The Rights of the Land

Before first light we board a bus and at last light we return, just as the October hills of central New York shade to burgundy and the lights come on in dairy barns for evening chores. Teachers, students, clan mothers, chiefs, journalists, scientists, activists, and neighbors like me — I see all our faces reflected in the bus windows. For the Onondaga, this trip to federal court in Albany to defend their right to care for their land has been a long time coming, a journey of generations.

The highway rises out of the enfolding hills to a ridge, where the land suddenly spreads out below. I see forests, farms, orchards, and, in the distance, the lights of downtown Syracuse. Plumes from smokestacks catch the rosy light above Onondaga Lake, a pewter oval reflecting the sky.

The first part of this tale is familiar, which makes it no less shameful. The ancestral territory of the Onondaga stretches from the Pennsylvania border north to Canada. Historically, it was a mosaic of rich woodlands, expansive cornfields, lakes, and rivers. Rights to these lands were guaranteed by treaties between two sovereign nations, Onondaga and the United States. But over the years, illegal takings of land by the state of New York diminished the aboriginal Onondaga territories from 2.6 million acres to a tiny reservation of just 7,300 acres.

The Nation’s current territory does not even include the heart of their ancestral home, Onondaga Lake, one of Native America’s most sacred sites. In the seminal Onondaga story of the Peacemaker, a figure appeared across the water of Onondaga Lake during a time of war, a beautiful youth in a white stone canoe. The stone canoe signifies the weight of the message with which he was entrusted, the Great Law of Peace. Most people of the warring nations turned him away; few would listen. But as the Peacemaker grew to old age, one by one the leaders finally heard the message of peace and set aside their war clubs. On the shore of Onondaga Lake, the Peacemaker gathered together all fifty of the reconciled chiefs. To signify the peace, they cast their weapons into a great hole, on top of which the Peacemaker planted an enormous white pine.

The five bundled needles of the white pine represent the union of five tribes: the Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, and Mohawk. Its roots, spread out to the four directions, represent the invitation to all to live by the Great Law, which sets forth a vision of right relationships between people and the Earth. Thus was born what the European settlers understood as the Great League of the Iroquois, what the people themselves call the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the oldest continuous democracy on Earth.

Chief Irving Powless Jr., an Onondaga elder, likes to remind listeners that walking beside the Peacemaker was Hiawatha — not Longfellow’s invention, but the real one. It was Hiawatha, standing by this very lake, who bound together the five arrows. One arrow alone, he said, can be broken, but the bundle of five is too strong. The structure of the Iroquois Confederacy became the model for the colonist’s new union, and the symbolism stands today: the eagle in the great seal of the United States holds those five arrows in its talons. It was beneath that very seal that the Onondaga pled their case in federal court.

Chief Powless also likes to say that when the colonists adapted Haudenosaunee ideas for their government, they took only the parts that they liked. “If it were up to us, we wouldn’t have written the Bill of Rights without a Bill of Responsibilities,” he told me.

Despite its status as the birthplace of American democracy, there is no monument on the shores of Onondaga Lake. Today, the soil where the Peacemaker walked is a Superfund site. In fact, it’s not soil at all, but a slippery white mass of industrial waste, thirty feet deep, left over from soda ash production by Allied Chemical. More than 144 million tons of mercury-laden waste were spewed onto the lake bottom. The water is a stew of sewage and assorted toxic wastes. If you walk on the waste beds, you can see rusting barrels, oozing leachate. The sacred and the Superfund share this shore.

ON A FIELD TRIP to the lake with school kids from the Onondaga Nation, Audrey Shenandoah shares her memories, recalling the lake as a place “where the willows touch the water” — a beautiful place, a place for fishing, for gathering plants, for family picnics, for ceremonies. Audrey is a clan mother, writer, and teacher. As an advisor to the United Nations, she has been a voice on behalf of indigenous peoples and the environment all over the world. The teaching of “think not of yourself, but of the seventh generation” is not an abstraction for her. “We were told to hold tight to our way of life,” she says, “to honor our ancient teachings, not just for ourselves but for everyone.” Just as water and birds and fish were given certain responsibilities in the world, so too were the people. They are called upon to give thanks and to take care of all the other gifts.

