Onondaga Nation Officially Recognized as a Trustee for Onondaga Lake

Onondagas and supporters gather at the shore of Onondaga Lake, the birthplace of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to mark the UN International Day of Peace, September 20, 2007. Kent Lyons is speaking. Photo: Andy Mager

In January our state and federal governments took an important step forward in recognizing the Onondaga Nation’s role as stewards of the natural world. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Onondaga Nation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have formed a trustee council that will assess natural resource injuries at the Onondaga Lake Superfund site and plan and implement restoration activities for the lake and the associated watershed. 

The formation of the Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Trustee Council is an important step in the process of addressing natural resource injuries to the lake. Trustees, under the Superfund law, are permitted to make claims on behalf of the public and negotiate settlements to address environmental damage caused by the release of hazardous substances. Injuries can include ecological, recreational and cultural losses. Any resulting funds must be used for restoration projects.

The Trustees are equal partners on the council, relating on a government-to-government basis.

“This is an important step towards healing old wounds and advancing the serious and complex work of restoring Onondaga Lake, which is sacred to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy,” said Joseph Heath, General Counsel for the Onondaga Nation. “The Nation looks forward to working with the trustee council to ensure that restoration fully addresses the devastating harm to the lake. The Nation has been a steward of Onondaga Lake for over 1,000 years. It is appropriate that the Nation is able to continue its stewardship in the context of this process.”

Working with the public, the trustee council will determine what restoration is needed to compensate for natural resource injuries. This work goes beyond remedial actions required to address the contamination of Onondaga Lake and its environs by parties responsible for the releases of hazardous substances and oil to the environment. The trustees are developing a cooperative agreement for the assessment of natural resource injuries with Honeywell, the company that is currently working under a legal order with DEC on the lake’s cleanup and is one of the parties potentially responsible for the release of hazardous substances. For more information on the Natural Resource Damages and Assessment Restoration process at Onondaga Lake, go to http://www.fws.gov/northeast/nyfo/ec/nrda.htm. The original press release can be found at the Onondaga Nation website: onondaganation.org. To support efforts of the Onondaga Nation for environmental cleanup and social healing, contact NOON at 472-5478 or noon@peacecouncil.net.
–Andy Mager