October 15, 2013
Today’s denial by the US Supreme Court of the Onondaga Nation’s Petition for Certiorari review of the dismissal of the Nation’s historic Land Rights Action is the final proof that there is no justice for Indigenous Nations in the US court system. This denial of justice sanctions New York’s un-denied and knowing illegal taking of the Onondaga Nation’s lands in the late 1700s and early 1800s; and it means that the US government continues to ignore and break the three treaties that were made with the Haudenosaunee Six Nations in 1784, 1789 and 1794.
This is just another example of the shameful history of broken treaties, land thefts, forced removal and cultural genocide that is the foundation of New York’s and the United States’ treatment of the Indigenous peoples and nations. Essentially, the courts have ruled that none of these horrible, historic harms matter under US law, because “it is not fair” to raise these problems at this time–they claim the Nation waited too long. This despite the fact that the courts were closed to the Nations until very recently and despite the fact that, from the very beginning, the Onondagas have constantly worked to redress these harms, in accordance with their Treaty right.
Today’s denial is but the last step on a shameful path of injustice and inequity which the Supreme Court has engaged in for almost 200 years, by adding its blessings to the horrendous treatment of Indigenous peoples and their lands and cultures. History will someday recognize how despicable this failure has been.
“Our people have called for healing, of the land and waters, and with our neighbors who share our lands,” said Tadodaho, Sidney Hill. “Our people have always talked about and worked for a return of our stolen lands, and we will continue to do so, for the sake of the future generations yet to come.”
All of US Indian law is based on the mediaeval and racist doctrine of discovery, as articulated in the 1923 case of Johnson v. McIntosh. This construct was created by the Vatican and European monarchs in the 1400s as a cover for their plunder of Africa and the “new world”, and it claimed that because the Indigenous peoples living in these land that were “discovered” by the European explorers were not Christian, they were “savages” with no real right to the title of their lands. So, when a Christian nation’s explorers landed on newly “discovered” territory, the European government immediately claimed that title passed to them. US courts have repeatedly used the doctrine to attempt to reduce Indigenous nations’ sovereignty.
As cowardly as this construct is, since late March of 2005, the Supreme Court has made the record even worse by concocting a new defense for the State, which they try to say is “equitable”. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not fair to make up an entirely new defense, based on presumed and made up “facts”, which turns centuries of equitable law and principle on its head and which only applies to Indian nations’ land rights. This is the Plessey v. Ferguson of Indian law and someday, history will condemn it.
The Onondaga Nation’s struggle for justice will not end with today’s denial; and the Nation is working with its attorneys to file a challenge in an international arena–either the United Nation or the Organization of American States Commission on Human Rights.
“We have recognized for years, that no justice would come to the Nation in US courts,” said Onondaga Nation General Counsel, Joe Heath. “The struggle for healing and justice will continue; and this is no longer a land rights case–it is a land rights movement. It is time to admit these historic harms; and it is time for justice, time for healing.”
Onondaga Announces Land Rights Case – 2005
The Onondaga Land Right’s Case – 2005
Declaration by Chief Sidney Hill in opposition of the dismissal – 2006
Hearing of Appeal – 2007
Onondaga Appeals Dismissal – 2010
Onondaga files Appeal to Supreme Court – 2012