THE SIX NATIONS OF NEW YORK
Haudenosaunee Views in the Late Nineteenth Century
The most complete single source of evidence for Haudenosaunee views in the late nineteenth century survives in the Whipple Report, published in 1889. Just two years before the census takers visited the Haudenosaunee, the Whipple committee sought their opinions and published more than eight hundred pages of testimony. The transcripts record the tension felt by some Haudenosaunee witnesses, and even their reluctance to speak frankly. The accuracy of the transcripts is important, and fortunately a brief description of actual methods survives. Andrew S. Draper, an advocate of the Whipple Report who was superintendent of public instruction for the State of New York, stressed how thorough the committee had been, using "all the modern improvements and appliances, stenographers, counsel, and power to subpoena witnesses and administer oaths."
The Whipple Report includes important if constrained interviews with some of the Iroquois leaders on whom Henry B. Carrington would depend. It also provides insights into attitudes held by some white New York State leaders in the 1880s. For example, J. S. Whipple, the chairman of the committee, had especially strong interests in seeing the Haudenosaunee assimilated. He was the assemblyman who represented the city of Salamanca, built on lands leased from the Senecas. The quotations given here include a few from the Haudenosaunee whose photographs appear or whose actions are described in The Six Nations. Whenever a person interviewed also appears in The Six Nations, I have supplied a page reference to guide the reader to the photograph or description in the census.
At the Tuscarora reservation north of Buffalo, near Lewiston in Niagara County, the Whipple Committee questioned Luther Jack regarding the political structure of the Tuscarora Nation and the Confederacy as a whole. The counsel for the committee, Judge 0. S. Vreeland, began:
Q. What is your age?
Q. You are a Tuscarora Indian?
Q. Born on this reservation, were you?
Q. Have you a family?
Q. Wife and children?
Q. No children?
Q. You are one of the chiefs of the nation?
Q. What are the duties of the chiefs, what do they do?
Q. They are the government of the nation?
Q. To which clan do you belong?
Q. How long have you been a chief?
Q. Then you were how old when you were chosen chief?
Q. About thirteen when you were chosen chief?
Q. You don't have to be 21 years of age, or 18 to be a chief?
Q. Until you were 21?
Q. When did you have a right to act, when you were 21; what is
the age of the majority [that is, no longer a minor] of your nation,
18 or 21?
Q. The chiefs have control of that?
Q. You began to act when the chiefs allowed you to?
Q. How did you get to be a chief?
Q. The women of your clan chose you?
Q. How many women belong to your clan?
Mr. [Barnet H.] Davis [committee member]. Don't the men
choose the chiefs?
Judge Vreeland: The women choose the chiefs?
Q. Do they meet together somewhere, these ladies?
Q. And vote?
Q. And they chose you?
Q. After they appointed you then it was referred to the chiefs?
Q. And they approved it?
Q. Would they have a right to disapprove it?
Q. If the chiefs didn't want you they could say so, and then you could not be a chief?
Q. Then someone would have to be picked out, somebody else?
Q. When you were chosen, was there somebody else that wanted to
be chief besides you?
... Mr. Davis: Wouldn't you like to be a citizen?
Q. Wouldn't you like to vote?
Mr. Whipple: Would you like to become a citizen, if it was so fixed that you would not be taxed, and you could not alienate your land-could not get rid of it, and then have the right to vote?
Q. Don't think that would be a good thing?
... Judge Vreeland: Is your objection to becoming a [U.S.] citizen, for fear of some scheme by which you will be taxed or your land sold or something of that kind?
Q. You don't think the land ought to be divided?
Q. What objection would you have to dividing the land, giving every man his fair share, and fix it so he could not sell it?
Another Tuscarora interviewed by the Whipple Committee, Elias Johnson, had once been a chief but had been deposed, as Judge Vreeland noted:
Q. You are not a chief?
Q. When were you a chief, Mr. Johnson?
Q. Were you unruly?
Q. By whom was this done?
Q. The Onondagas have the power to depose?
Mr [George F]Roesch[committee member]. You say this was suggested by the warriors of your tribe?
Mr. Davis: For what reason?
Q. Yes, sir.
Q. Who was Dr. Hewett [sic]?
Q. How long ago was that?
Mr. Roesch: You were deposed by a vote of the Onondagas?
Q. Of which you are chief?
Q. Are we to understand then that the Onondagas are the law-givers
and law-makers for the Six Nations?
Q. Then you are governed by the laws of the Onondagas, are you?
Q. When you have a council of the Six Nations [the Grand Council at Onondaga] the presiding officer is an Onondaga?
Mr. Davis: Who is the presiding officer of the Onondagas
Mr. Roesch: When you are deposed from your chiefship, does that disqualify you forever from holding office?
Q. Are the chiefs at present elected for life?
Mr. Davis: Can a deposed chief be reinstalled again?
Mr. Roesch: Is the head chief
selected by the other chiefs?
Q. Then you have women suffrage in your tribe?
The Whipple Committee also heard testimony at the Onondaga reservation, just south of Syracuse. There, at the capital of the Confederacy, Daniel La Fort was acting as the presiding chief of the Grand Council of Iroquois.