By Sidney Hill
On March 11, 2005, we, the Onondaga Nation, filed our land rights legal case in the United States District Court. As we mark the anniversary of this filing, we give thanks for who we are, all we have and for all of our good neighbors. We invite everyone to join us in looking back over the last year’s accomplishments.
In the land-rights action, we explained our intent to begin a healing between ourselves and all others who live in this region that has been the homeland of the Onondaga Nation since the beginning of time.
We will not use this action to displace any of our neighbors, nor will we open or operate casinos. We want this action resolved in a way that preserves, not disrupts, the social fabric of our nation as well as that of our neighbors. We want to use this action to heal the rift between the people and the land.
But many have asked, what is healing? How do you heal people and land? How will a legal action produce healing? The first step in healing is to acknowledge the wound. You cannot heal an injury that you refuse to acknowledge.
No one is happy when they do not understand those around them. No one can live in peace when the waters are poisoned, the land contaminated, fish too toxic to eat, and the air too polluted to breathe.
To begin healing our people, there must be acknowledgment that our land was taken. It was taken long ago in violation of numerous treaties, federal laws, and the United States Constitution. When our land was unjustly seized, our people were wounded. Our culture and traditions were damaged.
Our neighbors were also wounded by actions that most of those living nearby today have no knowledge of. You were robbed of the chance to live side-by-side in harmony with a culture that is different from your own; a culture that understood and cared for this land for centuries before your ancestors arrived. And we were all robbed of the opportunity to learn and grow together.
If we are successful in our legal action, there will be a court decision that your leaders will have to recognize. We are hopeful of success, but uncertain whether the Onondaga Nation can obtain justice in your legal system. But we know that acknowledgment which produces justice is essential for healing.
We are not waiting on a court schedule to dictate healing with our neighbors and the environment. No one is above the trees, above the water, or above the others who live on this land.
These things are not ours to control, and anyone who doubts this belief need look no further than the escalating changes in the environment.
This past year, we have made our voice heard on the “cleanup” of Onondaga Lake and the former factories and toxic waste dumps that sit in the lake’s watershed.
We have documented where government-approved plans call for leaving tons of mercury and other toxics in the land and water, and we insisted instead that all efforts should make the lake clean enough to eat the fish and for plants and animals to thrive.
All lesser standards are inferior and should be as unacceptable to you, our neighbors, as they are to us.
We have worked to help others raise their voices on issues throughout our historic territory, as well. We would like to give thanks to Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) who have worked tirelessly to educate their friends and neighbors about us, our land-rights action, and what both mean for Central New Yorkers.
By working together to heal Mother Earth, we are working to heal each other.
You, too, are invited to join the healing.