Declaration of War

Image: Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, Hiawatha Belt. Hill, Rick. (c. 1980) Wikimedia
Why was it important to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to declare war on the Axis Powers separately from the United States? What is sovereignty? Federally recognized tribes are separate sovereigns within our federal system. They are sometimes referred to as nations within a nation. Is it possible to have nations within a nation?
The Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma allowed some tribal nations in Oklahoma to expand their jurisdiction, and hence sovereignty, over their reservation lands. Does this perhaps help explain the need of the Haudenosaunee to declare war?

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Native nations have always been fiercely protective of their sovereignty—the right to govern themselves and manage their own affairs. Often this was manifested in seemingly small acts like issuing their own automobile license plates or hunting licenses. Few Native nations have been more protective than the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (the Six Nations sometimes called the Iroquois). Today, for instance, the Haudenosaunee travel internationally on their own passports. As Seneca activist and scholar John Mohawk said, “If you want to be sovereign, you have to act sovereign.”

When the United States entered World War I, the Haudenosaunee were not subject to the draft because they were not yet U.S. citizens. Some of the Six Nations responded by declaring war on Germany because some of their citizens were detained in Germany at the advent of war. When the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Haudenosaunee, though U.S. citizens since 1924 (Indian Citizenship Act), refused to be drafted because they were a separate sovereign nation. The impasse was resolved when the Six Nations agreed to declare war on the Axis Powers. The declaration of war was read on the steps of the Capitol on June 13, 1942.

Today, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy stands alongside Iceland as one of the two oldest representative democracies in the world.

—Jace Weaver

We represent the oldest, though smallest, democracy in the world today. It is the unanimous sentiment among Indian people that the atrocities of the Axis nations are violently repulsive to all sense of righteousness of our people, and that this merciless slaughter of mankind can no longer be tolerated. Now we do resolve that it is the sentiment of this council that the Six Nations of Indians declare that a state of war exists between our Confederacy of Six Nations on the one part and Germany, Italy, Japan and their allies against whom the United States has declared war, on the other part.

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