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ANNUITIES AND ANNUITY PAYMENTS.
The Six Nations, with the exception of the Saint Regis Indians, who receive no annuities from the United States, draw from the United States and from the state of New York annuities on the basis of past treaties, which secured this fixed income on account of lands sold from time to time, and rights surrendered to other lands which had been claimed by them as parts of their inheritance. They are considerations to the Indians for value received by the United States or the state of New York. This payment is proportionately less in value each year, as the Indian's condition constantly exacts a greater outlay than formerly to meet increased cost of his changed mode of living. The original equivalent of land has been so enhanced in value that the state of New York can well afford to supplement the small resources of the Indian by a reasonable outlay to help him upward in civilized growth. It has done this freely.
The annuities themselves, legally owed and paid without hesitation, bring small returns in visible benefits. The payments by the United States, which are theoretically paid in the early autumn, during the census year were not completed until February, 1891, through delay of the appropriation by Congress for that purpose. They should be paid in the spring, to enable the farmer to purchase seed or implements for his farm.
The various payments during the census year were so similar that reference to one of each, viz, of money at Cattaraugus and goods at Onondaga, will indicate the methods and incidents of all similar payments.
DISTRIBUTION OF ANNUITIES AT THE COURTHOUSE, CATTARAUGUS RESERVATION. After due notice, the importunate inquiry, extending over months, “When is our annuity money coming” ? had its solution. The courthouse of the Seneca nation was crowded with men, women, and children of all ages and conditions. Old Robert Silverheels, a veteran of the war of 1812, past 90 years of age, and entirely dependent upon the charity of his people, emerged from his little cabin to receive his welcome share. Old Solomon O'Bail, grandson of the great Cornplanter, and rapidly reaching his fourscore years, was there. Blind old John Joe, already in his ninth decade, and John Jacket, the tall, bright, and clear-headed representative of the illustrious Red Jacket, awaited their tur. Daniel Twoguns, at the age of 92, who had “ so long waited", had but just gone to his rest; but old Joseph Hemlock and wife, each just 80, were there; also Abigail Bennett, at the age of 92, and Mary Snow, but a little younger, watched for the last time the dawning of "annuity day".
The poor, the sick, the wasted, and the cripples came together as at no other time. It was a damp day, yet not cold; but the echoes of many a cough told how surely the dread consumption still retained its grasp on waiting victims. In contrast with the wrinkled and weary faces which eagerly watched the pay table, more than 100 little Indians, from the age of a few weeks upward, were borne, well wrapped, as legal tender for an additional amount, payable to the family which owned them, for every new child is a recipient, the allowance dating before its birth as well as a year after its death, so that during the autumn enumeration there sounded the careful injunction from 5 humble homes: “Write Agent Jackson we've got a new baby. Tell him to mark it down"!
Chester C. Lay, the official interpreter, called the roll. Some responded with a rush; others edged slowly through the crowd at the doors, either extreme calling forth a humorous hit, an outvoiced laugh, or some side remark, audible in the room, all in good humor; but there were those who were hardly able to be present at all, and they silently approached the table, hid away their little treasure, and disappeared.
Those who could write signed the voucher sheet and those who could not made their cross. But there was a second pay table where the Indian man and woman sometimes left the entire sum received from Agent Jackson. It was the table of the merchants, from as far away as Steamburg and Red House, who gave up the orders for goods which had been discounted the year before. This stream also flowed steadily and cheerfully, without higgling or contest, and the payment was spontaneous and prompt, the silent testimony to the honesty of hundreds, who needed the money for approaching winter. But one dispute arose, where an overlined item exceeding the amount named in the order was questioned. When payment was complete a pen was handy, also a new order book in blank, and then was executed in favor of the applicant another assignment in way of trade, but discounting the annuity of 1891.
There were solid men and sensible women who secured their money and went straight back to work or home, and there were many on the courthouse square who settled fraternal debts. For 2 or 3 days also the hard-cider dens at Lawton station and the “ Four mile road” replenished their tills, and then the annuity had melted away. Decorum, good order, and cheerfulness had no interruption, and no similar assemblage can ever be witnessed except on annuity day among the Six Nations; no recurring day can ever bring together on earth so many whose years and names tie the census year to the history of 100 years ago.
