“Brothers we will not pick a side” – my thoughts on war and history

I’m not one to just totally believe everything that I read especially when it comes to Haudenosaunee history. Especially on the internets. (And yes I used the Bush-ism on purpose.) Once I read on an American public school website how the Grade 6 class were learning about the mighty Iroquois squirrel clan, and how all the papooses were blessed by the mighty squirrel spirit to be mighty hunters and mighty hunters wives. Those poor kids were drawing pictures of brown people wearing coloured feathers and eating acorns, bowing down to this huge squirrel! The school proudly uploaded the artwork to their website, displaying them for parents to view.

I remember catching that online and having a good laugh to myself. I took it a step farther and was imagining how if I was there I would have celebrated the mighty victory over actual history by letting out a war whelp, pounding out a good tune on the tom-tom and sending smoke signals to my ‘cousints’ in the next village saying, ‘Hey man, get over to the school ASAP. There’s acorns and papooses – Squirrel God is here and everything. They’re honoring us dude!’

This weekend I was again scouring the internet on our history. This time reading up about my ancestors’ journey from their homelands to Grand River territory, I stumbled upon a quote from the Oneida Nation to Governor Turnbull in 1775.

Great Britain and the Colonies were at war, both vying for the Haudenosaunee people to join up and take a side in the battle for dominion over North America. When the US asked the Haudenosaunee to officially take a side here is how the Oneida Nation replied. “We are unwilling to join on either side of such a contest, for we love you both – old England and new. Should the King of England apply us for our aid – we shall deny him – and should the Colonies apply – we shall refuse”.

Dare I say it was a bold declaration of neutrality! In the wake of being surrounded by pure war the Oneidas stood up and said, ‘we love you’s both so we ain’t pickin’ a side homies.’ Or as the now-viral Polish meme says, ‘not my circus, not my monkeys.’ And put into perspective it was a circus indeed. Two different societies show up on the shores of Turtle Island and engage in a battle of dominion over it. Could you imagine if two people showed up at the doorstep of your house, came to rent rooms and then a few years later engaged in a battle for your entire house? First they start fighting over the kitchen, then there’s an all out war for the bathroom and rights to the toilet?

I guess I’m feeling really think-y about war, history, and propaganda lately. Wondering what do I really think about all of this ‘third war’ and ISIS talk in my face via the mainstream media. We now know that the United States betrayed their part in the treaties they initiated with the Haudenosaunee. To the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy no less. One of the largest documented attacks on indigenous people in the history of the United States was when George Washington sent 5000 soldiers to eradicate Onondaga. That act of war divided the Confederacy and we became a nation scattered throughout the US and Canada left to fend as broken families with a good dose of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This made our people vulnerable to the process of colonization, and permitted the building of a racist empire over our scorched villages and cornfields.

North of the newly established border, our British allies won the war with our help, subjugated our people, promised us a bunch of rewards for “loyalty” and dumped the unwanted work of upholding those promises on the shoulders of “Canada.” Who, irritated with the extra work and determined to breed us out of existence put us in residential schools and on reserves!

Now, I’m not one to make predictions especially on the pessimistic side of things. But as I watch the chess pieces move into place and knowing our Haudenosaunee history I’m starting to hear those internal alarm bells go off. Alliances, getting other nations to fight your battles, and media propaganda right now seems eerily familiar to the vilification of “Indian savages”.

I’m not saying this is fact, but my personal experience as a Haudenosaunee person causes me to question any war against terror. The thwarted version of history painted my grandfathers as terrorists as well. What if non-militant Islamic people there are crying out the same as our grandfathers? “Brothers we will not pick a side – for we love you both”. How would we know? Do they get a choice even? Or will nations who choose not to engage in the battle be the collateral damage on the way to building a democratic “terrorist-free” Middle East? And if so – will the heavy hand of imperial morality now cover our eyes to be the exact harm that was done to our grandfathers?

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