for feedback, course correction, quality monitoring, and evaluation of progress towards the state learning outcomes.
  • Structured Reflection​: Integrative and applied learning should include opportunities for students to self-assess, analyze, and examine their experience and to evaluate the outcomes. Reflection should demonstrate relevance and should form connections with previous experiences and/or future planning as well as a demonstration of one of Geneseo’s core values: Civic Engagement, Sustainability, Inclusivity, Learning, or Creativity.
  • Evaluation​: Students must receive appropriate and timely feedback from the project organizer.

Some Potential Term Paper Topics For Those Who Need Suggestions

*           The history of a particular Jesuit Mission to a particular Haudenosaunee Nation.

*           The dispossession treaties of 1788 or 1795.  You cannot do all the treaties well, but you could do a very good paper on one of the individual treaty councils.

*           The 1924 Citizenship Act

*           The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act

*           The Mid-Twentieth Century “Spite Bills” that extended New York’s jurisdiction over the Iroquois.

*           Onondaga Death Feast controversies in the 1920s and 1930s.

*           Efforts to allot Haudenosaunee land carried out by New York State late in the 19th century

*           The Haudenosaunee and the United Nations. You will want to narrow this down, but there is a story to tell here.

*           Deskaheh (Levi General) and the League of Nations.

*           Haudenosaunee students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School

*           Chenussio in the 17th or 18th century.

*           Onondagas and efforts to clean up Onondaga Lake, for a time the most polluted body of water in North America.

*           19th-century agriculture on Haudenosaunee reservations in New York.

*           The Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1838.  There are a number of things here you might focus on.

*           The death of Big Tree early in the 1790s.

*           Urban Iroquois: Haudenosaunee people in Buffalo, Rochester, or Syracuse.

*           Haudenosaunee circus performers, late 19th, early 20th century.

*           The “Indian Village” at the New York State Fair.

*           The Everett Report

*           The Whipple Report

*           The Rise of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team as an international force.

*           Commemorations of important events in Iroquois History in Geneseo, Livingston County, or your hometown.

*           None of these appealing? Let’s talk.

Indigenous Law and Public Policy, Spring 2024

The new semester begins next week. I spent a chunk of time this winter break updating the syllabus, making changes to the reading list, and what I hope will be successful adaptations to the new challenges teaching in the Post-Covid era presents. I am posting this in hopes that someone out there will find it of value or interest.

History 262    Indigenous Law and Public Policy               Spring 2024

Professor: Michael Oberg

Meetings:   MW, 8:30-10:10, Welles 225

Office Hours:  MW, 12:30-1:30 Doty 208.




Required Readings:

Taiaiake Alfred, It’s All About the Land: Collected Talks and Interviews on Indigenous Resurgence, (2023).

Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier, (2005)

Daniel Cobb, Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America since 1887, (2015).

Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, (2015)

Luke Lassiter, Clyde Ellis, and Ralph Kotay, The Jesus Road: Kiowas, Christianity, and Indian Hymns, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002)

Readings online.

News Articles in online sources like

Court cases and documents as per syllabus.

Recommended Podcasts:

            This Land, Seasons 1 and 2.

            Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo.

            Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s

            Stolen: The Search for Jermaine

            5-4: Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta

            5-4: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Recommended Movies and Television Shows

            “Reservation Dogs,” 3 Seasons, HULU

            “Little Bird,” 6 episodes, Amazon Prime

            “Wind River,” Movie

            “Killers of the Flower Moon.” (Movie)

            “Frybread Face and Me” (Movie)

Course Description:   This course will provide you with an overview of the concept of American Indian tribal sovereignty, nationhood, and the many ways in which discussions of sovereignty and right influence the status of American Indian nations.  We will look at the historical development and evolution of the concept of sovereignty, the understandings of sovereignty held by native peoples, and how non-Indians have confronted assertions of sovereignty from native peoples.  We will also examine current conditions in Native America, and look at the historical development of the challenges facing native peoples and native nations in the 21st century.

A Note on Grading:  Your work this semester will consist of Participation, Journals, Quizzes, and a Final Paper.

1). Participation is much more than attendance. I view my courses fundamentally as extended conversations and these conversations can only succeed when each person pulls his or her share of the load.  You should plan to show up for class with the reading not just “done” but understood; you should plan not just to “talk” but to engage critically and constructively with your classmates.  Our conversations will depend on your thoughtful inquiry and respectful exchange.  We are all here to learn, and I encourage you to join in the discussion with this in mind.  Obviously, you must be present to participate. Please have all assigned readings available when we meet. The reading load in this course is quite heavy. It will challenge you to keep up. If you have trouble with the reading, please let me know.  You obviously will be able to participate in classes with the most success when you complete the reading.

