Today happens to be Canandaigua Treaty Day. It's been 222 years since the Six Nations and the American government officially made peace. Every year representatives of the Six Nations gather on the lawn of the Ontario County Courthouse with a representative of the US government to commemorate the signing of the treaty.
Given that the signing of the treaty will (probably?) be central to the third installment of Heli's story, I thought I'd better go and see how it all turned out. The Treaty of Canandaigua is thought to be the oldest treaty between the government and Native Americans still in effect, and the government is still obligated to provide $4,500 in "goods" annually to the Six Nations. According to a great article from Indian Country Media Network,
No stipulation was made in the treaty for inflation, so over the past 217 years the U.S. has gone from providing enough flowered calico for tribal members to sew their own clothes to sending enough cotton to make a pair of drapes, to today’s allotment, which provides roughly one foot of muslin cloth per citizen.
It is surreal to jump forward in your brain by two hundred years and see a future your characters couldn't have imagined. In their time, George Washington was in his second term, the Constitution had only been ratified six years earlier, and the British were hanging out in Canada waiting for the colonials' absurd attempt at a country to fall apart. It was not clear that it wouldn't. Today, there was palpable concern that the nation was once again facing that danger.
I stupidly neglected to write down the name of the first speaker, but he brought up the comparison that some have made between Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson. The comparison was intended, I think, as a compliment. Naturally, the Six Nations are unlikely to be thrilled that the President-elect is being compared to the architect of the Trail of Tears. A descendant of Timothy Pickering, who was Washington's negotiator in Canandaigua, said that she happened also to be related to Donald Trump and (in a foreboding tone) that she would be getting in touch with him. The speaker then said wouldn't it be nice if the President of the United States came to the 225th anniversary of the treaty to reaffirm it!
Pause for laughter.
He went on to talk about "the strength that will be required of us not to be fooled by what is said in the media and to understand what is taking place," and mentioned a word that Washington used in his message to Congress asking them to ratify the treaty: "tranquilize."
It was deemed proper on my part to endeavour to tranquilize the Indians by pacific measures.
This is the same man who twenty years earlier gave the order to Sullivan to burn them out of their homes and destroy all their food and leave them to starve. Part of the reason the Six Nations agreed to the treaty was because Native Americans in Ohio had just suffered a particularly bad loss at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Leaders of the Six Nations knew that if they did not allow themselves to be tranquilized by pacific measures, they would be tranquilized by violent measures.
The speaker at the commemoration ceremony did not say this, but I am saying this: let us not be tranquilized by any measures over the next four years. Let us always openly oppose bigotry and injustice.
He ended on a note that I think indicates the level of despair many, many people are feeling right now. First, he repeated something said by John Mohawk: "As far as I can see, human beings are still a biological experiment." And then he assured us that nature has its own laws and will prevail. I think, I am not sure, but I imagine this holds the sort of comfort for him that I find in the fact that someday the human race will simply be a really good index fossil.
I've given a somewhat disjointed account of the commemoration and left out a lot; it was very cold and my pen was drying up and it's hard to write with gloves on. But it was an experience that, in spite of the overall feeling of impending doom, was pretty extraordinary. To stand with people who well know what strength is required not to be fooled and to see what is really going on was a heartening thing. Being on this end of history makes me wonder what people will think about the 2010s two hundred years from now. I'm not proud of how the US government dealt with Native Americans in the 1790s or indeed at any other time, and I don't think future Americans are going to be proud of how we're treating any marginalized groups right now.
Presumably at some point I will regain hope, though, and attending this commemoration was one step forward.
More about the background of the treaty in the aforementioned article: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/07/22/treaty-canandaigua-remains-powerful-symbol-native-sovereignty-41971
The quote from Washington comes from his message to Congress, From George Washington to the U.S. Senate, 2 January 1795, which is irritatingly behind a paywall.
Disclaimer: even though I write about history a lot, I'm not an actual historian, so I prooooobably haven't gotten everything in this post completely right.