Syracuse Post Standard
By Mike McAndrew
When people opposed to Native American tribal sovereignty ask “Aren’t we all just Americans?” Scott Lyons has an answer.
“Not exactly,” according to Lyons.
Lyons, a Syracuse University assistant professor and director of the Center for Indigenous Studies at St. John Fisher College, said the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court recognized Native American tribes as sovereign governments.
Lyons, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, was one of three panelists to tackle the issue of sovereignty Monday night at Syracuse Stage in the final lectures of a yearlong series focusing on the Onondaga Nation and its land claim suit against New York state.
He said few people object when Native American nations exert sovereignty by creating programs to teach their own languages. But when native governments assert economic sovereignty – by running casinos and filing land claims – friction often occurs, Lyons noted.
In the Syracuse area, the Onondaga Nation land rights action and sovereignty claims have caused less angst than other tribes’ claims in other areas of the state, said Richard Loder, director of SU’s Native American Studies program. He said that’s because the Onondaga are using the suit to try to force the state to clean up the environment and they’ve invited their non-native neighbors to join in that effort.
Also on the panel was Tonya Gonnella Frichner, an Onondaga Nation member and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance.
Frichner has been part of a 21-year effort to get the United Nations to adopt a nonbinding declaration supporting the rights of indigenous people throughout the world.
She said leaders of the Haudenosaunee – a confederacy of six Indian nations in New York – realized decades ago that they had to take their sovereignty battles to the international community and not rely on U.S. politicians and courts.
Today, a U.N. committee might vote to postpone consideration of the declaration. Frichner said that would be a serious setback and could kill efforts to get the declaration approved by the U.N. General Assembly. She said the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been leading the opposition to the declaration.
About 150 people attended the two-hour program, which was sponsored by SU, the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, a citizens group.
The Onondaga Nation filed a land claim suit against New York in March 2005, seeking title to a 40-mile-wide swath stretching from the Thousand Islands to Pennsylvania. New York has asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, contending the Onondaga waited too long to sue.
Mike McAndrew can be reached at 470-3016 or firstname.lastname@example.org