I’m Supporting Standing Rock Through the Onondaga Nation
Last month, I attended an announcement made by the dean of University College Bea González, on behalf of Chancellor Kent Syeveurd, in the Schine Student Center that Syracuse University will formally recognize Indigenous People’s Day. Later that afternoon, I also partook in a discussion about how to be an ally to indigenous peoples.
Recently, protests in North Dakota against the the Dakota Access Pipeline have gained national attention. Celebrities like Shailene Woodley and Mark Ruffalo have openly opposed the construction of the pipeline, which is projected to cross through the Standing Rock Sioux Nation as well as the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. As someone who is an advocate for the environment, I am also concerned about acts of environmental injustice towards groups of people, and indigenous peoples seem to be victims more often than not.
Although North Dakota seems far, there are indigenous nations nearby. The 7,300 mile territory of the Onondaga Nation is only six miles from Syracuse and their main water supplies – Onondaga Lake and Onondaga Creek – have been badly polluted.
For those who may not know, the purple flags flying next to Hendricks Chapel, Manley Field House, and the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University represent the Haudenosaunee. They are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations, all located throughout the state of New York.
It is important to me that the conversation lead by Onondaga Clan Mother Frieda Jacques and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Professor Jack Mano is shared. Here’s what LivableCNY learned about what you can do to be an ally locally:
Learn about treaties and history
Education is the first step. Jacques said it would be great if people had a greater understanding of “who we are and what we’ve been through.”
She encouraged her audience to familiarize themselves with Native American treaties. By learning about Onondaga governance, you can respect the culture and lend a hand without being invasive, Jacques said.
As a sovereign nation, the Onondagas do not allow state or city police into their territory. For example, Jacques brought attention to the Smoke Shop’s tax free tobacco – 1 of 4 major businesses – whose funds support the community. Although the state claims the Nation owes them in taxes, the Onondagas aren’t required to abide by New York State laws.
Slow down and listen
When asked if she found the term “Indian” uncomfortable, Jacques shook her head.
“There’s people my age that are accustomed to calling ourselves Indian and it’s not offensive,” Jacques said. “There are people, though, who want to be called Native American. We’re actually called ongwehonwe’.”
Jacques did not approve stereotypes perpetuated through team mascots, however. One way to be an ally is to reject team names such as the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians.
Care for the Earth
Indigenous peoples are often victims of environmental injustice: cue Onondaga Lake and Onondaga Creek. Manno provided numerous examples on how to be more thoughtful of the natural world. This included, “live lightly on the earth;” “work to end global warming;” “support renewable energy;” and “stop hydrofracking, dirty coal and uranium mining.”
Native Americans also take the concept of the seventh generation into consideration when making decisions. You have to think about not just your children, but their children’s futures. In other words, act sustainably.
“I grew up in the Mohawk Valley, everything around me was named Mohawk and yet I knew nothing,” Manno said. “The educational system taught us to be ignorant. It was an ignorance that was deeply harmful and I think lead to the environmental crisis we’re in.”
Jacques cited animals and plants as relatives, not resources, to be treated as equals.
Support native businesses
Participating in Onondaga-related events or purchasing from native craftspeople is another way to make an impact. The Indian Village was a venue for crafts from the six nations to be sold at the New York State Fair.
Support can be offered by simply attending box lacrosse or hockey games hosted at Tsha’HonNonyen Dakwha’ (Where They Play Games). The arena is also open for public ice skating. On December 17, the Onondaga Nation School will host an Arts and Crafts Show, where local artisans will sell their creations.
Lend your voice
People can reach out to their local legislators, as well as the White House, to join the Standing Rock movement. Protestors are camping throughout the winter, so donations can be made through standingrock.org.
Members from The BaoBob Society were one example of how to be an ally. Sonia Mensah and Makayla Comas asked people to sign their poster to stand in “Solidarity with Standing Rock.” The group is looking to mail it through the Center for Native Peoples.
On November 12, the Onondaga Nation is hosting another march that will start at Tsha’HonNonyen Dakwha’ and end in downtown Syracuse. The more who attend, the more attention the event and Standing Rock get.