Neighbor to Neighbor: Nation to Nation
Updates on the Onondaga Nation

Onondaga Lake: What it once was, what it has become, what it could be again. Graphic: Karen Kerney

Midland Solidarity Continues

The EPA’s decision to dismiss the civil rights complaint demonstrates exactly why the Nation had to file the land rights case. It constitutes yet another example of federal and state ‘environmental protection’ agencies not doing their job, which should be to protect people’s health and to work towards clean water in all our creeks, rivers and lakes.

–Joe Heath, on behalf of the Onondaga Nation, March 21

The ongoing construction zone at Oxford and Blaine Streets belies the growing momentum to prevent the construction of a sewage treatment plant there. The Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC) continues to tell the story and gain allies against this ill-conceived project.

Recently, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights wrote a decision stating that their investigation of the Title VI complaint filed on behalf of the POC found no violations. This was really not an investigation at all, as the EPA performed no new work, did no on-site research, and never spoke with residents or the POC lawyer.

The Onondaga Nation’s response to the EPA’s decision has strengthened the solidarity that has always existed on this issue. In their response, Joe Heath stated: “The Nation will now have to examine all of its legal options to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the POC and the people of the Midland community.”

To those familiar with the legacy of the EPA and Title VI, the finding came as no surprise. Alma Lowry, attorney for the POC, learned that after more than 10 years of investigating Title VI complaints, the EPA had accepted only 30 for investigation. Of those, none resulted in a finding of violation.

This issue of environmental justice is bigger than Midland, but our smaller struggle has been noticed. Recently, Senator Hillary Clinton requested questions from the POC to submit during the confirmation hearings of the new EPA director. Those questions were submitted by her and specifically address the Midland Avenue struggle.

We are gaining allies. The struggle for environmental and social justice is not over! To learn more visit [] or call Aggie Lane at 478-4571.

–Tarki Heath works with the Partnership for Onondaga Creek.

A Brief History of Onondaga Displacement

We know what it is to lose our land. Displacement is something we wouldn’t want to put on anyone, because our ancestors suffered from it.

–Onondaga Tadadaho Sid Hill

In filing their historic Land Rights Action on March 11, 2005, representatives of the Onondaga Nation have repeatedly stated that they do not seek to take anyone’s home or land. Instead, they want to “restore to the Onondaga Nation recognition of title to its aboriginal territory.”

When European colonists began to enter Central New York, the Onondaga occupied 2.6 million acres (“own” is not a meaningful word for the Onondagas when talking about land).

This is an abbreviated history of New York’s illegal takings of Onondaga territory, actions which dramatically disrupted their lives.

1788 NYS “buys” nearly two million acres of land from an unauthorized group of Onondagas. Onondaga territory is reduced to approximately 108 square miles. NYS failed to comply with its own laws relative to this taking until 1813.

1789 The United States Constitution becomes effective, which clearly prohibits taking of Native lands by states or individuals.

1790 The first federal Indian Trade and Intercourse Act is passed, which further prohibits states from taking Native lands.

1793 Onondagas lease 79 square miles (over 50,000 acres) to NYS. NYS believes they bought the land.

1794 In the Treaty of Canandaigua, the United States guaranteed that the Six Nations will retain their land, and that: “the United States will never claim the same.” Further, the US promised that each of the Six Nations would retain “the free use and enjoyment” of their lands.

1795 Ignoring the Trade and Intercourse Act, NYS illegally “buys” nearly 6,500 acres of land surrounding Onondaga Lake and rights to the lake.

1817 NYS “buys” just over 4,000 acres of land from the Onondagas.

1822 NYS “buys” 800 acres of land at the south end of the Onondaga Nation, reducing Onondaga territory to its current size of 7,300 acres.

–Andy Mager is active with Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation [].