The Onondaga Nation is a member of what is now commonly referred to as the Haudenosaunee (a name translated as the “People of the Long House”), an alliance of native nations united for the past several hundred years by complementary traditions, beliefs and cultural values. Sometimes referred to as the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations, the Haudenosaunee originally consisted of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations. The Tuscarora migrated from the south and peacefully joined the Confederacy in the early 1700’s, bringing to six the number of nations united by Haudenosaunee traditional law.
Like other member-nations of the Haudenosaunee, the Onondaga Nation survives today as a sovereign, independent nation, living on a portion of its ancestral territory and maintaining its own distinct laws, language, customs, and culture. Today, the Onondaga Nation consists of a 7,300-acre territory just south of Syracuse, on which it maintains its sovereignty and operates outside the general jurisdiction of New York State. The Nation is still governed by a Council of Chiefs, selected in accordance with its time-honored democratic system. In the same vein, many Onondagas practice traditional ceremonies and adhere to religious philosophies and social customs that long predate contact with Western civilizations. Aspects of this ideology have been incorporated into America’s legal system, as well as into its culture. Personal and societal consideration of the Seventh Generation is but one example of a Haudenosaunee world view that has informed, enhanced and enlightened American and other national cultures.
As in any other vibrant and dynamic society, Onondaga culture continues to change and evolve to meet the challenges of the modern world. Just as most Americans today no longer live in log cabins or sod houses, neither do Onondaga people live in their traditional elm longhouses. Most Onondagas today live in frame or modular homes, and work as teachers, retail clerks, or for the Nation itself, at the Onondaga Nation’s healing center, school, fire department, and hockey and lacrosse arena. Other Onondagas work outside the Nation, as teachers, lawyers, nurses, construction workers, or in other professional occupations.
As an independent, sovereign government, the Onondaga Nation government does not pay income, sales, or excise taxes to New York State or to the federal government, nor does it receive any of the benefits paid for by these taxes. Unlike several other New York native nations, the Onondaga Nation has chosen not to become involved in the casino business or other gambling ventures; instead, the Nation operates a tax-free smoke shop, which funds many community projects, including the repair of homes, a reservation water system, a healing center, and the Onondaga Nation multi-purpose arena. Opened in 2002, the 1,900-seat ultra-modern facility boasts over 40,000 square feet, and doubles as a facility for both hockey and lacrosse, not only for Onondaga citizens, but for neighboring town, city, high school and college teams as well.