Indian Defense League of America

Idla7The Indian Defense League of America was established on December 1, 1926 to resist further erosion of the rights of Indians in North America. The IDLA was established to guarantee unrestricted passage on the continent of North America for Indian people. Unrestricted passage is considered an inherent right for indigenous people.

clintrikTHE TUSCARORA NATION, always least in importance among the tribes of the Six Nations Confederacy, always classed by them as a nation of secondary status in the League of the Iroquois, whose chiefs are restricted in speaking in the Grand Council-has, despite its subordinate role, raised up in its midst a man whose name and work will long be remembered wherever Indians gather to discuss the virtues of courage and justice. Clinton Rickard, born on May 19, 1882, and reared on the Tuscarora Reservation in western New York and largely self-educated, accomplished far more in his long career than many others with greater advantages and higher academic attainments. The United States Congress has been forced to recognize the Indian provisions of the Jay Treaty of 1794 and the Treaty of Ghent of 1814; many Indians falsely arrested and jailed have been set free; Indian civil liberties have been upheld; high schools in New York State have been opened to Indians; and tribesmen have been inspired to take pride in their own culture-all because of the work of this very remarkable and very gifted twentieth century Tuscarora leader, who died on June 14, 1971.

Exerpt from “Fighting Tuscarora” a biography of Chief Clinton Rickard edited by Barbara Graymont

Iroquois Patriot’s Fight for International Recognition
The old chief, Clinton Rickard, lived in a little house near the Niagara County town of Sanborn on the reservation of his nation, the Tuscaroras. People of the Iroquois Confederacy will always remember that house not merely because Clinton Rickard had done many good things for his people in his long lifetime, but because at his invitation, another fine man, a homeless exile, lived out his last days there. Though his name is known to few white people, no loyal Iroquois will forget Deskaheh, Chief of the Younger Bear Clan of the Cayuga Nation.

Deskaheh was a descendent of Mary Jimerson, famous in Indian and colonial history, and he was born in Grand River Land, a reservation of the Six Nations People who fled or were driven to British lands, now Canada, from their lands below the border after the American Revolution. They chose these acres, gratefully guaranteed to them by the British through General Haldimand, because the Grand River, with its level flats, reminded them of their beloved lands taken over by New York State.

After his years of grammar school, Deskaheh, like many other Grand River people, exercised his rights, guaranteed by the Jay Treaty to cross the U.S. boundary to become a lumberjack in the Allegheny Mountains, but after an accident, he returned to Grand River and took up farming. He married the daughter of a Cayuga mother and white father and she bore him four daughters and five sons.

By 1914, Deskaheh had reached the middle period of what white neighbors called a “successful reservation Indian life.” His honesty, sincerity and his ability as an orator in Cayuga language had brought him deserved appointment as head speaker when the Canadian Government, satisfied until the beginning of World War I to allow the Iroquois the status of a separate nation, decided on grounds of expediency to disregard the old treaties and assimilate the Indians, by force, if necessary. Deskaheh was the leader of the delegation that patiently explained in Ottawa, first, that the Canadian Government had no jurisdiction over the little Iroquois nation, and second, that since the Indians had already volunteered in proportionately greater numbers than the people of any other nation in the world, enforced draft of its young men by a foreign ally would seem silly.

They won this argument, but the end of the war brought other attempted encroachment and the Iroquois soon knew that the majority in the legislative halls of the Canadian capitol planned further inroads on their rights as citizens of the separate country known as Grand River Land. In 1921, to thwart the purposes of these schemers, Deskaheh, appointed “Speaker of the Six Nations Council,” presented as travel credentials a passport authorized by his nation and crossed the Atlantic to seek British aid. Since, as he pointed out, the treaty by which his people had their rights guaranteed was signed by George III, he asked its confirmation by George V. The English authorities refused his request saying that they would not deal with a Canadian domestic problem and the Cayuga returned, disillusioned. Then the Canadian enemies grew bolder. The creating of a fifth-column party through persuasion, promises, and payments was easy. It was easier still to get the new minority to ask for protection. And it was easiest of all to order a detail of the red-jacketed Royal Canadian Mounted Police to ride into the Grand River country to protect the “loyalist” Indians and “to keep the peace.” So obvious was this procedure that Deskaheh, who strongly opposed it, pleading earnestly for arbitration, won many sympathizers among his neighbors and through them, news of the coming raid reached him in time for a hasty flight across the border of the United States to the city of Rochester in western New York State.

