Syracuse, NY– The International Law Association’s Committee on the Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has accepted a Case Study on the lack of justice in the United States for the Onondaga Nation’s Land Rights to be included in a forthcoming report. On April 15, 2016 it will be two years since the Onondaga Nation petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to consider the lack of justice provided by U.S. federal courts for their Land Rights Action. The petition is currently under preliminary consideration.
“The case of the Onondaga Nation – as well as the violations committed by the US government – will be duly emphasized in the Committee’s Report,” wrote Federico Lenzerini, Rapporteur to the ILA Committee on the Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Professor of International Law at the University of Siena in Italy.
The Onondaga Nation’s Land Rights Action was filed in 2005 to address the illegal dispossession of the Nation from its original territory and natural resources and the resulting cultural, spiritual, economic, environmental and health depravations to its citizens. This illegal dispossession was in clear violation of three bilateral treaties between the United States and the Haudenosaunee Six Nations, the United States Constitution and federal laws of the United States.
In 2013, the Onondaga Nation’s Land Rights Action was summarily dismissed by the federal courts of the United States. Subsequently, on April 14, 2014, the Nation filed a Petition against the United States in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“Since 1788, 2.5 million acres of land have been stolen from the Onondaga Nation by New York State,” said Joe Heath, General Counsel for the Onondaga Nation. “The failure of the US court system to protect the Onondaga Nation’s ancestral homeland, as promised in the Treaties, has left the Nation with no choice but to seek assistance for human rights violations from the international community.”
The International Law Association has a consultative status, as an international non-governmental organization, with a number of the United Nations specialized agencies. Its Committee on the Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is tasked with “carefully looking at what legal, quasi-legal and practical barriers potentially block the road from international legal standards to actual protection in a number of areas of the world,” recognizing that “a range of problems remains which often hinder the full realization of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provisions and pertinent customary international law.” The Committee is accepting case studies that document such practical barriers; and the Nation has been barred from federal court, while the US has refused to subject itself to any international court with enforcement authority for human rights violations.
The introduction to the Onondaga Nation’s case study explains, “Since 2005, the federal courts of the United States have adopted a new standard of law that denies treaty rights to Indigenous nations and that only applies to Indian land rights cases. The practical result of this new standard is that Indigenous nations can not receive any justice in the federal courts of the United States.”
“The United States’ misapplication of the legal doctrine of laches to perpetuate the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands affects not just our Nation, but others as well,” explained Sidney Hill, Tadodaho of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs. “Injustice against indigenous peoples did not only happen in the past, it continues today. It should not be too much to ask that the United States find a way to honor the treaties it has made.”
In its petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Onondaga Nation demonstrates that the denial of any remedy for the taking of their land and the treaty violations are a human rights violation under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other international agreements.
The ultimate purpose of the Onondaga Nation in the assertion of its land rights is to enable the Nation to maintain its culture and way of life, and to protect the earth and its environment for all inhabitants of central New York. The Nation’s Land Rights Action has not been disruptive.
“The Nation is seeking to continue the healing process between themselves and others who live in the region,” added Joe Heath. “The Nation is searching for positive ruling that would allow them to continue its role as an environmental steward of the land and waters it once conserved for centuries.”
In one of its recommendations in the Case Study, the Nation requests that the US should remove the doctrine of discovery from its legal jurisprudence.
The opportunity to file the Case Study was brought to the Onondaga Nation’s attention by SUNY Brockport Professor Neal Keating, at the suggestion of Kenneth Deer of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake. The ILA’s Committee had called for the submission of Case Studies to be discussed at the ILA Biennial Conference in Johannesberg, South Africa in August.
The Onondaga Nation is one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. The Onondaga Nation survives as a sovereign, independent nation, living on a portion of its ancestral territory and maintaining its own distinct government, laws, language, customs, and culture. Today, the Onondaga Nation consists of a 7,300-acre territory just south of Syracuse, NY. To learn more about the Onondaga Nation’s Land Rights Action visit http://www.onondaganation.org/land-rights/complaint/