Supporting Onondaga Land Rights
Carole Resnick

The Onondaga Nation, seat of the Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations Confederacy, is acknowledged as having the oldest continuous participatory and democratic government in the world (dating back 1,000-2,000 years). Onondaga leaders have been recognized as valued participants in the proceedings of the United Nations. This sovereign and distinct nation of people was indigenous to this area before Europeans arrived. They are the "next door neighbor" to those of us who live in Syracuse and nearby towns.

The Onondagas have long considered asserting their right to land taken from them illegally. The Land Rights Action they filed in US federal court on March 11, 2005 is introduced with a clear statement of their intent:

The Onondaga Nation hopes to bring about a healing between the Onondaga people and others who live in this area that has been the homeland of the Onondaga people since the dawn of time. The Onondagas have a unique spiritual, cultural and historic relationship with this land which bears no resemblance to legal concepts of ownership, possession or other legal rights. The Nation intends that this suit may be a step toward reconciliation, lasting justice, peace and respect among all who inhabit this region.

Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) seeks to promote understanding of and respect for the Onondaga people and culture within the broader Central New York community; to educate ourselves and others about the history of the relations between the US and the Onondaga Nation; to challenge racism towards native peoples; and to work with the Onondaga Nation on matters of mutual concern. Their land rights action against New York State, Onondaga county, and the city of Syracuse is a matter of great mutual concern.

History and Healing
Among the debts we owe to the Haudenosaunee is their model of participatory democracy. They shared it with the founders of our nation, who in turn used it as a source of inspiration for the US Constitution. Recognizing and appreciating this legacy, we urge the court to respond favorably to the land rights suit and to open the door for the long-term efforts necessary to heal the relationships between our local, regional and national communities with the sovereign Onondaga Nation.

We have been wrongly educated by history books, literature and movies to accept an incorrect narrative of historical events, couched in negative stereotypes of Native people. These stereotypes are based in fear and racism.

NOON seeks to help make right the historic wrongs done to the Onondaga people. We urge our neighbors, the people of Central New York, to listen carefully to what the Onondagas are saying to us, and to respond honestly and without fear.

We understand that the Onondagas will sue no individual and that they seek no action against any individual property owner. Our homes are not in jeopardy. No one will be evicted. We thank the Onondagas for their effort - furthered by this land rights action - to restore and protect the water, land and air from the devastating effects of industrial pollution. We thank them for seeking to heal our wounds, environmentally and socially.

Acting Side by Side
Together, we have little choice but to act decisively to restore health to the environment which knows no legal boundaries. The land rights action has been taken by the Onondagas not only on their own behalf but on behalf of all humans, animals and plant life who share this dangerously polluted water, land and air. These are also our environmental concerns, and we pledge our support for a fair resolution to this legal action.

Remarkable strength of character and conviction are evident as the Onondagas step forward to present not only the legal aspects of this action, but also the human concerns. Despite the anger and humiliation they must feel, given the historic wrongs suffered by their ancestors and which continue to cause suffering today, the Onondagas speak to us from a place of compassion. They seek reconciliation and healing. It is an example to all of us, and especially to our children as they witness this historic moment.

We can have a win-win outcome if the Onondaga's concern for cleaning up the environment moves us to take our share of responsibility and act. We all stand to benefit - humanly, morally, and practically. The environmental dangers we face already threaten our health, and will soon threaten our survival. The environment has no geographic borders. The Onondaga Nation's land rights action offers us an opportunity to move beyond our mis-education to become active participants in creating a just resolution to these past and ongoing wrongs.

The Onondagas have taught us about the two row wampum. The Onondaga land rights action offers us an opportunity to try to honor the historic agreement it represents. This time, instead of violating a promise to respect each other's land and traditions, we can peacefully travel - side by side - on a journey to heal the historic injustices against the Onondaga people and the environmental damage that affects us all.

The Onondagas have made their move. It's up to us to do our part to change the priorities of our state and nation from shortsighted protection of corporate profit to care for the quality of human life, now and in the generations to follow.

Carole wrote this statement on behalf of NOON (a Peace Council program), and has enjoyed many years of friendship with people of the Onondaga Nation.