Honouring 100 Years of Advocacy of Indigenous Rights in International Affairs


One hundred years ago today, Chief Deskaheh arrived in Geneva to present the case for international recognition of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. 

The League of Nations, founded only two years prior, was based on the principle of the sovereign equality of nations.  The world had embraced the vision of national self-determination celebrated by U.S. President Wilson in his Fourteen Points.  

Taking the international community at its word, the Haudenosaunee claimed the right now proclaimed for all nations.  They had existed as a nation for hundreds of years, after all, and had never ceded their sovereignty to the Crown.

Chief Deskaheh was denied entry into the League of Nations, so with the support of Swiss civil society he read his appeal to the people of Geneva instead.  He cited the imposition of foreign concepts of private property, the imprisonment of his fellow citizens, the misallocation of funds, the withholding of mandatory payments, and the stationing armed troops without consent, and explained that: 

“The aforesaid acts and measures of the Dominion Government are in violation of the nationality and independence of the Six Nations, and contrary to the successive treaties between the Six Nations and the British Crown, pledging the British Crown to protect the Six Nations ; and especially in violation of the treaty pledge of October 25th, of the year 1784, of the same tenor, entered into between King George the Third of Great Britain and the Six Nations, hereinbefore referred to which, never having been abrogated by either party, remains in full force and effect and all of which were and are binding upon the British Crown and the British Dominion of Canada; and the said acts and measures were and are in violation as well of the recognised law of Nations, the Six Nations never having yielded their right of independence in home-rule to the Dominion of Canada, and never having released the British Crown from the obligation of its said covenants and treaties with them, but they have ever held and still hold the British Crown thereto.” 

Canada responded to this appeal by punishing both Chief Deskaheh and the government he represented. He was informed he would not admitted back into Canada, and died in New York two years later. The greater injustice was the Dominion’s decision to overthrow the council which had governed the Confederacy for at least 500 years. Police seized the assets of the council and the Department of Indian Affairs diverted all resources to an elected council established in accordance with settler traditions. 

Today, the current Chief Deskaheh is back in Geneva once again, leading a delegation of 25 fellow Haudenosaunee representatives. The people of Switzerland have reprised their role in offering an audience for their claims, with the Mayor of Geneva supporting a display of 30 panels along the shores of Lake Geneva.   

The Network for Democratic Solidarity is proud to support the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in this commemoration of Chief Deskaheh’s visit of 1923. We hope to contribute to a public debate about how the Canada of today can better accommodate the claims of a people we are fortunate to have living and thriving in this land. 

Please read the original speech given by Chief Deskaheh outside the League of Nations in 1923

Photo source: The Indigenous People's Centre for Documentation, Research and Information - DOCIP

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