Dr. Lawrence Hauptman (distinguished professor of history at SUNY New Paltz) and Joe Heath (general counsel for the Onondaga Nation) continued the Collaborative Educational Series at Syracuse Stage on July 11, 2006 sponsored by NOON.
Dr. Hauptman began the night sharing his work form his book Conspiracy of Interests. He outlined how New York State was in financial disarray after the American Revolution. The many battles that had occurred in New York left it a war-torn area and greatly hindered the state’s ability to pay their soldiers for their service.
The leaders of the state came up with a plan of payment to their soldiers, Haudenosaunee land. Governor Clinton established military tracts as a form of payment. The land needed to be surveyed in order to set up the maps for the soldiers. The surveyors saw our waterways and the “great salt lake” and a plan were formulated for the taking of our lands.
Back then, salt was a prized commodity as it was the only way to preserve food and meat; there was no refrigeration. In order for the State to get to Onondaga Lake and then transport the salt to the eastern cities, a canal system was envisioned. The State then didn’t tell the soldiers that a canal system was to be built but there was land for them near the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga Lakes. The soldiers, who didn’t see how they would be able to reach these lands in the frontier, and who could not afford to wait years for the land, sold their tracts of lands to the speculators for pennies and acre. The land speculators, Dr. Hauptman points out, were the relatives of the State officials planning the canal and salt industry who were about to take Haudenosaunee lands.
General counsel Joseph Heath then spoke about a very disturbing trend in the courts handling of natives in North and South America: the Discovery Doctrine. The Discovery doctrine was issued (in the 1400s) by the pope, which stated when encountering non-Christian people, that Christians have the authority (political and territorial) over the people living there. This doctrine was used at first during the Crusades in Europe to spread the power of the church then it crossed the ocean to effect native peoples.
This old papal bull has found its way into the US courts. It first appeared in the US Supreme Court in the 1820s. Unfortunately for the Haudenosaunee, this reasoning from the medieval times is being used as the legal excuse for why the State has the jurisdiction to take over Haudenosaunee Lands, that there were no Christians living here when the white settlers arrived. Joseph Heath explained how his teachers from the Onondaga Nation were weary of the courts and how unfair and racist they are. Mr. Heath stated that he hopes for a change in ruling that will favor the Onondagas and the Nation’s lawyers, historians and leaders are working hard for that change.
Joseph Heath outlined how the State has avoid the land claim issue and how they might do the same with the Onondaga Land Rights case. First they will state that they are immune from legal action. They will assert that New York State is a sovereign entity and cannot be sued. Secondly, the state will argue that latches should apply to the Onondaga case because of the Sherrill and the Cayuga cases. Joe Heath went on to explain that the courts are supposed to judge on the letter of the law and to find justice or what is fair. Therefore a party that broke the law cannot also benefit from it’s own mis-deeds because this would not be fair or just.
The courts ruled that latches apply to Sherrill and the Cayugas cases by stating that it would not be fair or just to NYS to find equitable resolution after 216 years of illegal occupation (the so called “treaties” made after the 1790 Trade and Intercourse Act). Joe Heath noted that it is important to know that the courts did not reverse the 1985 decision that the state had knowing violated federal law, treaties and the Constitution when it took Haudenosaunee lands, but there is no fair or just way for the State to compensate the Haudenosaunee nations.
Joe Heath noted that the ruling not only bewilders lawyers working on the Oneida and Cayuga cases but also lawyers and law professors from across the country are up in arms. These legal experts are not coming to the defense of the Haudenosaunee per se, but are speaking out against the prescient of the “bad law” that was written for these cases.
Joe then asked the audience to look to the statement that the Onondagas used to begin their land rights suit. That the Onondaga people look for “healing” between our communities and our mother earth that we share. He asked the people in the audience to go out and talk to their local and state representatives to promote change and dialogue between the NYS and the Onondaga Nation.
Next up in the series is Oren Lyons as he discusses racism and the United Nations on September 11, 2006.