The raiders arrested and jailed a number of Iroquois, and though Deskaheh was known to abstain from alcoholic liquors, they searched his house on the pretext of looking for illegal beverages. The Canadian Government then ordered barracks built for the housing of their police and Grand River was suddenly an occupied nation. Deskaheh now began to fight back desperately.

With the Six Nations counsel, George P. Decker (a white Rochester lawyer) as his companion, he again used his passport, this time to travel to Geneva to bring his people’s case before the League of Nations. He arrived in September of 1923, took lodging in the Hotel des Families, and began to work towards presenting personally to the Council of the League the petition of his people. Though he met with no success, he fought doggedly. Winter came and went ,and in mid-April, he wrote to his wife and his sons and daughters. “I have no time to go anywhere, only sitting on the chair from morning till night copying and answering letters as they come, and copying the documents and I have many things to do.” May came to the city by beautiful Lake Leman, but his thoughts were with his people beside the Grand River and like a good believer in the religion of the Longhouse, he was seeking aid through the prayer of his people to their God. To his brother Alex General, he wrote: “I believe it will be a good thing to have a meeting in one of the longhouses, but you must (combine) all the good people and the children of the Longhouse, only those that are faithful believers in our religion and no other, and it must be very early in the morning to have this, so that our God may hear you and the children, and ask him to help us in our distress at this moment, and you must use Indian tobacco in our usual way when we ask help to our Great Spirit…and you must have a uniform on…and also ask God you wish the religion will keep up for a great many years to come and the Indian race also…”

By June, he had obtained the services of a Swiss lawyer who was preparing a statement of the case of the Six Nations in French. The money the Indians and their friends had raised in North America was almost gone, and some means of replenishing it was necessary.

Again he wrote brother Alex from Geneva: “And we had a meeting of the Iroquois of the Six Nations of the Grand River Land (really the committee devoted to the interests of the Six Nations) on the 27th of June and the meeting decided to raffle off the two portrait pictures which they made and just think of it, these two pictures of myself with my costume on it brought 6,000 Swiss francs – it means a little over 1,000 dollars of our money…and it gives me very great lift to our fight…very strong committee, all big people, of high class people. When the meeting takes place everybody looks decent of their suit and dress very well.” If these informal reports written to his beloved family in unfamiliar language seem naive, the campaign Deskaheh and his good friend, George Decker, were waging was not. It was hard-hitting, simple, direct. The embarrassed officials who had to deny this representative of a small nation the right to speak before the League Council committed to the Wilsonian doctrine of autonomy for small nations. These two made the situation more awkward for the British interests by getting into the public prints distributed in Geneva quotations from treaties and documents that Canada had decided to abrogate as “scraps of paper.”

The Cayuga was also attracting much favorable attention as a person. To the Irish woman correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal he seemed a “good-looking, broad-shouldered man, about 40 years of age (he was actually 54) wearing ordinary dark clothes…and presenting every appearance of a well-to-do farmer with the one exception of his beautiful moccasins…” She commented on the penetrating searching glance of his dark eyes, his kindly smile disclosing remarkable white teeth, and finished her description with the sentence “His beautifully shaped but stern mouth, firm chin and heavy jawbones are those of the born fighter, the strong man who knows his strength and believes in it, whilst his shining eyes speak of enthusiasm and idealism.” But in the middle of this enthusiastic and sentimental interview, the chief had persuaded her to quote from the text of a memorial address to the Grand River Indians, dated as late as December 4, 19I2 and filed by Great Britain.

“The Documents, Records, and Treaties between the British Governors in former times, and your wise Forefathers, of which, in consequence of your request, authentic copies are now transmitted to you, all establish the Freedom and Independency of your Nations.”