2). Journals: On seven occasions during the semester I will read your journals.  I want you to think about what you are reading, and I want you to write about that experience. You will submit your journals on Brightspace. You should plan on writing a minimum of 300 words a week. DO NOT SUMMARIZE OUR CLASS DISCUSSIONS.  DO NOT SUMMARIZE THE READINGS. I hope you will take this assignment as an opportunity to reflect upon what you are reading in class and in terms of current events, to discuss the things you wish that we had a chance to discuss in class, or to say what you wanted to say during one of our class meetings.  Show me that you are thinking about the material we cover in our readings and in the classroom.  Show me that you are keeping up with current events in Indian Country. Use the journals as an opportunity to educate yourself on issues in Native America that matter to you. Write each entry in the spirit of an essay, with a thesis and evidence to support your reasoning. For inspiration, you might read the news on INDIANZ.COM,  National Native News, Native News Online, Indian Country Today, and CBC Indigenous for Canada, and the National Indigenous Times for Australia. In addition, I would like you to follow news on one Native Nation.  You can set up a news alert on Google News, and stories will appear in your inbox whenever they occur. You can find a list of federally recognized Indian Nations here.  Some Indigenous nations receive more coverage than others.

3). Quizzes: To assess the extent to which you all are keeping up with the readings, I will administer a brief quiz most class periods consisting of five questions.

4). Final Paper: Your paper should be approximately 15 pages in length.  You will take the role of an adviser to a new President.  Your assignment is to advise this President on Indian policy.  In your paper you will do the following:

1). Identify what you see as a major problem or problems in Native America today that you believe the President should tackle during her or his administration.

2). Explain briefly the historical origins of this problem and how and why previous solutions have either failed to address it or ignored it entirely.

3. Offer a thoughtful, plausible, and realistic path towards solving this problem, and       justify it legally and constitutionally.

4. Have at least 30 sources in a thorough bibliography that includes each of the following: news articles, government documents, reports from agencies working with indigenous peoples, and works by scholars who study these issues published in academic journals and books.

5. Format the paper according to the guidelines spelled out in the Turabian Manual. Write the paper with careful attention to grammar, style and substance.     

With any of these assignments, I encourage you to visit with me during office hours if you have any questions.  You should be clear on what I expect from you before you complete an assignment.  The door is open.  If you cannot make it to my office hours, please feel free to contact me by email and we will find another time. Many questions can be answered, and problems addressed more effectively in person during office hours than by email.

I will write extensive comments on your written work.  I will ask you challenging questions, offer what I hope you will view as constructive criticism, and encourage you to push yourself as a writer and a thinker. But I will not give you grades, in the traditional sense, on this work. I want you to benefit from this course. On the date of our first class meeting, we will discuss the standards for the class.  You and I will work together to arrive at a set of expectations for the sort of work that will earn a specific grade.   In your final journal, and in individual meetings scheduled during Finals Week, we will discuss how well you think you did in meeting the agreed upon standards, and what your grade for the course ought to be. A proposed grading framework can be found, below.

A Note on Phones: I ask that all cellphones be stored during the entirety of our class meeting.  If you expect an important call that just cannot wait, please inform me before class. Otherwise, I expect you to refrain from using your cellphone and I expect you to keep it out of sight. Please be present in mind and body. Much of the reading for this course will be online or available on Brightspace. You will need to bring your laptop to class, but I expect you to use it for class-related work only.  Students who violate these policies will be asked to leave the class.

Discussion and Reading Schedule

22 January       Introduction to the Course: The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Reading: Banner, How, Introduction, Chapter 1; The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).    

24 January       Native Nations in the United States

                        How to Read a Supreme Court Case

                        Reading: Articles of Confederation, Article IX; United States Constitution; Northwest Ordinance (1787); Federal Trade and Intercourse Act (1790); Treaty of Canandaigua (1794); Rights of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada;  Banner, How, Chapters 1-3

29 January       The Marshall Court and the Definition of Native Nations

Reading: Johnson v. McIntosh (1823); Banner, How, Chapters 4 and 5. If you are interested in a comparative perspective, I encourage you to look at Stuart Banner’s article, “Why Terra Nullius? Anthropology and Property Law in Early Australia,” Law and History Review, 23 (Spring 2005), 95-131, available on Brightspace.

31 January       The Expulsion Era

Reading: Documents on Jacksonian Indian policy (Brightspace); Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831); Samuel A. Worcester v. State of Georgia, (1832); Banner, How, Chapter 6.

Journal 1 Due.

 5 February      The Reservation System

Reading: Ex Parte Crow Dog; Major Crimes Act (1885) and US v. Kagama  (1886); Banner, How, Chapter 7.

