Yorkstater of the Month, March: Tadodaho Sidney Hill

"Our Nation looks at the ecological disaster of Onondaga Lake, the most polluted in North America, and we weep. A century of degradation caused by callous corporations and indifferent government officials has transformed the lake, the center of Onondaga way of life and culture, into a toxic pool hostile to fish, wildlife and humans alike...Corporations should not dump their waste and then take away their jobs once the land has been sufficiently defiled. Central New York was once filled with amazing amounts of natural beauty, and the Onondaga want to reclaim that beauty for everyone. It is our calling, and it is our right."

- Sidney Hill, the Tadodaho of the Onondaga Nation, quoted from
Syracuse Progressive
This month, Yorkstaters would like to recognize Tadodaho Sidney Hill and the Onondaga Nation as its York Stater of the month. While the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people lived in Upstate New York long before there was a New York, Haudenosaunee affairs have long been ignored and their people marginalized. However, all of this began changing in the last 30 years, with the rise of the Red Power/AIM movement, the Indian Gaming Act and the growth of awareness in the USA of the fact that the “Indians” did not just exist to fight cowboys and had in fact not died out.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “
The Shame of Central New York, or, how one man turned a proud people into a corporation” about human rights violations in the name of tribal sovereignty and corporate profit being conducted on the Oneida Reservation/Turning Stone Casino.

However, I don’t want to present a picture of Haudenosaunee affairs as a universally grim one as there is one great beacon of hope and reconciliation: the Onondaga Nation and the Great Council led by Tadodaho Sidney Hill.

The position of
Tadodaho is an ancient one; he serves as the political and spiritual leader of the Great Council of the Iroquois. After a period of training that lasted from the death of the last Tadodaho in 1996, Hill was inducted into the position in 2002. Since then, he has been on a mission of healing and reconciliation. He regularly speaks to local non-Haudenosaunee groups, leading a widespread campaign of outreach.

On March 11th, 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a land claims suit that accused New York of unlawfully taking Onondaga lands in the 18th and 19th centuries. For more details on the claims and the suit, click
here. But unlike similar suits raised by their neighbors the Oneida the goal in these claims was not to build casinos and resorts but instead to act primarily as leverage to force the cleanup of Onondaga Lake. Today one of the most heavily polluted lakes in the country, it holds special importance for the Haudenosaunee people as the site of the founding of their Confederacy. According to Sidney Hill:

“This past year, we have made our voice heard on the ‘cleanup’ of Onondaga Lake and the former factories and toxic waste dumps that sit in the lake's watershed.

We have documented where government-approved plans call for leaving tons of mercury and other toxics in the land and water, and we insisted instead that all efforts should make the lake clean enough to eat the fish and for plants and animals to thrive.

All lesser standards are inferior and should be as unacceptable to you, our neighbors, as they are to us.”

The purpose of the Onondaga Land Claim is to heal: to gain recognition of the injuries brought upon the Onondaga People and to work together to heal the rifts between the communities and to heal the land and water. Besides the importance of clean water and healthy lake ecosystems the lake itself has symbolic meaning. The white-led corporations have taken the sacred lake of the Haudenosaunee and polluted it until the fish cannot be eaten and children are told not to swim in it.

York Staters recognizes Sidney Hill for both his dedication in preserving Upstate traditions and his vision of a cleaner, safer and more spiritually sound future for both our peoples. Non-Onondaga looking to help make real this vision of the future should look into NOON, the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation.
-Posted by Jesse

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