The agent of the United States for the Six Nations and the New York superintendent of the Saint Regis Indians pay the same gross sum annually whatever the number, dividing accordingly. A scourge of disease would increase either of these distributive payments to each without reduction of the aggregate; hence, the care taken by the Indians to report births and deaths, as the annuity overruns a year, to cover, presumably, cost of sickness and burial.
DISTRIBUTION OF GOODS. The distribution of the annual quota of goods due from the United States to the Onondagas, closing the series of issues for the year 1890, took place at the council house on the public green at 1 o'clock p. m., February 5, 1891. Congress had postponed this distribution of cotton goods, greatly to the discomfort of the recipients, and here, as on all the reservations during many months, the first inquiry after a brief introduction was, “When shall we get our goods ” ? It succeeded the inquiry, "When is our annuity coming? We want to get ready for cold weather”.
The distribution at Onondaga is a fair representation of similar scenes at the other reservations. Upon due notice by United States Indian Agent T. W. Jackson of the day of his arrival, word was quickly circulated, and at midday men of all ages, and women bearing their children with them, assembled rapidly. They came by the roads and across fields by the most direct routes, and with the utmost propriety seated themselves upon the benches ranged against the walls in the council house, the women occupying one end of the building and the men the other. Very little conversation took place, and the quiet was that of a quaker meeting. In the center lay the bales of muslin, and Orris Farmer, one of the wealthiest of headmen, stood, knife in hand, ready to open them at proper announcement. Meanwhile the agent and his clerk, Mr. James E. Paxon, of Akron, prepared receipts for signature, and at 1 o'clock Daniel La Forte, who has been both president of the Onondagas and chairman of the Six Nations council, announced the hour for distribution. Several chiefs were summoned to the table to sign the receipts on behalf of the people. These were attested by the clerk and a second white man, and the distribution began. With a rapid dash of hands alternately through the folds of muslin, swift as a weaver's shuttle, there were told off to the Oneidas 11 and to the Onondagas 9 yards. A touch of the knife and a sharp, crisp tear told off 1 share, which was quickly passed to the expectant owner. Now and then the representative of a large family would be half buried under the accumulating load, and rippling, good-natured laughter would disturb the silence. With here and there a bonnet, the greater number of the women sat with heads wrapped in bright shawls, nearly one-half holding children, and as quickly as a share was fully made up the contented owner quietly started homeward with the burden. The same was true of the men, Perfect decorum prevailed and all had contented faces. Old Widow Isaacs, whose cabin is near the council house, and who, at an advanced age, sews as industriously for her goodnatured son Billy as if he were only 5 years old instead of 50, kept her place well to the front, intensely interested in all that was going on. The distribution lasted until nearly 5 o'clock, and not a rude word, an impatient gesture, or a wry face disturbed the good order and genial feeling. At one time 80 people occupied each end of the hall, all neatly and modestly dressed, and no gathering of white people under similar circumstances could furnish a better model for good conduct.
The very names contrasted with those of other reservations, Webster, Hill, Thomas, Brown, Jones, Jacobs, and Lyons being English. Old John Adams, of the war of 1812, Abram Hill, the honored Oneida chief, and Chief Theodore Webster, keeper of the wampum, bore their years with dignity, and were among the most interested of those present.
Kind-hearted Billy Isaacs, with a soul proportioned to 250 pounds avoirdupois of body, with eyes full of fun twinkling out of a large and very sober face, said: “This severalty in goods is mighty fine, but I'd like to have my share of land, too; be a citizen; and laws for everybody, too; laws that can be read, and laws made to work; that is what we want”.
During the 4 hours occupied in the distribution, although both men and women use tobacco freely, no pipes were lighted, and the floor remained unsoiled to the end.
ANNUITY VALUES. The annuities, in money and goods, are as follows: The Senecas receive annually from the United States $16,250 in money, and $500 from the state of New York. The Onondagas receive from the state of New York, $2,430. The Cayugas, living among the other nations, receive from the state of New York, $2,300.
The Saint Regis Indians receive from the state of New York, $2,130.67. They do not receive any annuity goods from the United States.