7 February       The Policy of Allotment

Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 19-49; Banner, How, Chapter 8;Talton v. Mayes (1896); Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903); United States v. Celestine (1909)

12 February     The Indian New Deal

Reading: Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 54-93; Banner,  How, (finish book) and the Indian Reorganization Act,  1934.

14 February     The Termination Era

Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 97-106, 115-123; HCR 108; Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States (1955).

Journal 2 Due

19 February     Williams v. Lee and the Modern Era of American Indian Tribal Sovereignty

 Reading: Williams v. Lee (1959); Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal   Council (1959).

21 February     The Era of Self-Determination

Reading: McClanahan v. Arizona Tax Commission, (1973); Morton v. Mancari (1974); Alfred, “Constitutional Recognition and Colonial Doublespeak;” “The Psychic Landscape of Contemporary Colonialism.”

 26 February    Red Power

Reading: Cobb, Nations, 124-188; Alfred, “On Being and Becoming Indigenous.”

 28 February    The Supreme Court’s 1978 Term, Congress and Tribal Sovereignty

Reading: US. v. Wheeler (1978); Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (1978);     Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978); Legislative Packet (Brightspace)

                        Journal 3 Due.

4 March           The Power of Tribal Governments

Reading: Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe (1982); Duro v. Reina, (1990Atkinson Trading Company v. Shirley (2001); US v. Lara (2004)

6 March           The War on Native American Children and Families

Reading:  Margaret Jacobs, “Remembering the ‘Forgotten Child’: The American Indian Child Welfare Crisis of the 1960s and 1970s,” American Indian Quarterly 37 (Winter/Spring 2013), 136-159 (Brightspace); Brackeen v. Haaland (2023).

This would be a good time to listen to Season 2 of the “This Land” podcast hosted by Rebecca Nagel

Journal 4 Due

18 March         Jurisdiction and Sovereignty in the 21st Century

Reading: McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020); Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, (2022). Listen to 5-4 Podcast episode on the Castro-Huerta decision.

20 March         #MMIW #MMIWG

Reading:  Watch this advertisement from the Native Women’s Wilderness, and this one from the United States Office of Justice Programs/Office for Victims of Crimes; Absorb as much of the following as you can: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls, (Seattle: Urban Indian Health Institute, 2017); a PBS NewsHour report featuring Abigail HenHawk, who oversaw the Urban Indian Health Institute report; National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  (Explore the website, read the summary of the 2019 Final Report); the report from the Trump Administration’s “Operation Lady Justice”; and President Biden’s Executive Order 14053 from November of 2021.

Search on Twitter using the hashtags #MMIW and #MMIWG.  The podcast on the disappearance of Jermain Charlo would fit well here. Give it a listen, if you are able to find the time.

25 March         Sexual Violence in Indian Country

Reading: Deer, Rape.  We will discuss the book in its entirety.  You will want to begin reading well in advance.

27 March         Issues in American Indian Religion 

Reading: Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990); Lyng v. Northwest Cemetery Protective Association (1988).  Please watch on your own “The Silence,” a PBS documentary on one small Catholic Church in Alaska.

1 April             Issues in American Indian Religion: Christianity in Indian Country

                        Reading: Lassiter, Ellis and Kotay, The Jesus Road, (entire book).

                        Journal 5 Due

3 April             Issues in American Indian Education: Boarding Schools and their Legacy

Reading:  Gord Downie, “The Secret Path.”  I would also like you to go to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School online project.  You can find the website here.  Your assignment is, first, to read Louise NoHeart’s student file (Brightspace) and then to read a minimum of at least 5 additional student files from the Indigenous Nation you have been following this semester (or a related Nation)(Ask for help if you are not clear on how to do this!) In general, for each student there is an information card and a student file. Read both of those and search for the student’s name in the newspapers and other documents.  What do you learn about those students’ experiences at Carlisle? Be prepared to discuss what you found.

Please spend some time as well with the ArcGIS project from the University of Windsor looking at Canadian Residential Schools and this nine-minute report by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

8 April             No Class—View the Eclipse.

Reading: “Come to Geneseo, Give Us Money, Look at the Sky.”

10 April           Mascots and Other Forms of Appropriation

Audra Simpson, “Indigenous Identity Theft Must Stop,” Boston Globe, November 17, 2022; Darryl Leroux, “State Recognition and the Dangers of Race Shifting,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 46 (no. 2, 2023) (Brightspace).

15 April           Economic Development and Poverty in Indian Country

Reading: California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987); National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) website.

                        Journal 6 Due

17 April           The Land and its Loss: The Consequences of Dispossession and Environmental Degradation

Reading: City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005); Stephanie H. Barclay and Michalyn Steele, “Rethinking Protections for Indigenous Sacred Sites,” Harvard Law Review, (forthcoming, on Brightspace).

22 April           Resistance: IDLA to Red Lives Matter, Idle No More

Reading: Watch Film: “You Are On Indian Land;” Cobb, Nations, 203-250; Lakota Law Project, Native Lives Matter; Jonah Raskin, “Red Lives Matter,” Tablet Magazine, October 10, 2021. You can also read my report about the death or Reynold High Pine in 1972; Jason Pero in Wisconsin and Colten Boushie in 2018; Please also look at the Idle No More website and read about this Canadian movement.

24 April           GREAT DAY—NO CLASSES

29 April           Health and Well-Being in Native America

Reading: Indian Health Service, “Disparities,” Updated October 2019; Linda Poon, “How ‘Indian Relocation’ Created a Public Health Crisis,” Citylab, 2 December 2019; Mohan B. Kumar and Michael Tjepkema, “Suicide Among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, 2011-2016),” Statistics Canada, 28 June 2019; Rural Tribal Health Overview, May 2022; Prabir Mandal and Jarett E. Raade, “Major Health Issues of American Indians,” 28 June 2018

1 May              What Is To Be Done?

Reading: Alfred, “Reconciliation as Recolonization;” “From Red Power to Resurgence;” “You Can’t Decolonize Colonization”

Final Paper Due

6 May            What is to be Done? (Continued)

 Reading: Harold Napoleon, Yuuyarq: The Way of the Human Being, (Fairbanks, AK:  Alaska Native Knowledge Network, 1996); Alfred, “Rooted Responsibility.”

                      Journal 7 Due

8 May              Final Class Meeting

16 May            Final Exam Period, 8:00-11:20: Individual Discussions to consider your final grade.

Learning Outcomes.  This course fulfills the requirements for Diversity, Pluralism, and Power​: Students understand (i) the diversity of identities that characterizes the United States; (ii) the ways in which systems of power lead to different outcomes for members of diverse groups; (iii) the reasoning and impact of one’s personal beliefs and actions; and (iv) how to participate effectively in pluralistic contexts (e.g., by communicating and collaborating across difference). It also fulfills the requirements for World Cultures and Values​: Thus Students will strive to (i) understand systems of value and meaning as embodied in one or more cultures from different regions of the world; and (ii) assess interconnections among/across local and global systems and cultures. Courses in this category engage extensively with the past and/or present in cultures outside Europe and the United States (though they may also engage with content from cultures located within those regions, e.g., Native/Indigenous cultures).

Dear Members of the Hiring Committee…

Please, have some class.  Please keep in mind that there are scores of people who probably could do your job just as well as you do in the eyes of your students, but who will never get the chance because of the cruelties of the academic job market.  I have some former students and friends applying now, and the callousness with which they are treated is truly appalling.

When I began applying for jobs a long time ago, the system was very different from today. Credentials stuck in files at the AHA, or mailing in letters and a CV with letters of recommendation to follow. All carried out through the U.S. Mail. Administrators and their so-called efficiencies have changed the way we conduct searches.

My campus, like many, uses an online employment system. Applicants upload the documents we ask for (a letter, a CV, and a statement of teaching philosophy). The system generates automatic emails acknowledging receipt of the applicant’s materials. If we let it, the system will also generate automatic emails informing applicants that they did not get the job. This is the default setting, and too many of you choose to operate that way.  Think for a second how you would like to be treated.

It seemed so harsh and disrespectful to me, and so inhumane, that I chose to buck the system the last time I had an opportunity to conduct a search. These spineless robo-mails, or no message at all, have become the norm, after all. Applicants can be forgiven for feeling chewed up and spitted out, scorned and abused. It takes a lot of work to apply for an academic job. The opportunities are few and the stakes are high. An automatic email seems an unnecessarily callous ending in a world filled with callousness.

We must do better.

So as our last search reached its conclusion, I sent sixty-one emails personally, one to each of the applicants. It took a bit of time, but not much. I wanted the applicants to know that I appreciated the time and effort they put into their applications. I acknowledged the rottenness of the job market, and how I wished we could have interviewed more people. I told them how impressed my colleagues and I were with their credentials, and how difficult a time we had narrowing the applicants to a number of candidates we could meaningfully interview.

I expected nothing in response, but thirty-one of the applicants replied to my email. This surprised me. Though one was gently and reasonably critical of the time the search took, all were appreciative and thanked me for treating them with courtesy and respect. All of them either said, or strongly implied, that such minimal courtesy is all but unheard of in today’s academia.

I spend a fair amount of time on social media, so I read a lot from recent Ph.D recipients describing their searches for a tenure-track job. I hear from former students and friends. These are tales of desperation, despair and depression, and frustration and anger, with not a few instances of shabby treatment by hiring institutions along the way. We who are lucky enough to be tenured or on the tenure track must, and can, do better. Writing a personal message is only the start.