For these school kids, the day begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, known also as the “words that come before all else.” This river of words calls out to every element of the living world. Water, trees, fish, birds, and berries are thanked for the gifts that they provide, for meeting their responsibilities and sustaining life. Clan mother Freida Jacques explains it this way: “We have a culture of gratitude. These words are used to open and close all gatherings in our daily lives, bringing the listeners’ minds together in offering thanksgiving, love, and respect to the natural world.”

Audrey gazes out over the lake, her snowy hair swept to a graceful knot at the nape of her neck. “When I was a little girl,” she says, “I always heard talk about a land settlement. This was the dream I’ve heard all of my life.” That dream is finally inching closer to reality, and with it, quite unexpectedly, comes a process of healing and transformation for an entire region.

ON MARCH 11, 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a complaint in a federal court in Syracuse seeking title to their lost homelands. Their claim is made under United States law, but its moral power lies in the directives of the Great Law: to act on behalf of peace, the natural world, and the future generations. The motion begins with this statement:

The Onondaga people wish to bring about a healing between themselves and all others who live in this region that has been the homeland of the Onondaga Nation since the dawn of time. The Nation and its people have a unique spiritual, cultural, and historic relationship with the land, which is embodied in Gayanashagowa, the Great Law of Peace. This relationship goes far beyond federal and state legal concerns of ownership, possession, or other legal rights. The people are one with the land and consider themselves stewards of it. It is the duty of the Nation’s leaders to work for a healing of this land, to protect it, and to pass it on to future generations. The Onondaga Nation brings this action on behalf of its people on the hope that it may hasten the process of reconciliation and bring lasting justice, peace, and respect among all who inhabit this area.

The lawsuit is not a land “claim,” because to the Onondaga land has far greater significance than the notion of property. Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, has said that the Onondaga Nation will never seek to evict people from their homes. The Onondaga people know the pain of displacement too well to inflict it on their neighbors. Instead the suit is termed a “land rights action.” When they finally got their day in court last October, members of the Onondaga Nation argued that the land title they’re seeking is not for possession, not to exclude, but for the right to participate in the well-being of the land. Against the backdrop of Euro-American thinking, which treats land as a bundle of property rights, the Onondaga are asking for freedom to exercise their responsibility to the land. This is unheard of in American property law.

In other land claims around the country, some tribes have negotiated for cash, land, and casino deals, reaching for relief from grinding poverty on the last shreds of their territories. But the Onondaga envision a radically different solution that honors their ancestral land and their spiritual responsibilities to it. Above all, the land rights action seeks title for the purpose of ecological restoration. Only with title can they ensure that mines are reclaimed, toxic waste removed, and Onondaga Lake cleaned up. The action strengthens the ability of the Onondaga to exercise their traditional role as stewards of their homelands. Tadodaho Sid Hill says, “We had to stand by and watch what happens to Mother Earth, but nobody listens to what we think. The land rights action will give us a voice.”

The legal action concerns not only rights to the land, but also the rights of the land, its right to be whole and healthy. Audrey Shenandoah makes the goal clear. “In this land rights action,” she says, “we seek justice. Justice for the waters. Justice for the four-legged and the winged, whose habitats have been taken. We seek justice, not just for ourselves, but justice for the whole of Creation.”

The land rights action could have incited a backlash. In other parts of New York State, citizens opposed to land rights cases have mounted responses as ugly as they are ill-informed, including handmade roadside signs decrying native land rights and inflammatory letters to the editor. But in Onondaga territory, the response has been different, marked by thoughtful conversation, by respect, and, in some places, singing.

AS THE ONONDAGA NATION stands up for justice, it is not standing alone. At the forefront of this community support is a grassroots organization of central New Yorkers called Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, or NOON. It is an outgrowth of the Syracuse Peace Council, the oldest continuing peace and justice organization in the country. Andy Mager, a young father and skillful community organizer, had pulled many of us together for the bus trip to Albany, but the work of the Neighbors goes far beyond that.

As a bulwark against intolerance, NOON has made pathways between the Onondaga Nation and the wider community. Andy knew that the process of healing needed to begin with truth-telling, and with listening. The average person in Syracuse knows almost nothing about the sovereign nation that sits just six miles south of their city, and some folks were wary that the Onondaga action would somehow jeopardize the surrounding community.