Time wore on and though a few Englishmen and Canadians spoke up for the Six Nations Indians, though the representatives of the Netherlands and Albania Iistened sympathetically and spoke of supporting his petition, Deskaheh began to suspect that his cause was lost. News from the homeland was bad. The Canadian Government had announced a “free election,” which would in effect determine whether or not the Six Nations Government of Grand River Land should be dissolved. For this vote, the Canadian Government agent had taken possession of the Six Nations Council House, surrounding it with a guard of twenty police. In protest, the Indians favoring their nation’s continuance did not vote. The Canadian authorities then broke open the safe holding the records of the Six Nations and took from there a number of wampum belts, revered as sacred by the Iroquois, refusing, on demand, to return them. In November 1924, Deskaheh wrote to the editor of a Swiss journal, “it is the heart broken that I must affirm that since several months I am against the most cruel indifference…My appeal to the Society of Nations has not been heard, and nothing in the attitude of Government does not leave me any hope.

It is in this dreadful agony that I take the advantage to cry out that injustice, by the means of your free review, to my Brothers from all races and all religions. Too long we have suffered from the tyranny of our neighbors who tread under feet our Right to laugh at the Pact which binds them…Our appeal is for all those which are animated by the spirit of justice and we ask them their benevolent help.”

As if to seal its own lack of interest, the Secretariat of the League which had notified Deskaheh of the refusal to allow him to appear as a petitioner before a plenary session, aware of the embarrassment he had caused, now denied both Deskaheh and George Decker seats in the gallery to observe deliberations.

Despairing, the two friends struck their last brave blow. They hired the Salle Centrale, and advertised in the press their own meeting at which Deskaheh would present the case to those who would come to listen. The response was amazing. The North American “Indian” had been a popular figure in Europe since the time of Columbus and, the populace, the vast majority of whom had never seen an example of the noble savage as popularized by translations from the works of James Fenimore Cooper and other romanticists, attended in thousands. All the Geneva Boy Scouts were present, but not a single League of Nations Official. Members of the press of many nations, sensing possibilities of stories about a picturesque if not politically important character, were at their reserved tables, among them the distinguished Hungarian journalist Aloys Derso, who told amusing and movingly pathetic incidents of the occasion.

“I went to the evening to see my first American Indian. He was in the dressing room already in full regalia. I drew a few sketches of him and he was a good model, sitting immobile. He had not the typical Indian profile, the nose not the aquiline nose I had expected. His eyes were tired and there was a great melancholy in his expression”.

When Deskaheh appeared before the great audience, he walked in dignity and with no self-consciousness. There were giggles because, though in the elaborate dress of a Chief of the Cayuga Nation, he carried an enormous yellow suitcase which he placed carefully on a table in front of him.

Smiles soon ceased, however, as Deskaheh related his story simply and sincerely. His people had heard in 1515, he said, of a repulsively homely white chief. The young Indian men had swiftly formed a regiment and gone across the big water to fight for world freedom and justice as the allies of the government that had once so gratefully guaranteed his nation its lands. Here he repeated a passage from the Treaty of 1784, as worded by Sir Frederick Haldimand, governor-in-chief of Quebec and territories depending hereon:

“I do hereby in his Majesty’s name, authorize and permit the said Mohawk nation and such other of the Six Nations Indians as wish to settle in that quarter to take possession of and settle upon the banks of the river commonly called Ouse or Grand River…which them and their posterity are to enjoy forever.”

Then he recited the tale of the broken pledge, the raid of the Royal Mounted Police, the rummaging of his own house, the building of the police barracks, the seizure of the sacred wampum. The story would be incredible without evidence, he said. but he had foreseen this and had the proofs with him. Then he lifted the lid of the suitcase and with care and reverence drew from within the old headed wampum on which might be read the sworn agreements of’ white governments with his people. Speaking with deep feeling, translating these documents slowly and impressively, stopping now and then to make clear the meanings of the bead colors and of the representations of the symbols, he made his entranced listeners feel that this was not the narration of the grievances of a small racial unit, but the story of all minority peoples – the tragedy of every small nation that is a neighbor to a larger one. When he finished, there was a moment of silence – then a roar of a tremendous ovation. Thousands rose to their feet to cheer him and the great hall echoed and re-echoed with their applause. Straight, unsmiling, impassive, he waited until after many minutes the sound began to wane. Then, still expressionless he left the platform.