Decency matters.

Decency matters so much that it is worth the extra effort to treat job applicants as you would like to be treated. Yes, the market was brutal when I went out thirty years ago, but it is much worse now. Believe recent graduates when they tell you that.

We must recognize that we are so fortunate to have the jobs we have. Colleges and universities, I know, as workplaces can vary widely in quality. I spent the first four years of my career at a dysfunctional hellhole in Billings, Montana. But even in the midst of the shit-show that was that college, I enjoyed my students, the teaching, and the advising. I enjoyed the moments I squirreled away to work on my first book. Once I closed the classroom door or my office door, I was happy.

And even if you feel justified in whining about your place of employment, remember this: there are literally hundreds of people who would like to do what you are doing, but will never get that chance. This brutal reality imposes upon all of us the obligation to be the best historians and teachers we can be. You must remember, no matter how good you think you are at this work, no matter how paradigm-shattering you consider your research, it is almost certain that there is someone better than you, shut out by the brutality of the academic job market. One of my colleagues at the dysfunctional hellhole, who doubled as an associate pastor at a local Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, told me during my on-campus interview that being a college professor was the best part-time job in the world. I suspect that we all know people who take this approach to academia, who do not produce or take their teaching seriously, but I can think of no attitude more loathsome and disrespectful to the many hundreds of talented historians who will never get a chance.

We cannot undo all the macroeconomic changes in higher education. I recognize the magnitude of the fiscal challenges facing colleges and universities. But let’s push back against the increasing bureaucratization of the job search and the increasing role played by computers in the hiring process. Perhaps you have an Ivy-League pedigree, and you feel your research is so important that you cannot be bothered to pay attention to the lowly peons who want to join your department. Perhaps you went to a second-tier school and never looked back. Whoever you are, wherever and whatever you studied, there is no excuse for not being kind. Resist every institutional protocol, and every barrier, that keeps you from treating job applicants the way you would like to be treated. If you are that barrier, and find that you cannot find the time to treat applicants with decency, perhaps you ought to step aside. Be kind and be decent. Most of all, show compassion. It matters.

What You Need to Read, December 2023

The fall semester has come to a close. There is a brief respite between the madness of the holidays and the beginning of the spring semester to take stock, see what is out there, and decide what to place on the reading list. As always, each quarter I can find plenty of stuff that interests me. I hope you find some interest in what is included here, and if I have missed something you think should be on the list, please let me know.

Abram, Susan. “Chess, Not Checkers: The Complexities of Historic Creek Diplomacy,” Diplomatic History, 47 (November 2023), 890-893.

Allread, W. Tanner. “The Specter of Indian Removal: The Persistence of State Supremacy Arguments in Federal Indian Law,” Columbia Law Review, 123 (October 2023), 1533-1610.

Archer, Seth. “Vaccination, Dispossession and the Indigenous Interior,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 97 (Summer 2023), 255-293.

Carlos, Ann M. “They Country They Built: Dynamic and Complex Indigenous Economies in North America before 1492,” Journal of Economic History, 83 (June 2023), 319-358.

Cooke, Jason: “Savagery Repositioned: Historicizing the Cherokee Nation,” American Indian Quarterly, 47 (Spring 2023).

Dorries, Heather and Michelle Daigle, Land Back: Relational Landscapes of Indigenous Resistance Across the Americas, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2024).

Dubcovsky, Alejandra. Talking Back: Native Women and the Making of the Early South, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2023).

Dwider, Maraam A. and Kathleen Marchetti, “Tribal Coalitions and Lobbying Outcomes: Evidence from Administrative Rulemaking,” Presidential Studies Quarterly, 53 (September 2023), 354-382.

Evans, Laura E. “The Strange Career of Federal Indian Policy: Rural Politics, Native Nations, and the Path Away from Assimilation,” Studies in American Political Development, 27 (October 2023), 89-110.

Fitz, Caitlin. “The Monroe Doctrine and the Indigenous Americas,” Diplomatic History, 47 (November 2023), 802-822.

Fixico, Donald L. “That’s What They Used to Say’: Reflections on American Indian Oral Traditions, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2023).

Foxworth, Raymond, and Carew Boulding, “How Race, Resentment, and Ideology Shape Attitudes about Native American Inherent Rights and Policy Issues,” Political Research Quarterly, 76 (December 2023), 1843-1856.

Goeman, Mishauna. Settler Aesthetics: Visualizing the Spectacle of Originary Moments in The New World, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2023).

Gone, Joseph P. “Indigenous Historical Trauma: Alter-Native Explanations for Mental Health Inequities,” Daedalus, 152 (Fall 2023), 130-150.

