Syracuse Post Standard
By Pam Greene
An international leader in Native American human rights issues spoke Monday at Syracuse Stage.
The draw of Oren Lyons, who helped establish the United Nations’ Working Group for Indigenous Populations, left few vacant seats in the theater. It was part of the Onondaga Nation’s yearlong educational series.
Lyons – faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation – has worked with the United Nations and with international governments to fight human rights abuses and to protect the environment. He is a professor of American studies at the State University at Buffalo.
He said that when Christopher Columbus reached America, there were about 16 million indigenous people in the land that would later become the United States. One hundred years ago, that number was down to about 250,000, he said.
“There are a lot of things about history that nobody knows because they are not told,” he said. “What happened to all those people? They went to the same place where 70 million buffalo went. That’s a hard history.”
European history and laws allowed white people to tell natives they couldn’t hold land deeds. Today’s laws have not undone those wrongs, he said.
“It is an uneven and unjust system that is prevailing today,” he said. “But it’s real.”
Environmentally, he said, we’re not doing much better as a society. Ice caps are melting, we’re using too much energy and eventually, we’re going to pass the point of no return and destroy the Earth. The Onondaga Lake cleanup, he said, is a symbol of what has to start happening on a global scale.