Because opportunities for misconception abound, bringing unheard stories to a wider audience has been a focus for NOON. Every few weeks for over a year, NOON has orchestrated a community program entitled “The Onondaga Land Rights Action and Our Common Future.” On warm summer evenings and dark snowy nights, people have come to a local theater to hear about the history and culture of the Onondaga, stories that escaped the history books: of the origin of consensus-based democracy, of a society based on a balance between male and female leadership, of a culture of gratitude and the Great Law of Peace. Most evenings, there were two spotlit chairs on the dark stage, chairs filled by some combination of indigenous scholars, university professors, clan mothers, grassroots leaders, politicians, scientists, lawyers, all come to think collectively about what the land rights action could mean.

One night, Chief Powless addressed the crowd, framing the land rights action in a historical context. “Sharing our ancient teachings is not just for understanding the past, but for a vision of what the future can hold,” he said. Fumbling with something in his lap for a moment, he drew from its deerskin wrap a wide belt intricately woven of shell beads: the historic Two Row Wampum. He held it between his outstretched hands and explained that the two paths of purple wampum that travel the length of the white-shell belt represent the treaty between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee more than four hundred years ago. The white ground of the belt represents the river of life down which we all travel. One purple band stands for the indigenous people, traveling in their canoe. The other represents the newcomers, in their ship. The belt documents the agreement that the two lines do not intersect, the colonists carry their ways with them on the ship, the Haudenosaunee hold theirs in their canoes, and neither will try to steer the other’s vessel. “Two boats on the same river,” he said, is “an agreement to live side by side. But we’re both on the same river. We need the same water. We’re going to the same place.”

“This belt,” he continued, gently putting it back into its wrapping, “reminds us that our futures are linked. The only way we have is forward, into the future, together.” Holding the audience in the spell of his gentle voice, he explained that if the land is not healed, if the waters are not clean, then neither of us has a future. The land rights action is for us all.

Because of the bold action of NOON, people whose paths had never before crossed find themselves on common ground. Teachers are inspired to tell new stories in their classrooms, and citizens are organizing public meetings on the future of the lake. Neighborly relations have begun to blossom from casual conversations into work parties on the reservation, shared dinners, and other community gatherings. The past few years have brought the Nation and the city together at a concert by a community-wide choir singing to the lake, candlelight vigils in the city square, shared ceremonies on the shore, and a community celebration with Onondaga members teaching the Friendship Dance. The Onondaga have also formed an alliance with minority neighborhoods in the city, calling for environmental justice and stringent lake cleanup.

Out of this climate of community building, the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment has taken root at a local university, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. One of its first programs was to hold a teach-in on the land rights action that reached thousands of students and community members. The curriculum now includes “Onondaga Land Rights and our Common Future,” a class co-taught by faculty from SUNY-ESF and the Onondaga Nation, in which students envision alternative environmental futures growing from the philosophy of the Thanksgiving Address. What would it be like, they ask, to care for and be cared for by the land? Their proposals imagine a future where the interests of great blue herons have equal standing with those of property owners, where urban developments are modeled after the lifestyles of maple trees, powered by solar energy and carbon-neutral. Wounded landscapes would not be abandoned so that new ones could be plundered, but nurtured back to health with the tools of restoration ecology. Communities would cement their relationship to the places that sustain them with ceremony and celebration.

The state of New York has argued that the land rights action will be disruptive, but so far it has been profoundly creative of community — a whole community, a democracy of species, both human and nonhuman. “The beauty of this action breaks my heart,” one woman said. “But it makes me want to be brave, too. If the Onondaga can stand up for this place, then why can’t I?”

The Onondaga now wait for a ruling on the land rights action. They may have to wait a long time. But then again, they’ve waited before.

HISTORICALLY central New York has been known as a birthplace of democracy, a birthplace of abolition and of women’s rights. Through the leadership of the Onondaga and the hunger for wholeness among the rest of the people who live here, this landscape could be a birthplace again — a birthplace of the rights of the land itself and of a community’s willing responsibility to care for it.