Gonzalez, Michael. “The Enduring Flame: Stress, Epigenetics, and the California Indian, 1769-2000,” American Indian Quarterly, 46 (Fall 2022).

Haefeli, Evan. “The Great Haudenosaunee-Lenape Peace of 1669: Oral Traditions, Colonial Records, and the Origin of Delaware’s Status as Women,” New York History, 104 (Summer 2023), 79-95.

Harris, Craig. Rise Up! Indigenous Music in North America, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2023).

John, Randy H. and Alicia Puglionesi, “The Most Valuable Lands: Seneca Oil, Seneca’s Oil, and the Struggle for Land Rights at the Birthplace of an Industry,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal,  46 (no. 2, 2023), 1-28.

Johnson, Tai Elizabeth. “The Shifting Nature of Subsistence on the Hopi Indian Reservation,” Agricultural History, 97 (April 2023), 215-244.

Kantrowitz, Stephen. Citizens of a Stolen Land: A Ho-Chunk History of the Nineteenth-Century United States, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2023).

Kenmille, Agnes Oshanee. Agnes Oshanee Kenmille: Salish Indian Elder and Craftswoman, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2023).

Krupat, Arnold. From the Boarding Schools: Apache Students Speak, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2023).

Lee, Wayne E. The Cutting-Off Way: Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500-1800, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2023).

Leroux, Darryl, “State Recognition and the Dangers of Race Shifting: The Case of Vermont,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 46 (No. 2, 2023), 53-84.

Lloyd, Dana. “Haaland v Brackeen and the Logic of Discovery,” U.S. Catholic Historian, 41 (Summer 2023), 95-115.

Marshall, Stuart. “Dividing the Carolinas: Indians, Colonists and Slaves in the Prerevolutionary Boundary Dispute, 1763-1773,” Early American Studies, 21 (Winter 2023), 42-86.

May, Roy H., “’I Did Get Along with the Indians’: Joseph Hugo Wenberg, Missionary to the Aymara, Ponca, and Oneida, 1901-1950,” Methodist History, 61 (no. 1, 2023), 22-34.

McCutchen, Jennifer Monrie. “’They Will Know in the End that We are Men’: Gunpowder and Gendered Discourse in Creek-British Diplomacy, 1763-1776,” Ethnohistory, 70 (July 2023).

Midtrød, Tom Arne. “’A People Before Useless’: Ethic Cleansing in the Wartime Hudson Valley, 1754-1763,” Early American Studies, 21 (Summer 2023), 428-459.

Miron, Rose. Indigenous Archival Activism: Mohican Interventions in Public History and Memory, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2024).

Murray, Laura J. “’We are the Ones that Make the Treaty’: Michi Saagiig Lands and Islands in Southeastern Ontario,” Ethnohistory, 70 (July 2023).

Olson, Greg. “A ‘Rebellious District and Dangerous Locality’: Cherokee Soldiers and Refugees in Neosho, Missouri, 1862-1863,” Missouri Historical Review, 117 (July 2023), 235-253.

Peterson, Anna “’A Desire to Learn’: Native American Experiences in Lutheran Colleges, 1945-1955,” American Indian Quarterly, 47 (Winter 2023), 26-69.

Riggs, Brett H. “The Return of Standing Wolf,” North Carolina Historical Review, 100 (April 2023), 157-187.

Shannon, Timothy J. “In the Bushes: The Secret History of Anglo-Iroquois Treaty Making,” New York History, 104 (Summer 2023), 53-78.

Shrake, Peter. “Stambaugh’s Treaty,” Wisconsin Magazine of History, 106 (Spring 2023), 24-37.

Smith, Lindsey Claire. Urban Homelands: Writing the Native City from Oklahoma, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2023).

Stockel, H. Henrietta. Salvation Through Slavery: Chiracahua APaches and Priests on the Spanish Colonial Frontier, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2023).

Theobald, Brianna, “Dobbs in Historical Context: The View from Indian Country,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 97 (Spring 2023), 39-47.

Van de Logt, Mark. Between the Floods: A History of the Arikaras, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2023).

Vigil, Kiara. “Language, Water, Dance: An Indigenous Meditation on Time,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 44 (no. 1, 2023), 168-182.

Voigt, Matthias Andre. “Warrior Women: Indigenous Women, Gender Relations, and Sexual Politics within the American Indian Movement and at Wounded Knee,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 46 (no. 3, 2023), 101-130.

Trauma-Informed Teaching in Native American History

In conversations with colleagues across the country at the American Society for Ethnohistory meeting in Tallahassee, one thing we all agreed on was that our students seem to be reading less, and reading less closely. Participation in class discussions had declined, as had attendance.  I was disappointed in myself in that I had not succeeded in breaking through, in getting students to engage with the material and do the reading, but I was reassured, I guess, that I as not alone. Still, I had to try something new. 

