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ESF Honors Location on Haudenosaunee Territory
ESF President Quentin Wheeler, joined by leaders of the ESF Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, members of the Onondaga Nation and ESF students, Wednesday, Nov. 18, announced the college's recognition of its location on the original territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and his intention to formally share that acknowledgement with visitors to the campus.
Before a crowd of about 100 from the college community and the Onondaga Nation, Wheeler highlighted three points:
- ESF is located within the original territory of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, Confederacy
- The college's main campus, its Heiberg Forest and its Lafayette Road Experiment Station are all within the Land Rights Action of the Onondaga Nation
- The Onondaga Nation maintains its own distinct government, language and customs based on a smaller portion of its original land base located south of Syracuse
The event, called "Where We Stand," was part of ESF's observance of Native American Heritage Month. The ceremony was followed by a workshop, "Envisioning Indigenous Alliances," to discuss environmental alliances between ESF and Indigenous Peoples.
"I am pleased to announce that, from this day forward, we will share similar statements of these facts with thousands of students and guests who visit our campus each year. This represents our commitment to intellectual inclusion and cultural pluralism and it honors the significant contributions of the Onondaga Nation to environmental leadership," he said.
"These statements reinforce our responsibility to think about where we stand in the context of history, geography and environmental understanding so that we are ever-cognizant of the implications of our work for the real world," Wheeler said. "As individual persons, our time here is brief, but the land is permanent and our decisions and actions toward the land have consequences for many generations to come. We stand on the side of responsible stewardship of the land."
Wheeler also said recognition of the college's location on the original territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy will be memorialized in a permanent stone monument to be placed on the ESF campus in the near future. He honored the long-standing protocol of symbolizing the commitment by presenting a string of wampum to Tadodaho Sid Hill of the Onondaga Nation.
Dr. Robin Kimmerer, director of the ESF Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, said Central New York is the home of "two great intellectual traditions for understanding and caring for the Earth" — the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the Scientific Ecological Knowledge of ESF.
"SUNY-ESF has stood on this ground for more than 100 years, a long and venerable history of education for the environment," she said. "However, our tenure here is but an eye blink of time in the history of these lands, which have been and continue to be the ancestral homelands of the Onondaga people since time immemorial."
Kimmerer noted the center has created an undergraduate minor called Native Peoples and the Environment and that next year it will introduce a new graduate program in indigenous issues and the environment.
Undergraduate Student Association (USA) President Margaret Foley said the announcement by Wheeler was well timed in view of recent action by the USA, which recently passed a resolution urging ESF, Syracuse University and New York State to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as a holiday.
"As students we often hear about the Onondaga Nation connection from our professors or in our classrooms," Foley said. "Now in addition to being taught about that connection in the classroom we will be reminded of our connection to the Haudenosaunee every time we hear our president speak."
Hill said climate change is a major issue facing future generations: "The young people are the ones who are going to have to face these climate issues."
"It's what our generations have not taken care of," he said. "There's so much to learn, so much to teach. It's good to see so many young people here."
Joe Heath, general counsel for the Onondaga Nation, said after the event:
"Ten years ago, the Chiefs and Clan Mothers directed us to include the first paragraph in the Land Rights action that called for healing. Healing of the environmental destruction and devastation and disrespect for their lands and waters, and the healing among the settlers who have come to live on their land. And these steps by ESF today are a clear reflection of how well that message has been received in the Central New York community. So let us use one of the principles of the Great Law to move together and use our good minds to find solutions to the problems that are causing all of us difficulty — the problems of climate change, problems of a heavily polluted lake, the problems of the mudboils — and move together from this day to make a world better for the generations yet to come."