Before the end of 1924, the Speaker of the Six Nations Council had returned to the United States, a disillusioned and discouraged man. An exile from Canada and from the nation he thought he had failed, he found refuge with Clinton Rickard in the house of the benign old chief. There, by the Niagara River, which marks the Canadian boundary, he found that the people for whom he had fought did not think him a failure. From their northern homes in Grand River Land, they journeyed here to see him and assure him of their loyalty. Though his disheartening experience had weakened him physically, his spirit took fire from their words and with never-ending courage, he kept up his battle.

NOTE: This is an exerpt from “Basic Call to Consciousness”.


The Canadian government does not recognize these inherent rights, or the Jay Treaty and in the early part of this century moved to dissolve the traditional Iroquois government by an “Order in Council of September 17, 1923. ” Additionally, the Canadian Indian Office tried to force Canadian citizenship or “enfranchisement.”

Similarly, the U.S. government enacted the Immigration Act of 1924, which under section 13(c) was an exclusionary measure against Asians and North American Indians. Citizenship was also imposed by the U.S. government on Indian people in 1924 and was understood as a violation of our sovereignty. Chief Clinton Rickard asked the question, “how can you be a sovereign nation and be force to be a citizen in a foreign government?” Needless to say, citizenship is rejected by the Haudenosaunee.

Deskaheh, or Levi General, a Cayuga sachem from Six Nations territories on the Grand River, in 1924 resisted this encroachment of our sovereign rights. Deskaheh became ill after an appeal for justice to the League of Nations in Switzerland, and was forced to stay at the home of Chief Clinton Rickard. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Immigration Act of 1924, Deskaheh’s traditional medicine man from his home at Six Nations could no longer treat him and when he took the long road home his final words were to “fight for the line,” meaning the border. Chief Clinton Rickard of the Tuscarora Nation territories heard those words and dedicated his life to “fighting for the line,” through the formation of the IDLA.


The United States and Great Britain formally acknowledged this inherent right by establishing the Jay Treaty of 1794, specifically, article 3, as follows:

It is agreed that it shall, at all times be free to His Majesty’s subjects and to the Citizens of the United States, and also to the Indians dwelling on either side of the boundary line, freely to pass and repass by land, inland navigation, into the respective territories and countries of the two parties on the Continent of America (the country within the limits of the Hudson’s Bay Company only excepted) and to navigate all the lakes, rivers and waters thereof, and freely to carry on trade and commerce with each other.

No duty of entry shall ever be levied by either party on peltries brought by land or inland navigation into the said territories respectively, nor shall the Indians passing or repassing with their own proper goods and effects of whatever nature, pay for the same any import or duty whatever, but goods in bales or other large packages unusual among Indians, shall not be considered as goods belonging bona fide to Indians.

Following the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States came the 1814 Treaty of Ghent, which reinstated this inherent right for the Haudenosaunee and all Indian people in article 9, as follows:

The United States of America engage to put an end immediately after the ratification of the present treaty to all hostilities with all the tribes or nations of Indians with whom they may be at war at the time of such ratification, and forthwith to restore to such tribes or nations, respectively, all the possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in one thousand eight hundred and eleven, previous to such hostilities, against the United States of America, their Citizens and subjects, upon the ratification of the present treaty being notified to such tribes or nations, and shall so desist accordingly, and His Britannic Majesty engage on his His part, to put an end, immediately after the ratification of present treaty, to all hostilities with all the tribes or nations respectively, all the possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eleven, previous to such hostilities, provided always that such tribes or nations shall agree to desist from all hostilities against His Majesty and His subjects, upon ratification of the present treaty being notified to such tribes or nations, and shall so desist accordingly.


These rights are sporadically recognized today by the United States and continue to require IDLA advocacy.

The first IDLA Border Crossing Celebration took place July 14, 1928. This event symbolizes the continuous assertion of our sovereignty as Indian Nations within the recently formed United States and Canadian Nations. The IDLA continues to assist the Haudenosaunee from “getting their horns caught in the wire”, and forces the issue of free passage for all North American Indians.