In time, the land rights action could also lead to the rebirth of Onondaga Lake. In the last few years, the lake has given signs of hope, with marked improvements in water quality. The shifts have come as the factories have closed and sewage discharge has been reduced. The water, too, has done its part. With lessened inputs, the lakes and streams seem to be cleaning themselves as the water moves through. In some places, plants are starting to inhabit the bottom. Just this spring, trout were found once again in the lake. It seems to me that the waters are reminding the people: if you will use your healing gifts, we will use ours.

And now, Allied Chemical, which eventually merged with Honeywell, Inc., is finally being held accountable for the condition of the lake. After decades of foot-dragging, the company and the state and federal governments have offered a cleanup plan that calls for dredging the most contaminated sediments and covering the rest with a few inches of sand. Unfortunately, this leaves the bulk of the contaminants spread over the entire lake bottom, where they can easily enter the food chain. Chief Powless characterizes the solution as “prescribing a Band-Aid for cancer.”

The Onondaga Nation has called for a thorough cleanup of their sacred lake, but, without title, their voice has not been heard. The U.S. legal system has not been friendly toward indigenous land rights. Too often, when the well-being of its lands are being discussed, the Nation has had to litigate its way to the table instead of being invited as a sovereign entity.

Joe Heath is the attorney and tireless advocate for the Onondaga Nation. Lately, Joe’s phone rings with requests from towns throughout the aboriginal territory for inclusion in the dreamed-of restoration. These communities too have been damaged. They too have been marginalized by corporate interests. Joe carefully tracks the reports of environmental injury, creating a growing list of work to be done. The Onondaga, once made voiceless by the law, are gaining respect as a voice for the land.

And while the Onondaga didn’t take this action with the intent of acquiring other people’s lands, lands are coming to them nonetheless. A local businessman is calling upon the county legislature to return lakeshore lands to the Nation. Others are willingly selling lands adjacent to the reserve to protect them from suburban development. Another extraordinary example, miles from the reservation, is a beautiful old dairy farm of green meadows and maple woods. It has been in one family for generations, bestowed by New York State for services rendered in the Revolutionary War. Those well-loved acres have been passed down again and again. But the deed carries a clause written by that long-ago forebear that one day the land must be returned to “the Indians from whom it was taken.” A few years ago, the last heir, now elderly, contacted the Nation to give back what was rightfully theirs.

A neighbor of mine wonders, “Should I give back my land, too?” But that’s not what the Onondaga are teaching. They don’t ask that we give the land back, but that we give back to the land, to care for it as if it were our home, too.

I think that the land rights action is an invitation for the people of this watershed to engage in becoming indigenous to place. No newcomer can ever match the Onondaga’s identity with these hills, but what does it mean for an immigrant culture to start thinking like a native one? Not to appropriate the culture of indigenous people, not to take what is theirs, but to throw off the mindset of the frontier, the mindset that allows people to bury sacred sites under industrial waste, to fill a lake with mercury. Being indigenous to place means to live as if we’ll be here for the long haul, to take care of the land as if our lives, both spiritual and material, depended on it. Because they do.

The Earth is generous with us — and forgiving. We can be the same with each other. Becoming indigenous to place also means embracing its story, because the restoration of the land and the healing of our relationship mirror one another. Coming to terms with injustice is an act of liberation. By making the past visible, we can then see our way forward. I suppose that’s why some of us rode the bus to court with our Onondaga neighbors — to bear witness to the telling of truth and to accept the hand offered in healing.

Even after everything, that the people who suffered so greatly can now turn to their neighbors with such a gift seems an act of immense generosity. The Onondaga people are offering us a gift of vision. Out of their endless thanksgiving for the land, they are inviting us to dream of a time when the land might also give thanks for the people.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). She is the author of numerous scientific articles, the book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (2003), and her latest publication Braiding Sweetgrass (Milkweed Editions 2014) has received praise from authors such as Jane Goodall and Elizabeth Gilbert. She is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and combines her heritage with her scientific and environmental passions.