It went really, really well.

We were discussing some particularly brutal stories from the Plains Wars during the Civil War Years, beginning with the Dakota Uprising in Minnesota and closing with the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. They could read about both events in Native America, but I wanted them to go deeper into the material.  I recently read a fantastic article by historian and artist Taylor Spence called “Rethinking the Colonial Encounter in the Age of Trauma.” He is a great historian. His essay appeared in a really useful volume entitled The Routledge Companion to Global Indigenous History. Both the article and the book are well-worth your time. Spence suggested to me a new way to teach this subject, a trauma-informed approach that could lead students to feel deeply the impact of the events they were reading about.  Following Spence’s lead, I assigned them Waziyatawin’s “Grandmother to Granddaughter: Generations of Oral History in a Dakota Family,” which appeared in the American Indian Quarterly back in 1996. Waziyatawin (Angela Cavender Wilson) wrote a searing piece of family history. I suggest you try it in your courses.

Waziyatawin’s grandmother, Elsie Cavender, had received a story from her grandmother that she shared late in life.  She told Waziyatawin of the family’s forced march after the Dakota Uprising, and how soldiers, in an act of irrational and senseless violence, murdered Elsie’s great-great-grandmother. It’s a brief essay, and Elsie Cavender’s account is roughly a page and a half.  I asked my students to tell me what happened. They gave me a competent summary of the story.  The Dakotas were marching towards imprisonment at Fort Snelling.  They confronted white people in towns “where the people were real hostile to them.” They white people threw rocks, and poured scalding water on them.  They camped at night, living on rotten provisions provided by the army.  They marched onward. They moved too slowly.  The soldiers grew angry, and stabbed Elsie’s Grandmother’s grandmother with a saber. She bled to death on a bridge. When her family returned later, the body was gone, but they saw dried blood on the wooden planks.

I told the students I wanted more. Go deeper. Summarizing what you read, after all, is no great achievement. Spence suggested that the students attempt to imagine deeply what it would have been like to be present when those soldiers murdered an elderly woman for no reason at all. So I told them to think of their senses. If they were on the bridge where the killing took place that day, what would they have seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt?

My students jumped into the assignment. You would smell the rotten provisions the soldiers distributed, one student observed. The relentlessly irritating sound of the squeaky wagon wheel, another pointed out. They would have heard that. The dust, the sight and smell and sound of the cattle would have been difficult to miss.  They were rolling now, but they were staying away from the violence.  It took them a bit, but they got there. The soldiers’ profanities, their angry, barking orders in a language the Lakotas did not understand; the screams in response to unbelievable and senseless violence; the blood pouring from a mortal wound.


We had spoken early that day about the reliability of oral testimony as evidence. One student predictably and appropriately suggested that it might be like the old game of Telephone, as a story changes as it is passed from one hearer to another. But think of each of the sensory events you just identified, I told the students.  I asked them to think of their earliest memories. What made those memories particularly powerful? Each of them, individually, affected the senses in a memorable fashion.  Each was easily capable of etching itself into the minds of successive generations of storytellers. The events that Waziyatawin recalled for us, I suggested, were of the sort that would not be easily forgotten.

We are not supposed to teach history in a way that makes our students feel bad about who or what they are. We should not make them feel guilty or uncomfortable about the past. That is what lawmakers in a growing number of red states have demanded. They have proscribed the teaching of certain topics. They have singled out the 1619 Project, and the histories of slavery, and racism, as topics that should not be taught in ways that make white people feel uncomfortable. These right-wing politicians have said much less about Native American history, but clearly they would be bothered by things I teach in my classes: the Paxton Boys, for instance, or the massacre at Gnadenhutten. These politicians are calling for an education fit for sociopaths. They want students to feel nothing but love of country.

My students felt badly about the history they read that day.  Again, some of them had tears in their eyes. When they read Silas Soule’s account of Sand Creek, in which he describes the mutilation of dead Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children, well, they felt this as well.

            But here’s the thing. They felt badly, to be sure, but they did not feel ashamed of their race. They did not feel guilty or responsible for the crimes of the past. This is what the Republican dingbats miss.  My students felt connected to people very different from them who lived a century and a half ago. They understood the meaning a past event at a much deeper level than they may have done previously, and the emotions were heavy indeed.  They grieved. They had, I would argue, learned a lot.  I sent a message to Dr. Spence to tell him how well his class exercise went, how much my students learned, and how thankful I was for his good work.

Let’s say you are walking down a crowded city street.  Your foot catches a person walking in front of you, and they trip and almost fall. Without thinking, if you are a decent person, you apologize. You are not debasing yourself when you do this. You worried that you might have hurt somebody, that they could have fallen and been injured. It’s not about you. You apologize because you are not a dick, because you care about other people, because you worry that your actions could have caused for someone pain or sorrow. You say you are sorry because you felt sorrow.

