by Frieda Jacques
The first night in the year long speaking series began at Syracuse Stage on Monday night called, Onondaga Land Rights & Our Common Future. There was an extremely large crowd on hand to hear Onondaga leaders Sid Hill and Audrey Shenandoah speak about the Onondaga Nation’s land right’s case.
The auditorium was filled with people from the greater Syracuse area, students from Syracuse University, Ithaca College, LeMoyne College, as well as people fromfar away as Ontario Canada, representatives from NOON, and a few familiar faces from the Onondaga Nation itself. Tadadaho Sid Hill began speaking to the large crowd with our Thanksgiving address.
The address is an integral aspect of Haudenosaunee life. Therefore, Tadadaho Sid Hill translated his Onondaga speech into English to aid in the understanding of such powerful words. In this address, it reminds us that we are all a part of a very large circle. The Creator of all, the people, Mother Earth, the grasses and tress, the fruits and foods, the animals, the waters, the air, the winds and rains, moon, sun, and stars and are thanked for continuing their duties that support life for the people here on Mother Earth. It is our duty as people to help and ensure that our Mother Earth is healthy so that this great gift can continue for future generations.
Tadadaho explained that it has been a long process for the Nation to get to this point of filing a land rights action. That a major factor for beginning the lawsuit is the Nation believed that its voice needed to be heard in the role of cleaning up the pollution of our homelands. Sid continued on informing the attentive audience by saying that there has been wide support of our action and especially from communities in the Land Rights Action land base. Some of these communities have sought support from Onondaga in their efforts to clean up their own pollution sites.
Clanmother Audrey Shenandoah, eloquently thanked all for coming and also thanking the organizers for making time for our Thanksgiving address. For the address not only begins our meetings, but our ceremonies as well. At Onondaga, ceremonies are an important factor in our daily life. There continues to be a dedicated group of people who have kept our sacred ceremonies alive. She explained how this hasn’t always been easy at Onondaga. That there was a time when other cultures and religions organizations pressured the people to stop the ceremonies and the people were forced to continue our culture secretly.
Audrey Shenandoah stated that today times are different. The churches and the missions on the Nation support our traditional Onondaga government. This is evident with the support of the land rights action. Audrey Shenandoah remembers when she was young that the nation almost filed a similar case in the past. But it was explained that if the suit was settled, the Nation would receive a cash settlement but would end our title to the land. This was unacceptable to the people. That the Onondagas are the caretakers of the land and this is our mandate from the Creator to continue to do so.
Andy Major, a NOON spokesman, then thanked all for attending and for the audience being so attentive and respectful. Andy noted that Sid, a man, had deferred to Audrey to speak, and this would not normally be seen in his own culture where a man deferred to a woman to speak. Andy then closed the night by inviting all to return back to Syracuse Stage on March 7th for the second talk in the year long series.