  1. Wow! We have waited for so long for such a concept to be asserted. It feels like a fine outgrowth of all the thought and action brought on behalf of so many sites by environmentalists as well as indigenous people. This concept could point the way for an entirely different concept of land rights. Farmers who want to preserve land’s productivity, sustainable food networks, gardeners and parents and those who love to hear the birds sing, people who have lived in an area for a long time and want the best for it–we all can own this concept, whether or not we belong to indigenous communities. I see a circle closing–and therefore opening. The Onondaga and their gift of democracy continue to sustain us and bring us light.

  2. So far, humans have given only themselves rights but maybe the realization is dawning, at least in some parts of the world, that when we give nature rights we are giving ourselves the same rights because we are all one Earth.

    Ecuador – the little country that could – has recently held a plebiscite on its new constitution, which includes rights for nature.

    It reads as follows:


    Article 1: Nature or Pachamama (Mother Universe), where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions, and its processes in evolution. . . . Every person, people, community or nationality will be able to demand recognition of rights for nature before public organisms (courts and government agencies).

    Article 2: Nature has the right to an integral restoration.

    Article 3: The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

    Article 4: The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all activities that can lead to extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or the permanent alteration of natural cycles.

    81.7% of Ecuadorians voted in favour of the new constitution on September 28th 2008.

    I hope the tide is finally turning.

  3. This is beautiful! We begin to see how when human beings walk a spiritual path with practical feet Mother Earth speaks.
    Gratitude to All,

  4. Thank you to Robin Kimmerer for this excellent article, it is very similar to the Native Hawaiian {Kanaka Maoli] plight. When Captain Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778 there were some 800,000 Native Hawaiians within 100 years that figure had been reduced by 90% as they had no immunity to western diseases. Like the Onadaga their lands were taken also, in 1893 their sovereign country was illegally overthrown, twice the U.S. Government has publicly admitted this, and the reigning constitutional monarch Queen Lili’uaokalani deposed by armed U.S. marines, It had over 80 embassies worldwide at the time. You can find details at such sites as: “Free Hawaii/Hawaiian Kingdom Government/Re-instated Hawaiian Government.” Please take a few minutes to review these sites as their scenario is very much akin to the Onadaga, Thank you for sharing your article again Robin Kimmerer it is excellent, well done.

  5. It is so absolutely true, that we got off on the wrong foot, by the founding father’s not having said that “inherent in our inalienable rights are undeniable responsibilities.” We would have honored treaties, been more self governing (self-discipline) and thus less likely to have created the socio-economic, envirnomental and spiritual mess we are now in.

  6. There is much to learn from the wisdom of Native people. Their holistic approach to living offers a sacredness to all life and the earth that supports that life. They view people as part of the web of life who are ultimately reliant on the health of the earth. In doing so the responsibilities to care for the earth become inherent in their everyday actions. Considering we are all 100% reliant on the earth taking care of it should be one of our highest priorities. It’s most inspirational to read about some of the positive work being accomplished. Thank you for the wonderful story.

  7. Like to share a thing I did a couple of years ago that speaks to the Responsibility issue.

    Declaration of Equality, Rights and Responsibilities
    (The Declaration of Independence as amended by Bill Chisholm)

    We hold these truths, to be self evident, that all men, women and children of all races, of all nations, of all beliefs, of all social and economic circumstances are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator, with certain, sure, and inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Joy and Contentment. That inherent in these rights are also undeniable responsibilities, that among these are Good Neighborliness, Respectful Environmental Stewardship, Personal Accountability and Accountability to Future Generations. To insure these Rights and foster these Responsibilities, government was instituted among humankind and derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That the surest way to insure one’s Rights, is to embrace one’s Responsibilities. When any form of Government becomes destructive of those Ends, it is the right, it is the duty of the People to alter or abolish it, preferably at the ballot box or peacefully in the streets.

    It is further acknowledged as a self evident truth that humankind is a part of Nature. That Nature is made up of interconnected and interdependent systems and species, and that all species and ecological systems should be accorded respect, for they too have come from the same Creator. To best insure our inalienable rights, we must embrace our responsibilities toward Nature.

  8. There is a great book entitled Wild Law by Cormac Cullinam that those interested in giving nature legal rights might want to read. There are some levels of government that have already passed laws, for example, that give rivers the right to be clean, and trees the right not to be felled.

