Friday, March 25, 2005

Onondaga Nation Files Historic Land Rights Action

On March 11, 2005

Joe Heath, attorney for the Onondaga Nation, speaks to a group at the Westcott Community Center in Syracuse Thursday evening. Seated are Jeanne Shenandoah (l) and Tadodaho Sid Hill (r).
photo by Jude Nagurney Camwell

"Our Nation looks at the ecological disaster of Onondaga Lake, the most polluted in North America, and we weep. A century of degradation caused by callous corporations and indifferent government officials has transformed the lake, the center of Onondaga way of life and culture, into a toxic pool hostile to fish, wildlife and humans alike...Corporations should not dump their waste and then take away their jobs once the land has been sufficiently defiled. Central New York was once filled with amazing amounts of natural beauty, and the Onondaga want to reclaim that beauty for everyone. It is our calling, and it is our right."

- Sidney Hill, a Tadodaho (spiritual leader) of the Onondaga Nation.
from a column in the Syracuse Post Standard March 13, 2005

There was a Neighbor-to-Neighbor/Nation to Nation meeting held tonight at the Westcott Community Center in Syracuse. Sponsored by the Syracuse Peace Council, the topic was: "Water Connects Us All". Guest speakers were Tadodaho Sid Hill and Jeanne Shenandoah of the Onondaga Nation. Special guest was Joe Heath, the Attorney who, on March 11th, filed a land rights action which is based on New York’s violation of the U.S. Constitution and the 1790 Federal Trade and Intercourse Act. The Act made it make it illegal to acquire Native American land without federal government approval. New York State supposedly acquired the Onondaga lands through a series of agreements in 1788-90, 1793, 1795, 1817, and 1822 without federal approval. The taking of the Onondaga Nation lands also violated the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix and the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua between the United States and the Six Nations or Haudenosaunee, as well as Haudenosaunee laws.

This land rights action is different from any that have been previously filed in New York State. The centerpiece of the suit is pollution and degradation of the land. The lawsuit seeks no actual monetary damages up front, and unlike other claims, there's no call for a casino or bingo hall. [link to this statement: News 10, Syracuse]

The Onondaga's relationship to the land and the water is embodied in Gayanashagowa, the Great Law of Peace. This relationship goes far beyond federal and state legal concepts of ownership, possession, or other legal rights. The people are one with the land and consider themselves stewards of it.

Tadodaho Sid Hill has said: "It is the duty of the Nation’s leaders to work for a healing of this land, to protect it, and to pass it on to future generations. The Onondaga Nation brings this action on behalf of its people in the hope that it may hasten the process of reconciliation and bring lasting justice, peace, and respect among all who inhabit this area."

*See Sean Kirst's column from the Syracuse Post Standard: "For tadodaho, sorrow accompanies land claim".


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