"Sovereignty and Common Sense" by Oren Lyons and John Mohawk
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                    Oren Lyons and John Mohawk

     Sovereignty!  Sovereignty!  We hear the word all the time.  
It is invoked as though it has magic powers, like "allakazam!"  
But behind all the claims and misunderstandings, what about common 

     A civics question:  Who represents the sovereignty of 

     Yankees, Bloomingdales, the Los Angeles Times, William 
Buckley?  Of course every high school student is supposed to know 
that the sovereignty of the United States is represented by the 
United States government. 

     Other groups constantly pretend to represent U.S. 
sovereignty, usually groups which claim to be patriotic.  The KKK 
for example, has opinions about how U.S. sovereignty should be 
used, as do the John Birch Society and the Minutemen.  Imagine for 
a moment  what life would be like in the United States if the 
sovereignty of the U.S. was exercised by the Minutemen.  How many 
adventures would the U.S. have to engage in?  How long before the 
wars the KKK got into against non-whites would become the U.S.'s 
own wars?  Chaos, as everybody knows, would ensue.  That's why the 
government, not every individual or volunteer group, represents 
U.S. sovereignty. 

     Indeed, the U.S. government and every government on earth 
have made it illegal, under penalties involving jail terms 
(sometimes death), for groups and individuals to act as though 
they and not the U.S. government exercise U.S. sovereignty.  
Controlling the fringe and opportunist elements of society is one 
of the responsibilities of the exercise of sovereignty!  When the 
governments cannot exercise that sovereignty, then sovereignty 
cannot be said to exist. 

     Imagine for a moment that entrepreneurs and not governments 
controlled the Mohawk Nation's sovereignty.  Everyone knows, and 
has always known, that there are many classes of illegal 
transactions ranging from smuggling of arms, drug smuggling, 
smuggling of undocumented aliens, sale of drugs, prostitution, and 
on and on.  The problem of the entrepreneur is to make money any 
way he/she can.  Thus the entrepreneurs as a class are always on 
the margins of legality because that's where the profit margins 
are highest.  First they sold candy bars without paying taxes and 
when nobody came to arrest them they then sold cigarettes.  Some 
among them must logically keep going to the next business, raising 
the ante until somewhere along the line some foreign government is 
going to invade.  The question is, will it be when the assertion 
is that sovereignty protects drug manufacture, drug growing, white 
slavery, or whatever?  One thing is certain.  Whatever the line 
that causes one nation to justly invade another will one day be 
crossed in the name of Mohawk sovereignty.  The only question is 
when and for what activity. 

     The entrepreneurs launched casino gambling in defiance of the 
state and federal governments, testing the water, trying to see 
how far they could go.  They dared the state to tax them, dared 
the state to arrest them, defied the federal government to seize 
their slot machines or to shut down their gambling operations. 

     When Mohawk governments tried to regulate them, the same 
entrepreneurs defied those governments too, thus crippling the 
effective exercise of Mohawk sovereignty.  Entrepreneurs in this 
environment will constantly push against the limits of what they 
can get away with.  Common sense reveals that if Mohawk 
sovereignty is invaded, it is invaded because some people defied 
the laws of governments and provoked the invasion.  The very 
people who have provoked the situation, the entrepreneurs, knew 
the situation beforehand.  They invoke the sovereignty of the 
Mohawk nation, but they are a version of the Minutemen and the 
Mafia wrapped up into one.  If and when the federal or state 
government enters Mohawk territory it will be because of this 
provocation which is done, not as an act of a Mohawk government, 
but in actual defiance of all Mohawk governance. 

     Common sense dictates that the gambling operators are the 
greatest threat to Mohawk sovereignty. 

     Modern definitions of sovereignty hold that sovereignty is 
derived from the consent of the people.  That is why governments 
represent sovereignty, not businesses.  If individuals take 
actions that threaten the right of the people to exercise control 
of what happens in their country, the people, through their 
governments have the right, according to just about everybody's 
laws, to do whatever they must, including destroying the 
entrepreneurs businesses and banishing the individuals from the 
country.  It is not an invasion of sovereignty, but an exercise of 
sovereignty, for a government to seek assistance of another 
government to exercise its will.  Governments do it all the time.  
Check out the Philippines in December. 

     Then there's the question of just to whom belong the profits 
of things like gambling and sale of gasoline.  Everyone agrees the 
profits exist because Mohawk sovereignty exists.  Mohawk 
sovereignty lies in the Mohawk people.  Logic would have it the 
profits belong to the Mohawk people.  Have the Mohawk people 
elected to provide a few individuals with the privilege of 
enriching themselves with these profits at the expense of all 

     Defense of Mohawk sovereignty requires an exercise of common 
sense.  The first order of business is:  whose will prevails?  Is 
it the will of the vast majority of the people, or the will of the 
few?  The answer to that question will inform us of the quality of 
the sovereignty of the Mohawk Nation.  That, and common sense.  
Not allakazam! 

Taken from "Akwesasne Notes", Vol 22, No. 1  Late Spring 1990 

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