    This September in Derbyshire, UK, there was a conference on the subject hosted by the UK Environmental Law Association. Here are the links:

  9. Thank You for this beautifully written article!
    I am writing through my tears.
    Thank you for this vital information–it was passed along to me and I shall do the same…
    Thank You to the Onondaga and all who join with them.
    I work with the land, or more rightly, it works with me, the plants, rocks, and earth Allowing my participation, having patiently taught me what I do now…..
    May the Beauty that IS, nourish all.

  10. this is so moving. i broke into tears on the part where the family is honoring its generations past deed to give back the land from whom it was taken. inspiring!

  11. I also enjoyed this inspiring story by Robyn Kimmerer, “The Rights of the Land”, where everyone is invited to learn to live well in-community with each other and the land. What I found especially encouraging was the vision of the students at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, based on the philosophy of the Onondaga Nation Thanksgiving Address. “What would it be like, they ask, to care for and be cared for by the land?”

    In this approach to life, there is a circle of giving and receiving, in respectful and convivial relations with fellow expressions of nature. This stands well in contrast to the limited viewpoint of seeing nature as something “out there”, separate from people. Such a view leads to narrow and harmful uses of the land.

    Thank you to the Onondaga people and Robyn Kimmerer for sharing this story of learning together to heal and restore our relations in the land-community.

  12. It is so relieving for me that someone has written this article. So often people behave as though they are greater than the Earth, and it pains me to hear such delusions of significance. We are all small pieces of the Earth and acting one with it is the necessity of everyone. Thank you Robyn Kimmerer.

  13. Please note an error in my spelling of Robin Kimmerer’s first name. In posting #11, I mis-typed Robyn. instead of Robin.

  14. There now exists an incredible opportunity to appropriately recognize the history, contribution, and rights of the Onondaga and Haudenosaunee.

    Onondaga County is the local municipality that holds title to most of the shoreline surrounding Onondaga Lake- the sacred site referred to in Dr. Kimmerer’s article. Our group, Onondaga Shoreline Heritage Restoration(OSHR) was formed to bring together community leaders and citizens to call for our government to return this land to the Onondaga Nation.

    Onondaga Lake’s shoreline remains undeveloped, partially because so many acres were contaminated by industrial waste, but also because large portions have been converted to county owned parkland. One of the reasons OSHR will succeed is because this shoreline is publicly held and can be transferred to the Onondaga without having to confront concerns over displacing residents or spending significant funds.

    Central New Yorkers would do well to accept that our region is best defined by the Onondaga principles of upholding human rights, democracy, and environmentalism. Returning this sacred shoreline is the proper commemoration of our heritage.

  15. As an undergrad at ESF over 30 years ago I visited the Solvay waste beds with a professor who was trying to draw attention to neglect by the industry that created the mess. On a slope facing a major highway he wrote “HELP” in huge block letters using only fertilizer. The readily responding vegetation quickly grew, and in its message, announced to the world that even a minimal effort would go a long way toward stabilizing the slime.

    I saddens, but does not surprise me, that three decades have passed with so little progress. We all want something for nothing. Would those who purchased the product of those chemical plants have been willing to pay more if they were told the extra would go toward proper handling of the waste? When we trample a Walmart employee to death on Black Friday, would we pay a little extra in advance for that big-screen TV to guarantee that it will be properly recycled when we discard it for a newer, bigger one?

  16. I very much liked the idea of a frontier mentality versus an indigenous mentality. Thank you for this concept!

  17. The wisdom of the Onondaga is a bright light and breath of fresh air in a world of consumerism and waste. It is hope for our world.
    Thank you to Robin Kimmerer and Orion for sharing and spreading the message of the rights of the land. I shall incorporate it into my teaching as quickly as possible because it is such an urgent and necessary message for the children, to understand.
    In Florida, as I continue to plant my organic vegetables (during the rest of the nation’s winter) I hope to treat the giving, generous land with a more gentle touch. I know it will give back to me most abundantly. I will not touch the land again without thinking of its rights. Is there a prayer or blessing for gardeners to say to express thankfulness as well as rights of the earth for nourishing, supporting and caring for us? My hope is this movement of the Onondaga will spread. Many thanks.

