October 23, 2013 - NOON's Response to Supreme Court Decision

As members of Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) we wish to express our extreme disappointment at the recent 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. It seems that justice for Indigenous Nations in the US court system is not possible and, as with this latest decision, sanctions New York '€™s undeniable and knowingly illegal taking of the Onondaga Nation'€™s lands in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The Treaty of Canandaigua, signed on November 11th 1794 with the United States promised to never seize or disturb Haudenosaunee lands. The US government continues to ignore and break this, as well as, two previous treaties that were made with the Haudenosaunee Six Nations in 1784 and 1789. Article Six of the US Constitution states that "Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land"€. 

For the past 200 years in every manner available to them, the Onondaga have continually asked the US to honor the treaties and address New York's historic violations of federal law. But US courts were closed to them until recent years. Now one reason for denying them justice is because they are arbitrarily judged to have waited too long. Isn't this a no win situation?

In addition, the Onondaga Nation specifically designed their claim to minimize disruption to their neighbors and they are not asking for anyone to be evicted from their land.The Onondaga Land Rights Action seeks only a declaratory judgment that New York State violated the treaties made between the United States and the Onondaga Nation. Yet the US continues to refuse the Onondaga their day in court to ask simply that this violation be acknowledged. Because of the example of the Supreme Court in Land "€œClaim"€ cases, Judge Kahn of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York, decided to dismiss their Land Rights Action without even a hearing because it would be "€œprofoundly disruptive"€. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The US Supreme Court has chosen not to review that appeal. The Onondaga are asking only for a declaratory judgement. In other words, simply a recognition that their land was illegally taken. But they have never even had an opportunity to present their case in court nor the vast body of research they have compiled. Does this make sense? Is this justice?

They have also asked for the opportunity to have an active say in what happens to that land, including Onondaga Lake, which is sacred to them, and was disastrously polluted by the descendants of the people who took their land. Their cultural connection to the environment is expressed in their court case through voicing their concern for the environment. As they have stated we all share this environment. Have they waited too long to press their concern about the environment? Is doing that "€œprofoundly disruptive"€?

The Doctrine of Discovery has also been cited as setting precedent for denying the Haudenosaunee court cases. US Indian law is based on the Doctrine of Discovery, as established by Justice Marshall in the 1823 case of Johnson v. McIntosh. It claimed that because the Indigenous peoples living in these lands that were "€œdiscovered"€ by the European explorers were not Christian, they were "€œsavages"€ with no real right to the title of their lands. US courts have repeatedly used this Doctrine to attempt to reduce Indigenous nations sovereignty. Many Christian denominations, as well as, the World Council of Churches have repudiated this Doctrine and others are moving in that direction.

Their struggle will likely not end here. For justice, the Onondaga must now try international options. The Nation and their attorneys are considering filing a challenge in an international arena €“either the United Nations or the Organization of American States Commission on Human Rights.

As stated in their Land Rights Action, they "€œwish to bring about a healing between themselves and all others who live in this region that has been the homeland of the Onondaga Nation since the dawn of time. The Nation and its people have a unique spiritual, cultural, and historic relationship with the land, which 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. 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."€ Members of NOON express our deep appreciation to the Onondaga Nation for their position and for their many efforts to seek reconciliation, justice peace and environmental protection with and for all of us who live in Central New York.

The relationship between the Onondaga and the people of Central New York is a very old one and local citizens have long acknowledged serious injustice and harm that has gone unhealed for far too long. The Onondaga people lived here in Central New York for many hundreds of years before Europeans came to these shores, and they will not disappear. Tomorrow, the Onondaga will still be our neighbors.

NOON applauds the people of Central New York for accepting the Onondaga Nation's offer to work for healing and reconciliation. People are joining NOON, learning about the Onondaga, reaching out to them and supporting their efforts for justice. We will continue to bring the people of Central New York together to brighten the "€œcovenant chain of friendship"€, and work to support our Onondaga neighbors in this quest for healing, reconciliation and environmental protection which is ultimately in the best interest of us all. It is ironic to us that the Supreme Courts decision was released just after the Columbus Day holiday.

One Onondaga Nation Supporter's Response - Alicia Swords
When I read this I thought of Frederick Douglass' speech in response to the Dread Scott Decision. He provides an amazing "contradiction" to the abolitionist movement, which very well could have become completely discouraged and immobilized by the Supreme Court decision at that point.
"You will readily ask me how I am affected by this devilish decision -€” this judicial incarnation of wolfishness? My answer is, and no thanks to the slaveholding wing of the Supreme Court, my hopes were never brighter than now. I have no fear that the National Conscience will be put to sleep by such an open, glaring, and scandalous tissue of lies as that decision is, and has been, over and over, shown to be. The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater. Judge Taney can do many things, but he cannot perform impossibilities. He cannot bale out the ocean, annihilate the firm old earth, or pluck the silvery star of liberty from our Northern sky. He may decide, and decide again; but he cannot reverse the decision of the Most High. He cannot change the essential nature of things making evil good, and good evil. Happily for the whole human family, their rights have been defined, declared, and decided in a court higher than the Supreme Court."


November 2, 10 AM-5 PM, "Spirit of the Harvest" Cultural Celebration, Haudenosaunee Artists & Crafts People, Onondaga Community College, Gordon Student Center, Free admission and parking.

November 11, 10 AM-6 PM, Canandaigua Treaty Day, Canandaigua, NY. Join Natives and allies from all over NYS to commemorate the signing of this important treaty. Everyone is welcome to join in any portion of the day's events.
For details ganondagan.org/TreatyCelebration.html


November 12 -  NOON Steering Committee Meeting, 7-8:30 pm, Syracuse Peace Council, open. Since new people often have a lot of questions, we recommend talking with Carol Baum, Syracuse Peace Council Staff (315-472-5478315-472-5478 , carol@peacecouncil.net) or Sue Eiholzer, NOON Volunteer (315-492-2684315-492-2684 , rsue@twcny.rr.com) before the meeting.

November 19 - Doctrine of Discovery Study Group, 7 pm at Friends Meeting House, 821 Euclid Avenue, Syracuse NY 13210. It is directly across from the Westcott Community Center. Parking is available in the rear. Contact Joan Cope Savage at jcopesa1@twcny.rr.com or 315- 415-4290315- 415-4290  for further information.

November 19 or 20 - Shaleshock CNY, 6 pm, Community Room, Onondaga Free Library. (Shaleshock usually meets on the 3rd Wednesday. Due to a room conflict it has sometimes been moved up to Tuesday. Check with library.) Meeting on local hydrofracking efforts. shaleshockcny.org/index.html


November 14/15, Listening to the Wampum Symposium, SU, Le Moyne College, and Onondaga Community College (OCC). The conference will present information about the contact between Jesuits and Onondaga in 1653 and 1657-8 from multiple perspectives, including those of Jesuit, Haudenosaunee ("€œPeople of the Longhouse,"€ or Iroquois), and colonial-era scholars. The symposium will examine questions related to the role and meaning of wampum in Haudenosaunee culture, as well as how to include wampum into what constitutes an authoritative version of history. Free and open to the public.
For details:


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