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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?
A. Twenty-nine.

Q. You are a Tuscarora Indian?
A. Tuscarora Indian.

Q. Born on this reservation, were you?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Have you a family?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Wife and children?
A. No wife.

Q. No children?
A. No children.

Q. You are one of the chiefs of the nation?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What are the duties of the chiefs, what do they do?
A. They regulate the nation?

Q. They are the government of the nation?
A. Yes, sir; they are the government of the nation.

Q. To which clan do you belong?
A. Wolf

Q. How long have you been a chief?
A. Fifteen years.

Q. Then you were how old when you were chosen chief?
A. About thirteen.

Q. About thirteen when you were chosen chief?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. You don't have to be 21 years of age, or 18 to be a chief?
A. No; but I never acted until I was 21.

Q. Until you were 21?
A. No; until after, until the last five years or so off and on, the last two winters regular.

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?
A. Well, we have no regulation about that, but it is by the chiefs, if they see fit to have a man under 21 act, they let him act.

Q. The chiefs have control of that?
A. The chiefs have the control of that.

Q. You began to act when the chiefs allowed you to?
A. No; I began to act when I thought I was fit for it.

Q. How did you get to be a chief?
A. Well, they choose by my clan, by the women of my clan.

Q. The women of your clan chose you?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. How many women belong to your clan?
A. Well, at the time they chose me, I could not recollect; I don't remember.

Mr. [Barnet H.] Davis [committee member]. Don't the men choose the chiefs?
A. No.

Judge Vreeland: The women choose the chiefs?
A. Yes, the women choose the chiefs; the women of my clan.

Q. Do they meet together somewhere, these ladies?
A. Yes, sir; they meet together.

Q. And vote?
A. Yes, sir; they vote.

Q. And they chose you?
A. Yes, sir; and after they chose me they referred to the chiefs in council for adoption, for approval.

Q. After they appointed you then it was referred to the chiefs?
A. To the chiefs for approval.

Q. And they approved it?
A. They approved it.

Q. Would they have a right to disapprove it?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. If the chiefs didn't want you they could say so, and then you could not be a chief?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Then someone would have to be picked out, somebody else?
A. Yes, sir; then it would be referred back to the women to reconsider about it.

Q. When you were chosen, was there somebody else that wanted to be chief besides you?
A. I don't know; I was not there.

... Mr. Davis: Wouldn't you like to be a citizen?
A. I am a citizen now of the nation here [that is, the Tuscarora Nation].

Q. Wouldn't you like to vote?
A. No, I wouldn't 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?
A. No, I don"t think that-

Q. Don't think that would be a good thing?
A. No; there will be some scheme in regard to it, and in few years we would be compelled to pay taxes.

... 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?
A. Well, as soon as we become citizens the land will be divided, and by so doing I think there is a curse to the nation.

Q. You don't think the land ought to be divided?
A. No; I don't think it ought to.

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?
A. Well, the nation, it seems to me, is contented as they are, and then I was to say about dividing the lands; I don't think it would be fair for us; it will amount to about twelve acres apiece; divided up into twelve-acre lots, about 408 shares, and we have got to have outlets to it, and there will roads all over it; it will be all roads.

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?
A. No, sir; not now, I am one of the has-beens.

Q. When were you a chief, Mr. Johnson?
A. I was deposed last February [Johnson's testimony was given on July 27, 1881].

Q. Were you unruly?
A. No, sir; I don't claim I was, I claim I was deposed on account of being just; I am not ashamed of the reason that I was deposed.

Q. By whom was this done?
A. I was deposed by the Onondagas, suggested by the warriors of the tribe.

Q. The Onondagas have the power to depose?
A. Yes, sir; to install and depose.

Mr [George F]Roesch[committee member]. You say this was suggested by the warriors of your tribe?
A. Yes, sir.

Mr. Davis: For what reason?
A. That I was removed?

Q. Yes, sir.
A. On account of taking an interest in a case that was presented before the council, Dr. David Hewitt, in a case of land that he claims to be his.

Q. Who was Dr. Hewett [sic]?
A. He is a member of the tribe.

Q. How long ago was that?
A. Last winter.

Mr. Roesch: You were deposed by a vote of the Onondagas?
A. The way to depose my office is that a council be called by the [clan] relations in the tribe, of the whole tribe.

Q. Of which you are chief?
A. Yes, sir; and they take a vote asking our congress, as it was termed [at Onondaga, the Grand Council of the Confederacy], the Onondagas being the head of our government, asking them to have me deposed, and they in the meantime had sent a delegate here by the name of Baptist Thomas, an Onondaga, and his character, I suppose, need not be mentioned, and he reported the desire of the relations here to the Onondaga council, and they accepted of it; that I should be deposed, and that was the way I was deposed.

Q. Are we to understand then that the Onondagas are the law-givers and law-makers for the Six Nations?
A. No, sir, they are not the law-makers, but they are the giver [the agent] of the law; they were made from time immemorial.

Q. Then you are governed by the laws of the Onondagas, are you?
A. Yes, sir; that is, concerning the authority of the chiefs; they are to install and depose, that is all; and all cases or matters in our council here they have nothing to do with.

Q. When you have a council of the Six Nations [the Grand Council at Onondaga] the presiding officer is an Onondaga?
A. Yes, sir.

Mr. Davis: Who is the presiding officer of the Onondagas now?
A. La Fort.

Mr. Roesch: When you are deposed from your chiefship, does that disqualify you forever from holding office?
A. No, sir; they can be elected at other times if they choose.

Q. Are the chiefs at present elected for life?
A. Yes, sir, or good conduct, they are supposed to be elected for life; there are certain laws which, if they violate, will cause them to be deposed.

Mr. Davis: Can a deposed chief be reinstalled again?
A. Yes, sir, by being first reelected [by the women of his clan], and then have him go through the same ceremonies, just as if he never had been a chief...

Mr. Roesch: Is the head chief selected by the other chiefs?
A. [No.] By their clan, Turtle clan, the women of the Turtle clan.

Q. Then you have women suffrage in your tribe?
A. Yes, sir; we are ahead of the white folks, they are just agitating it ....

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.
Census The Six Nations of New York : The 1892 United States Extra Census Bulletin (Documents in American Social History
by Robert Venables

This is one of the articles contained in the book.
Revised Edition, Hardcover, Cornell Univ Pr, Reprint edition (January 1996)
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