How England and Canada worked against Six Nations

SIX NATIONS – In Part No. 2 of our series, “The Remarkable Life and Times of Deskaheh” we take a closer look at Cayuga Chief Levi “Deskaheh” General.

We trace correspondence through documents housed in the Archives of Canada, as well as personal letters to and from the Chief and between General and lawyer George P. Decker, while in England.

There was also correspondence between Deskaheh and lawyer William Henry Stoker that reveal the fire-storm this smallish, very normal looking man was creating for then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie-King at a time when Canada was seeking its own nationhood, apart from England.

As far back as 1921, intergovernmental letters and memos were circulating about the troublemaker from Six Nations.

“I feel sure that a perusal of this statement (one prepared to counter General’s claims) will satisfy you that the matter is one that comes wholly within the scope of internal administration,” wrote M.P. Charles Stewart in a memo concerning Six Nations’ issues of sovereignty and its desire to be accepted as members into the brand new League of Nations.

Stewart went on to write to Stoker, Deskaheh’s British lawyer, “…There does not appear to be need of any action abroad in connection with the propaganda of Mr. General.”

Despite fulfilling all of the requirements needed for international recognition as a sovereign entity, England and the Crown of Britain controlled the league at that time and stonewalled Deskaheh and Decker’s efforts as Canada was at that time only recognized as a colony of Britain and did not meet these requirements, but were admitted anyhow.

It would have created far too many legal challenges to allow the Iroquois into the league since Canada was already rewriting history with regards to its relationship with Six Nations. It would be a huge embarrassment to Mackenzie King and to Britain itself, should that be allowed to happen.

The request as well as Six Nations’ many other complaints against Canada was returned to Duncan Scott to deal with by then Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill.

A young Winston Churchill played a role in depriving Six Nations of its rights as a nation. Submitted photo
A young Winston Churchill played a role in depriving Six Nations of its rights as a nation. Submitted photo

It was now 1924, and Deskaheh’s past three years or more were dedicated to finding justice for his people, at the expense of his own health. A letter explaining the refusal of the League to hear the complaints of Deskaheh was sent to him by Stoker on March 8, 1924.

Stoker wrote to Deskaheh on the 18 of December 1924, requesting payment as agreed to. He and Decker were both being paid by the Confederacy Chiefs at the same time it would appear, and there may have been others.

Stoker was upset with Deskaheh and was looking for payment for his services.

“I think the time has arrived for me to ask you what I am to do about my fees subsequently to you retainer and the settling in conference with yourself and Mr. Decker …” He offered to settle for a onetime, all-inclusive payment for his efforts of Six Nations behalf. Stoker complained that Six Nations had also employed the services of two other councils to work the case, besides Decker, and yet he had not been paid yet.

This is one of more than a few times the clash of cultures, motive, personal styles and world-views derailed, or at least diminished, Deskaheh’s effectiveness. The weight of the beurocracy of the whiteman was too much to bear sometimes and he would bypass certain proper channels and make arbitrary decisions that at time alienated himself from those who initially supported his claims.

The first League of Nations member that Decker and Deskaheh won the support of was Holland. Deskaheh targeted the Netherlands based on the Two Row Wampum agreement made between them in or around 1613, which they still honour.

According to author Karl S. Hele, “On April 26, 1923, the Netherlands requested that the Iroquois petition be placed before the League of Nations Council. Following Britain and Canada’s response, written largely at Duncan Campbell Scott’s direction, the secretariat of the League presented the petition but failed to place it on the agenda for discussion.”

Britain had tremendous influence on the new League of Nations and they were not about to back the Iroquois petitions if it meant Canada, and therefor Britain itself, might look bad in eyes of the League. Pressure was placed on not only the Netherlands, but on several other countries that were persuaded by Deskaheh to support their claims of injustice at the League.

Estonia, Persia, Ireland, Panama, and some historians say that list may have also included Cuba who all requested that the League grant Six Nations formal membership after hearing Deskaheh and Decker’s arguments for nationhood.

But the support vanished after Deskaheh’s presentation was quietly slid off the agenda during the last session of the 1924 session. By the time the League of Nations gathered again, all of these states had withdrawn their support under obvious political pressure.

The Remarkable Life and Times of Deskaheh continues next week.

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