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UN Geneva Conference 1977

The Indigenous Peoples' Network describes the importance of the UN Geneva Conference in 1977.

In defense of the sovereignty of the Iroquois Six Nations Reserve, Chief Deskaheh, a Cayuga Chief of the Iroquois Confederacy and a solidly built farmer-turned-statesman, approached the League of Nations in 1923. Referring to the League of the Iroquois as a pattern for the League of Nations, Deskaheh said:
"We helped to make possible the League of Nations....Now we must look to the destruction of our government and the obliteration of the Iroquois race which would soon follow."


Having failed to get satisfaction from the Canadian and British governments, Deskaheh gave notice of his intention to submit a complaint in the Assembly against subjugation by Canada, the Imperial Government having refused the Indians' plea for protection against this subjugation. Deskaheh, with a Haudenosaunee passport, went to the League of Nations in Geneva in 1923, but was denied permission to speak formally.

However, Deskaheh asked for the protection of his people suffering under the invasion of the Grand River reservation by the Canadian Police. He presented “The Red Man’s Appeal for Justice,” and reminded the Europeans of their obligations under the Guswentha, Two Row Wampum.

Deskaheh pointed out this pact was made in 1701 between 48 Indigenous Nations and allies of Onowaregeh/ Great Turtle Island with the Europeans. Since it is the only agreement giving foreigners the right to live on the land and they violated it, their occupation is illegal.

1977 United Nations Conference

Deskaheh's efforts were not forgotten. The opening statement of the 1981 United Nations NGO Conference on Land and Indigenous People says that after Deskaheh's plea, the world changed. The Indigenous peoples became stronger, and in 1977 they marched through the doors of the United Nations in Geneva to deliver a message called, “A Basic Call to Consciousness.”

The Non-Governmental Organizations' (NGO) Indigenous Peoples Conference in Geneva in 1977 was a turning point for the indigenous peoples' movement. Over 100 representatives testified about the effects of natural resources exploitation, "development" projects, repression, and genocide on their peoples. This was the first time that the UN allowed indigenous people to testify on their own behalf, but at the end of the conference in 1977, the delegates said, "We shall come again and again till victory is ours! "

The delegation spoke of four key words. The first is GENOCIDE. They defined themselves as Nations which demand the right to live and be part of their own land. The second key word is NATION: the importance of standing by indigenous nations and their rights as nations. The third key word is LAND which connected with all other questions. It is not possible to talk about land without talking about genocide...or about the fourth key word which is SELF-DETERMINATION.

The Haudenosaunee delegation was led by Tadadaho Leon Shenandoah. Faithkeeper Oren Lyons was chosen as the speaker. When Chief Lyons spoke, he pointed out that other species also need representation. He said:

"I do not see a delegation for the Four Footed. I see no seat for the Eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are. And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the creation"

As was said in 1977, how we in the larger society regard indigenous peoples — who have an ongoing relationship with the living earth — will determine our ability to survive. The world owes a great debt to the Onondaga Nation for their clear, unwavering efforts over many years on behalf of the life of Planet Earth.

Deskaheh drawn by John Fadden (Kahionhes)

George Decker (lawyer/friend) and Deskaheh

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