Central Fire of the World
by Sandy Bigtree
On the 5th anniversary of September 11, Oren Lyons, Onondaga Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, will speak on "Racism, Native American Human Rights, and the United Nations" as part of the collaborative educational series, "Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future."
No one has stood more steadfast in deflecting the hard-hitting assaults hurled at Indigenous people than Lacrosse National Hall of Fame Champion Goalie Oren Lyons. Lacrosse is the ancient medicine game of the Haudenosaunee, played as a means to please the Creator by settling discord. The long tradition continues at Onondaga where the precept of the game accompanies Oren to the most challenging playing field of all, an international arena where almost all the players have forgotten the very basic tenets of this sacred game of life.
In 1923 Deskaheh, a Cayuga Chief, appeared with counsel before the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to enter a formal complaint against US and Canadian policies of oppression, exploitation, and violations of treaties with the Haudenosaunee. Although Deskaheh's visit appeared to fall on deaf ears, the following year both countries retaliated by passing new laws which ostensibly forced citizenship upon all Indigenous peoples. The Haudenosaunee announced their refusal to accept foreign citizenship, for they were already citizens of their own nation.
In 1977, Oren was instrumental in organizing 130 Native North and South American leaders - representing Hopis, Lakota, Haudenosaunee, Guaimi, Mesquito, Mapuche, Northern Cheyenne, Ojibway, Aymara, Muskogee, Quichua, Schuar, Apache, Nahuatl, Quiche, Cree, and many more - to again address the United Nations. As requested by the UN, the Haudenosaunee presented papers that conveyed the collective voices of the Natural People of the land, or those who engage in the reciprocity of a natural world order a voice often silenced by those who view the natural world as something to be controlled and exploited destroyed. The full account of this journey can be read in A Basic Call to Consciousness.
By 1982, Oren's continued work helped establish the UN's Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Although this is a milestone, Oren finds it still disconcerting that the UN refers to the Indigenous as "Populations" rather than as "People." This conjures up a long historical indoctrination starting with the Catholic Church's 15th and 16th Century Papal Bulls which decreed that Indians were NOT human beings. This justified European expansion through Christianity; to colonize, exploit and assimilate ALL Indigenous People (see PNL articles on the "Doctrine of Discovery" in issues 744 and 755). The doctrines are still cited today in courts of law, which may be one reason why the Indigenous voice remains stifled. In May 2005, my husband, Philip Arnold, and I traveled to the UN to listen to a panel and hear Oren address the Holy See (who was represented by an "ear" for the Vatican) asking that these racist and unjust documents be rescinded. That work is in progress.
Oren also serves on the Executive Committee of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival. He is co-founder of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth, which is an annual council of traditional grassroots leadership of Native American nations. As this article goes to press, Oren and a delegation from the Elder's Circle are preparing a trip to the melting glaciers in Greenland to witness first-hand, the effects of global warming.
Oren is tireless in defending the most persecuted people in this world, as he works to make their voices heard. No single person could sustain his vigor were it not for his ability to truly carry the power and message of his people. The Indigenous People are the spiritual guardians of this land, remembering and still practicing their original instructions to live as real human beings within this very complex, generous, yet delicate web of life.
The tenacity with which the Onondaga people have persevered in keeping their traditions alive, while their leadership has successfully kept the US Bureau of Indian Affairs and the patriarchy of the Church from taking control of their way of life, accords them the strongest and clearest Indigenous voice today. Onondaga continues to stoke the central fire of the Great Confederacy, bringing the legacy of the "original" United Nations, which was established well over 1,000 years ago, into the present. Heeding the message of the Indigenous voice may be the last hope of reconnecting with this beautiful planet which is the source of life itself.
Onondaga Land Rights Series Continues
Racism, Native American Human Rights and the United Nations
Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation and Distinguished Professor of American Studies at the University of Buffalo
Monday, September 11, 7 pm
Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St.
Part of the series "Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future," sponsored by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation/SPC, SU, SUNY ESF and other community groups. Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation/Syracuse Peace Council, 472-5478, www.peacecouncil.net/noon/index.html