Day of Prayer for Sacred Sites
Lindsay Speer

Supporters of Onondaga Land Rights gather at the north shore of Onondaga Lake for a Circle of Peace and Hope organized by Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation on Thanksgiving Day 2008. Photo: elana levy

On June 21, 2009 the Onondaga Nation will mark the seventh annual National Day of Prayer for Sacred Places with  a ceremony on the shores of Onondaga Lake.

The first National commemoration of Sacred Places was held on June 20, 2003 to emphasize the need for protection and healing of Native sacred places. Since then people have gathered at sacred places each year as a way to highlight their plight.

“Native and non-Native people nationwide are gathering to honor sacred places, with a special emphasis on those that are endangered by actions that can be avoided,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), President of The Morning Star Institute, which organizes the National Prayer Days.

Bringing it Home
It was on the shores of Onondaga Lake that the Peacemaker first brought together the five warring nations – the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk – to bury the weapons of war under the Great Tree of Peace and form the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Onondaga Lake was also a source of food and sustenance for the Onondaga. Whitefish, eel, and Atlantic salmon were all plentiful in the lake. I was told that this was one of the reasons that the Council Fire of the Haudenosaunee was located at Onondaga. Not only was it centrally located in the Confederacy, the food and medicine plants were most abundant here and could support large and lengthy gatherings of people.

Beyond history and practicality, the Onondaga have a deep and enduring connection with the lake and the natural environment of this area. It is difficult to fully capture this concept in English; “sacred” is about as close as we can come. It is the directions given by the Creator, of stewardship and responsibility for all life, that inform the Onondaga Nation’s Land Rights Action and environmental work today.

Onondaga Lake has been badly damaged by well over a century of industrial and municipal pollution (See for information). Upgrades by the county to the sewage treatment plant have thankfully resulted in improvements in water quality, due to reduced nutrient loading. However, the toxic pollution in and around Onondaga Lake remains, and is not adequately addressed by the current cleanup plans. Over 80% of the sediment contaminated with mercury, PCBs, DDT, benzene, toluene, xylene and 21 other toxic contaminants will be left in the lake unless area residents insist on a better plan. The Onondaga Nation is deeply concerned about the impacts of this remaining pollution on future generations.

The Day of Prayer for Sacred Places event will be held at Willow Bay on Onondaga Lake Park from 1-2pm on Tuesday, June 23, 2009. Please visit or for further information. All who wish for the full cleanup and healing of Onondaga Lake are invited to attend.

Lindsay, a lifelong Syracuse resident, is an environmental consultant and community organizer on behalf of the Onondaga Nation.