The Six Nations also receive from the United States annually the value of $3,500 in goods. The Tuscaroras and Oneidas receive no money annuities.
THE SIX NATIONS PROBLEM.
The main conclusions of the New York state commission, that "Indian forms of government are no longer adequate to their changed condition and circumstances, that many Indians see the better way and are restive, while others submit in silence", and that too many partial or conflicting laws are nominally in force, but without coherence and general application, are everywhere manifest.
The alleged absurdity of the Six Nations of New York being a “nation within a nation” does not change the fact or nullify the sequence of actual history. This very fact opens to the Indian and to the white man a way of relief, without the impairment of treaties or the disregard of any rights whatever.
Accepting all that the most technical advocate of the Indians' claim to prolonged independence can advance, a higher and equally consistent principle of international law supplies the wholesome remedy.
As contiguous nations must have political intercourse, and upon a basis of mutual benefit, so there must be, on the part of each, some representative authority to adjust conflicting issues between them. The absence of such authority, and the neglect or refusal of any people to place themselves within the range of mutual consideration of the rights of the citizens of both, is among all nations a casus belli. The remedy may not require arms, but a constraint equivalent to that of arms when actual rupture occurs is legitimate.
The Onondagas of New York furnish an opportunity to illustrate this principle. The state pays an annuity to the Onondagas (a). It has the right to be assured that the payment, designed to be per capita, is, in fact, so made. An act directing that said payments shall be made only to persons who, by an authorized, legal vote of the Indian people, have authority to receipt for the same is but just to the state and its beneficiaries. It simply demands “ credentials”. The authority granted by the state to certain white men to lease lands on the reservations, and a recognition of such leases by the Indians as valid, might well be accompanied by the condition that a due proportion of said rental should be applied in maintaining the roads which are in common use and to a proportionate share of the cost of maintaining schools, now wholly supported by the state. On the same principle, acting for both landlord and tenant, it would be competent for the United States, in its indorsement of leases by the Seneca nation of lands in the Allegany valley, to appoint a special commissioner to act as referee or umpire, where equitable terms are not agreed upon, at the releasing in 1892; and even to make the condition that a sufficient portion of the sum realized annually shall be applied to keep in good order the public highways and mail routes, and that for the protection of the people who are entitled to the usufruct of said leases the treasurer of the Seneca nation shall annually publish a statement of the distribution and use of said fund. To facilitate the self-reliance, industry, and confidence which such a system would at once develop, the state and federal courts should be open whenever a natural jurisdiction would inhere, where, in the absence of local protection, evils can be remedied and Indian officials be held to strict account. The state and federal courts should, as the former have in several instances, recognize the “Indian common law title” of occupants of reservation lands where such lands have been improved. They should assure such titles, as well as sales, devises, and descent, through courts of surrogate or other competent tribunals, wherever local Indian officials refuse just recognition of such titles or delay a just administration when conflicts arise.
The obligation of the federal government to pay interest on its debt, on account of lands long since sold, does not prevent its assertion of the obligation on the part of the Indian to do his part in maintaining all those other obligations which he owes to his neighbor in matters of mutual interest. All statutes which offer the Indian a premium for dishonest dealing should be repealed, and the Indian be held to his contracts to the extent of his personal holdings.
The advanced element on every reservation of the Six Nations is ready to come up to this standard, which sacrifices nothing but profitless pride, retained at the expense of social education and physical development.
All state laws which regulate marriage, punish adultery and kindred offenses should be available for the Indian complainant, and none of the Indian estates, once legally recognized as held in practical severalty, should hereafter be cumbered by the claims of illegitimate offspring. The liquor laws should be not only maintained but enforced, with the deliberate purpose on the part of the American people to strengthen the Indian for his own sake and for the sake of the commonwealth into which he must, in due time, be fully adopted.
a While this manuscript was in hand a letter from Jaris Pierce (Onondaga) came, inclosing an act pending before the New York legislature, carrying out the governmental reforms suggested in a previous chapter respecting Indian government, and confirming the judgment therein expressed, that the Onondaga Indians themselves were ready to take the initiative in civilized progress.