To the Editor:
The recent decision by the Supreme Court to refuse to hear the Cayuga Nation’s appeal of an earlier federal court’s dismissal of their land claim gives us pause to consider the meaning and importance of the Onondaga Nation land rights action.
The Supreme Court’s action leaves in place a lower court’s judgment that even though injustice was done when the Cayugas were dispossessed and forced to leave their homeland, too much time had passed for the Nation to receive redress in U.S. courts.
As educators we look not only at the legal issues but also at the political, moral, social and spiritual issues, as well. Because a crime against humanity happened a long time ago doesn’t mean its legacy of hurt isn’t very much alive in the present.
Often, the longer a wound festers, whether from slavery or genocide or the destruction of land and water, the greater the need for healing. It is this healing of our community and our natural resources that lies at the heart of the Onondaga Nation’s land rights action.
For the people of Central New York, although court decisions have certain legal effects, we don’t need a court decision to decide to do what’s right in our community. Here are some things we can do individually and as a community that will continue the healing process the Onondagas have initiated.
Care for the Earth.In all we do, recognize that this is the ancestral homeland of the Onondagas and that we are, in effect, their guests. Whenever you are a guest, it makes sense to know what matters most to your host about their home and to respect the rules of the household.
Whenever the Onondagas gather in meeting, they acknowledge and give thanks for the gifts of Creation. We, too, can adopt an understanding that our well-being, indeed our very lives, depend on the fact that the trees continue to produce oxygen, the clouds continue to carry water, the soil yields food, the sun’s fire makes warmth.
To the extent that we actively care for the air, water, land and energy of this place, we will honor the Onondaga and ourselves.
Work for Peace.It was on the shores of Onondaga Lake that a man known as the Peacemaker brought warring nations together to form a unique confederacy under which the nations of the Haudenosaunee thrived for hundreds of years. The leaders planted a white pine and buried their weapons of war beneath its roots.
Those roots spread out in all directions and welcomed all the nations of the Earth to do likewise. This invitation to peace among nations and people is as relevant today as it was in the time of the Peacemaker.
Act today with regard to generations yet to come.When facing important decisions Haudenosaunee leaders are asked to consider their effects on the seventh generation hence. Imagine what might be different if our leaders did the same. We can choose to live that way ourselves.
Learn the history of this place you call home.We, in Central New York, are inhabitants of a land with an incredible history of great deeds and horrific crimes and that history did not begin with European settlement.
It’s amazing that people who know much about Rome and Greece and Palestine know next to nothing about Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Make a decision to learn about this history and a commitment to make right the wrongs done in our name.
Respect and honor the ancestors.We live among special places, many of which are burial grounds or sacred sites. If you come across evidence of past habitation or Indian graves, do the right thing and report it to the Onondaga Nation for proper treatment. If you know of Indian artifacts held privately or publicly let the Onondaga know.
Learn more.Come to the series, “Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future.” Our next event at Syracuse Stage is at 7 p.m., Tuesday June 13. Common Council President Bea Gonzalez, NOON and Syracuse Peace Council activist Andy Mager and Onondaga Faithkeeper Wendy Gonyea will present, “Onondaga Land Rights: All Central New Yorkers Can Benefit.”
Submitted by the organizing committee of the Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future educational series, which includes Jack Manno, associate professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, SUNY ESF; Philip Arnold, professor, Department of Religion, Syracuse University; Andy Mager, Neighbors of Onondaga Nation (NOON); and Regina Jones, Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs, Syracuse University.