I have thought about this a lot when I teach. Why do we say sorry? I want my students to appreciate the past on its own terms, to feel a connection to the people they read about.  The students in my class obviously could not undo the past.  They could not apologize or express their sorrow to the Dakota woman murdered on that bridge. But they did understand something at a deeper level than they might otherwise have done, and that made them wiser and more capable of understanding other people.  They felt empathy. And they cared about this particular piece of the past more deeply that they would have done if I had merely told them about the Dakota Uprising and Sand Creek. They may not remember much of my class a couple of years from now but I am confident that they will remember this.

SUNY: Where BIPOC Too Often Means BPOC

Discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion on too many college campuses are shallow and ineffective when it comes to Indigenous people. For instance, Ricardo Nazario-Colón, SUNY’s Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, recently sent out a memo to SUNY campuses across the state, with his thoughts on the importance of Native American Heritage Month.

            “We should take this moment,” he writes, “to recognize the profound contributions, rich cultures, and interminable spirit of the First Peoples of this land.” Nazario-Colón wants to remind his SUNY colleagues “of the deep-rooted connections we all share with the Earth and each other.”

            Some of your students will read this and ask, “who could possibly object to that?” Your Indigenous students are likely to ask, “Who’s We?”

            Dr. Nazario-Colón, like me, is an employee of a state that systematically stole Indigenous lands; dragged Indigenous children off to a boarding school that did not close until the late 1950s; sought to eradicate Indigenous languages, culture and religion; and attempted to destroy and dismantle the League of the Iroquois. New York could not have become the Empire State without a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession that at times explicitly violated the laws of the United States. SUNY, as an institution, resisted late until the last century the efforts of Haudenosaunee people to secure sacred objects squirreled away in its collections. Nazario-Colón implicitly accepts the monstrous logic of Justice Ginsburg’s Sherrill decision. Yes, we took your land, but it happened too long ago for us to worry about now.

            Dr. Nazario-Colón hopes that “in our journey to deepen our own understanding and acceptance across differences” that we will strive to identify “the core values, emotions, and aspirations we all share.” Doing so, he believes, “fosters unity, solidarity, and a sense of common purpose.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it is far too limited, and Dr. Nazario-Colón has in effect written a perfectly tepid settler-colonial manifesto that fills every square on your DEI Bingo Card. We stole your land. We attempted to destroy your culture. We denigrated your religion. Our Founding Fathers invaded your homelands, burned your towns, raped your women, and murdered your children. We openly and enthusiastically forecasted your extinction and looked forward to your disappearance as a people. If New York had its way, its Indigenous population would no longer exist. But, Hey, let’s get along! Maybe we can even have some “Reconciliation”! But we will not talk about our lies, our crimes, and agreements we have broken. We will not talk about the corruption, deceit, bribery, and dishonesty employed by the State officials who extracted cessions of Indigenous land.

The Worst Territorial Acknowledgment in the history of the world recently was visible at SUNY Geneseo. It is covered now.

Let’s all get along. Let’s make sure we “see” each other. We may celebrate the “indomitable spirit” we tried to crush, but we will not do any of the heavy lifting, really, to make things right. “We want to learn about you,” Dr. Nazario-Colón suggests. “We want to treat you well.”

“We want our lands back,” Indigenous people might reply. We want SUNY to be a welcoming space for Indigenous peoples, with free tuition, room, and board, and a commitment to hiring Indigenous faculty. We want you to put up or shut up.  There have been some exceptions—at SUNY-ESF for example, or with the University at Buffalo’s exciting Indigenous Studies program. But SUNY, as in institution, has shown little interest in any of this. It never really has, and most campuses, like mine, have administrators in charge of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging who do nothing meaningful about this issue.

The problem, of course, is bigger than Dr. Nazario-Colón. His message nevertheless reflects the emptiness and ineffectiveness of so much DEI rhetoric on college campuses, where too few people in too many positions of power at too many schools know way too little about Indigenous peoples, their histories, and their cultures. As a non-Indigenous scholar writing and teaching the history of Indigenous peoples, I find the result galling and offensive, especially on a campus like mine, where we are so closely connected historically to New York’s drive to dispossess and drive Senecas, Oneidas, and Tuscaroras out of the Genesee Valley. You might say that SUNY favors that sort of equity and diversity that costs it nothing, that they are bargain-basement crusaders too cheap to make a real difference. But it’s not about money. It would have cost Dr. Nazario-Colón nothing, after all, to do the work to write a message worth the time it takes to read. The real problem is that they have always been satisfied with gestures empty and performative. The real problem is that they have never adequately shown that they care.