You are here
Home > Feature > From Onondaga to Geneva with love and respect

From Onondaga to Geneva with love and respect

The meeting between the Haudenosaunee delegation from 1977, and the mayor of Geneva Claude Ketterer is an example of the positive relationship between the Swiss city and the confederacy. The Haudenosaunee delegation is (from left to right) Loran Thompson (Akwesasne), Leo Henry (Tuscarora), Oren Lyons (Onondaga), Tadodaho Leon Shenandoah, Bruce Elijah (Oneida), and the delegations interpreter. (Courtesy Kenneth Deer)

While Kenneth Deer was presenting last week at the Viens commission, he brought along a series of photos to accompany the story that resulted in the forming of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“When I talk about the development of the UN Declaration, it just didn’t start one day, there’s a whole history of Indigenous people going to the United Nations trying to get the United Nations to do something,” said Deer.

The story in question starts with Deskaheh, the Cayuga chief who travelled to Geneva, Switzerland in 1923 to speak at the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations).

Though the photo is set in Geneva, this week’s Blast From the Past photo is not of the legendary chief, but may not have been happened without his example in the inter-war period.

Deer recounted a story from Deskaheh’s visit.

“When Deskaheh was in Geneva, he was very popular,” said Deer. “He was giving talks all over the place, and one day he was giving a talk at one event, and there was a little boy tugging on his shirt. The other people started chasing the boy away saying, ‘don’t bother him,’ and Deskaheh said, ‘leave him alone. I’ll talk to him.’ So he sat down with the boy until he answered all his questions, and the boy was happy and he left.”

Fast-forward to 1977, and the Haudenosaunee trip to the Swiss city for the Non-Governmental Conference on Racial Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

The delegation made their own passports, as Deskaheh had done half a century prior, and made the trip over the Atlantic.

“When they got to the airport, the Swiss didn’t know what to do with these people with these strange passports,” said Deer. “The mayor of Geneva (Claude Ketterer) found out that there was this delegation and he said allow them into Geneva on cognisance and the mayor would take responsibility for them.”

Ketterer (with his arms crossed wearing glasses and a bow tie in the picture) then asked to meet with the delegation, which is the scene in the picture taken by a French photographer, who followed the delegation around.

“He said, ‘I wanted to meet with you because when I was a little boy, Deskaheh talked to me, and he was so kind to me, I wanted to repay the kindness by letting the delegation in,’” said Deer. “It’s a wonderful story.”

Though Ketterer (who died in 1994) and his aids have stern expressions in the picture, Deer said the meeting was friendly, and that Geneva has always maintained a positive relationship with the confederacy. Another picture from the visit shows the mayor putting on a kustowa he was given.

The positive relationship is the ultimate example of a people-to-people relationship forged by an act of respect between an older person and a child.

“Deskaheh had a really good relationship as well because he was very popular in Geneva in 1923-23,” said Deer. “They used to say they had a real red Indian in their mix.”

Ketterer’s promise to always welcome the Haudenosaunee was re-affirmed in 1997 and 2013.

“So we’re still always welcome in Geneva,” said Deer.

[email protected]

Dear Readers:

As an essential service that is still open during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Eastern Door is fighting hard to keep news like this flowing, in our print product, though an online subscription at and here, for free, on our website and Facebook.

But when a large portion of our regular revenue has disappeared due to so many other businesses being closed, our circulation being affected by the same issue, and all of our specials canceled until the end of the year, we are looking for alternative ways to keep operations going, staff paid, and the paper out every Friday for you to enjoy.

Please consider a financial contribution to help us keep doing what we do best; telling the stories of our people in a contemporary medium – a solid, continuing archive that documents our cherished, shared history. Your kind donation will go to a newspaper that stands as the historical record, in-depth, informative and award-winning news; colourful stories, and a big boost to the local economy by employing 95 percent local workers.

Also, please consider subscribing to our e-edition, which comes out Thursday night, at today, or pick up your copy Friday morning in Kahnawake, Kanesatake or Chateauguay. Akwesasne delivery has been suspended due to the pandemic and border issues.

We exercise real freedom of the press every single day. Without our reporters fighting for the truth our community would be missing a whole lot of facts, separated from gossip and rumors.

E-transfers are accepted and very much appreciated at: [email protected]