On March 11th 1793, a number of Onondagas signed away almost 90% of the territory the nation had at that time. On March 11th 2005, 212 years later, The Onondaga Chiefs and Clan mothers filed their first in their land rights action, challenging the State of New York to admit to the taking of that and other Onondaga Nation Territory. The Nation is also asserting its, spiritually founded, environmental mandates as stewards of the Earth, to sue polluters in the Central New York area. The State, County and City as well as other industrial companies have created a toxic mess that plaques our sacred Onondaga Lake.
Companies targeted in the suit include Honeywell International, which merged with Allied Signal Corp. in 1999, dumped about 165,000 pounds of Mercury into Onondaga Lake from 1946 to 1970. Trigen-Syracuse Energy Corp’s coal burning power plant in Solvy produced 547,270 pounds of pollution in 2002 making it the largest air polluter in Onondaga County.
The Onondaga Nation Leaders made their focus on the environment clear at the news conference announcing the land rights action. They said they hope to make their land rights action as peaceful as possible.
The Nation accuses New York of violating federal law when the state acquired4,000 square miles of land from the Onondagas from 1788 to 1822. The law suit requires a judge to declare the Onondagas as the rightful owners of their aboriginal land – a 250-mile-long, 40-mile-wide band that’s centered in Syracuse. “The nation is seeking to work with its neighbors for a healing,” Heath said. In his 30 years as a lawyer, he said he’s never written a lawsuit inthe kind of language that the Onondagas’ starts with. It calls them stewards ofthe land, and describes the lawsuit’s intention of protecting the environment for future generations.
None of the other Indian nations in NewYork has made environmental cleanup the cornerstone of its settlement talks, according to attorneys familiar with the claims. The Nation also says the Onondagas who negotiated the treaties 200 years ago did not have the authority to sell land to the state.
The Onondaga people wish to bring about a healing between themselves and all others who live in this region that has been the homeland of the Onondaga nation since the dawn of time.
The Nation ands its people, have a unique spiritual, cultural, and historic relationship with the land, which is embodied in the Gayanashagowa, the Great law of Peace. This relationship goes far beyond federal and state legal concepts of ownership, possession, or other legal rights.
The people are one with the land and consider themselves stewards of it. It is duty of the Nation’s leaders to workfor a healing of this land, to protect it, and pass it onto future generations.
The Onondaga Nation brings this action onbehalf of it’s people in the hope that it may hasten the process of reconciliation and bring lasting justice, peace, and respect among all who inhabit this area. .. Ist paragraph of the Onondaga Land Rights Action-2005
“In some ways, it feels like a culmination of all these generations of people. I have seen tears for the elders . . . Some of them would say, ‘I wonder if this will ever happen?’ ” – Audrey Shenandoah, Onondaga Nation Clanmother
“Seeing what has been going on with the lake clean up, we’re not satisfied with that. We want to be able to drink the water. At this time she needs help to get that poison out of her system.” Sid Hill
“When people are treated unfairly it doesn’t make it right just because they pass a law.” Jake Edwards
“It’s not a cleanup plan to us, it’s a cover up plan. It’s nowhere near good enough. You can’t move mercury around and put a cap on it and pretend it is not a problem.” Joe Heath, General Council.