Friday, October 12, 2007

Onondaga Land Claim (NY State) Update





Onondaga Land Claim Argued in Court
By Michael Hill, Associated Press

(EXCERPTS)

ALBANY, N.Y. — A lawyer advocating the Onondaga Indians' claim to a massive swath of land running down the middle of New York assured a federal judge Thursday that the tribe does not intend to evict anyone, but wants to wipe away a historic stain.

That contention was countered by Assistant Attorney General David Roberts, who argued the 4,000-square-mile land claim by the Onondaga Nation, if successful, could set the stage for evictions in the future. Roberts made the argument as he tried to convince U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn to dismiss the tribe's 2005 lawsuit.

"It's inherently disruptive," Roberts said.

More than 100 Onondagas and their supporters overfilled the courtroom to hear the arguments. Dozens of Onondagas, many in traditional dress, took the three-hour bus ride from their small reservation south of Syracuse to listen, and nodded when lawyer Robert Coulter argued that a judgment in their favor would erase an injustice dating to when New York illegally took their land centuries ago.

"The Nation itself has been thrown off its land and it doesn't want to do that to anyone else," said Coulter, who heads the Indian Law Resource Center. [....]


[....] Tribal leaders have said they do not want monetary damages and insist they do not want to evict the residents of the disputed area. They say they want to spur a cleanup of Onondaga Lake, a waterway sacred to the tribe, and other hazardous waste sites. Coulter echoed this in court when he told Kahn they want land title only in a "grander, more abstract" sense. [....]


[....] The tribe argues that the land _ which they call their homeland "since the dawn of time" _ was illegally taken by New York state through a series of five bogus treaties from 1788 through 1822. New York is the lead defendant in a lawsuit that also names the city of Syracuse and a number of local companies.

The Onondagas say crucial treaties were signed by unauthorized representatives and that the land takings are in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix and the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.

"It's important for the history finally to be redressed for our ancestors," said Wendy Gonyea, an Onondaga who traveled from Onondaga land for the arguments, "that all the suffering, all the land loss, all the dirty deals will finally be remedied." (read entire article at link)






U.S. may back Onondaga land claim
By James Odato, Staff writer, Albany Times Union

The Onondaga Indian Nation's land claim case against New York state may be joined by the federal government, the tribe's lawyer said Thursday in U.S. District Court.....(more at link)


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Vigil Held to Support Onondaga Nation 10/10/07
WSYR.com

Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Members of the Onondaga Nation and a group called "Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation" gathered at Clinton Square Wednesday Night for a vigil to express their support for Onondaga Land Rights.

The groups are hoping to convince a judge to hear the nation's land claim case...and rule that their land was taken illegally.

Andy Mager says some of points of the proposed settlement would benefit everyone, such as cleaning up Onondaga Lake, and he says it's about honoring the values of our Democracy. “It's important because we take seriously the ideals we claim as a nation of freedom democracy of justice and we believe we've fallen fall short in terms of living up to those ideals, relating to the Onondagas and to the Native Americans.” (more at link)

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Court hears arguments in Indian land-claim case
By Cara Matthews, Gannett News Service

EXCERPT: Attorneys for the state argued that the claim should be dismissed because so much time has gone by since ownership of the land was transferred. Issuing a judgment that gives the Onondagas title to property could set the stage for future litigation in which the nation could try take land from its current owners, a lawyer for the state said.

"It's a very confounding sort of title that the plaintiffs are asking for in this case," Assistant Attorney General David Roberts told Kahn.

The Onondaga Nation's lawyers said that is not the tribe's intention. The Onondagas have said they would like a financial settlement and land sufficient to achieve economic self-sufficiency, including a quality education system, affordable health care and adequate housing. Tribe members seek a cleanup of pollution of the land and want a seat at the bargaining table to accomplish that. The Onondaga's lawsuit names five companies in their territory as defendants and accuses them of polluting the environment.

The nation initiated talks with the state, but officials said they would not continue until the Onondagas filed a court claim and it was resolved, Coulter said.

"They want to know (if) we really have a case. Is what the state did really wrong?" he said.

Having a declaratory judgment of the nation's land rights would given the Onondagas a "more effective voice" in demanding environmental clean-up, Coulter said. The tribe is particularly concerned about Onondaga Lake, which has been designated a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is the sacred center of Onondaga culture and heritage.

"That lake is one of the most polluted lakes in the nation. New York State is allowing it to continue," Jake Edwards of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs said after the court session.

Two busloads of people from the Onondaga Nation and members of a group called Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation traveled to the capital, where they were joined by some supporters from the Albany area.

Andy Mager of Syracuse said the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, which he belongs to, has made presentations to a few dozen community organizations about what the Onondagas are seeking.

"Overwhelmingly, what we hear is support for what the Onondagas are calling for, particularly cleaning up the Onondaga Lake," he said.

A support vigil for the Onondaga Nation was held in Binghamton on Thursday, he said.

Coulter told the judge that the federal Department of the Interior authorized him to say that it has recommended litigation in support of the Onondaga Nation, an important key to moving the case forward because it would breach any immunity claimed by the state.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs could not immediately confirm that Thursday but said the agency is working on something related to the Onondaga Nation.

Kahn didn't indicate when he might issue a ruling. If he sides with the state, his decision could end the claim, but a ruling in favor of the Onondagas would allow the case to continue. (read entire article at link).










for more info, visit Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON)
www.peacecouncil.net/noon



The goals of NOON are to:

- Promote understanding of, and respect for, the Onondaga people, history, and culture within the Central New York community.
- Provide accurate information about the Onondaga Nation's current issues of concern, such as their Land Rights Action.
- Challenge racism towards the Onondaga people through education, building relationships, and encouraging shared experiences between the people of our Nations.
- Support, and collaborate with, the Onondaga Nation in their initiatives to promote environmental healing and restore respectful relationships between the governments of our Nations.
- Advocate for just and fair treatment of the Onondaga people at all levels of our own government.