This is a letter to the editor written by Ithaca College politics professor Patricia Rodriguez. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice. To submit letters to the editor, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local politics in this Ithaca community often baffles me. Over the past weeks, the #HalftownMustGo campaign ran into the liberal messiness that so commonly imposes obstacles on movements toward justice and truth.
Local #HalftwonMustGo organizers have crafted a resolution in relationship/dialogue with the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Council of Chiefs. It asks Ithaca Common Council to urge the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to immediately cease recognizing Clint Halftown as a representative of the Nation; and for the City to engage with the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Council of Chiefs and Clanmothers in all matters pertaining to the City’s government-to-government relationship with the Nation.
As per this press conference, the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ citizens face evictions and escalating acts of oppression and criminalization by Halftown in Seneca Falls. Organizers were ready to present the resolution to the Ithaca Common Council, but a member of the City Administration Committee brought up the resolution at its Feb. 23 monthly meeting, which ended on a 3×2 vote to table the discussion. The resolution’s submission to the Common Council will be delayed at least another month as a result.
Administration Committee member Jeffrey Barken (supported by George McGonigal and Robert Cantelmo) moved to table the discussion in the name of ‘fairness,’ and will go ‘get more of a sense of how many people Halftown represents and how divided the Nation is.’ McGonigal said publicly that ‘internal conflict is common’ among the Haudenosaunee, because one of the factions is ‘traditionalist’ and the other one wants to ‘take advantage of modern capitalism and casinos.’
I’m left wondering whether local (white) politicians can be any more blind to the problematic elements in their gaze. First and foremost, the Council of Chiefs represents Indigenous governance processes, according to the Great Law of Peace, and in accordance to the Haudenosaunee confederacy that is one of the world’s oldest democracies. Halftown has been removed within that Indigenous governance system.
Secondly, in McGonigal’s thinking, presumably more fairness would provide more fodder to condemn the violent faction, but avoid a critical self-reflection on the role of the U.S. government in these issues. To me, there is a need to decolonize our minds. To get just a modicum of understanding of tribal governance issues, we should understand a whole lot more about the abuse of indigenous peoples by colonial and neo-colonial authorities and people with power, locally and nationally, in the past and now. Assuming and voicing to the rest of us that ‘there has always been internal conflict’ feels at a minimum extremely condescending.
Lastly, if we are interested in ‘celebrating community diversity,’ then we should be more aware of how much the white settler mentality serves to decimate discussions of liberation and sovereignty of peoples, and how gatekeeping with the language of fairness is a strategy aiming to demobilize, at a time when radical solidarity is urgent.
Autonomy and self-determination issues should be demystified. We are privileged for living on Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ unceded land. Let us hear more from the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ about the ways in which they would like to exercise their collective land rights and much more. We would all be better for it.
Let’s pass this resolution.