  18. Coming from an indigenous culture myself I was taught the importance of respecting the land that was given to us. So, would it be so radical if we all followed the Great Law? To “act on behalf of peace, the natural world, and the future generations”…? Would it be so different if we were to think of the repurcussions of our actions? For example, The Onondaga wanted to restore their land for future generations. They took the initiative to act upon their rights. Would the men who founded the Knights of Labor ever have accomplished what they wanted if they never practiced their rights? Everyone is a part of this world and must contribute. Hopefully, for eachother. Also taught by the Native Americans. They’re a system that takes into consideration the well-being of everyone as a whole. Not as just individuals. I really enjoyed this article and the attention it brings to rights, environment, and the good that mankind still posseses.

  19. Our duty to the Earth, our first Mother, and to the coming generations of unborn have always been the foundation of how we as Mohawks and other Haudenosaunee people view our responsibilities while we walk upon the earth. Our lives have been committed to making things better for our children than they were for us, so that all life will continue. In this manner life on earth will survive not come closer to extinction. Etho nikawennake.

  20. This concept of land rights based on responsibility to the land is not new of course. The original Americans have embodied it in their ways since time immemorial, as the article points out so well. It is one though that hopefully all Americans today will begin to consider and maybe even embrace, even if only on a small scale at first. As with all ideas whose time has come, there will ultimately be no stopping this one from coming to fruition once it has found a home in the hearts and souls of enough of us contemporary Americans. Thank you, original Americans, and specifically, Onondaga People, for bringing it to us in renewed form.

  21. This is an article I will post on all my social network sites. I believe it
    is long over due for all people of this great island to have a common vision.
    Without vision we have no path. With no vision, we are lost in the forest of this life. We become lost in the trees and can’t see the trees as part of the greater circle of life. The fores becomes our enemy and we loose our connection. We have lost our connection to the forest.
    With this vision, we well find our path once again. Thank you for this article. For me, it brings great hope for a better path………For us all. Not just the super elite.
    Thank you again, denise

  22. Anything and everything seems to be getting in the way of meaningfully discussing in an adequately reality-oriented manner the predicament that appears before humanity. This primarily and distinctly human-driven predicament is already visible, even now, on the far horizon.

    If you please, your assistance is requested.

    Seven days ago the “AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population” submitted an idea for how we think the Obama Administration could change America. It’s called “Ideas for Change in America.”

    I’ve submitted an idea and wanted to see if you could vote for AND COMMENT on it. The title is: “Accepting human limits and Earth’s limitations”. You can read, vote for and comment on the idea by clicking on the following link:

    Fourteen votes are been received so far. That is about 2 votes per day. If you agree, then vote. If you disagree, please comment. Of course, should you wish to vote AND COMMENT, please feel free to do so.

    The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration.

    Thanks for any assistance you choose to provide.

    Sincerely yours,


    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  23. Whjat a beautiful article. Thank you so much for sharing.

  24. We hold these truths, to be self evident, that all men, women and children of all races, of all nations, of all beliefs, of all social and economic circumstances are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator, with certain, sure, and inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Joy and Contentment. That inherent in these rights are also undeniable responsibilities, that among these are Good Neighborliness, Respectful Environmental Stewardship, Personal Accountability and Accountability to Future Generations. To insure these Rights and foster these Responsibilities, government was instituted among humankind and derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That the surest way to insure one’s Rights, is to embrace one’s Responsibilities. When any form of Government becomes destructive of those Ends, it is the right, it is the duty of the People to alter or abolish it, preferably at the ballot box or peacefully in the streets.

  25. I applaud the courage and perseverance of the Onondaga Nation and the dedication of the attorneys willing to represent them. The land – water and earth and the people who respect it – need a voice. Thank you for providing it.

  26. I know some of you have heard about Peter Forbes – he’s the guy from Mad River, Vermont who’s done really fantastic work on protecting Walden Pond and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He also launched a program to protect and revitalize urban gardens and farms across New England and he’s got a national reputation for being a champion of a new way of thinking – a lot like mine – where the health of the people and the health of the land are viewed as equal. I wanted to let you know that Peter’s providing the keynote presentation at ELA’s Conference and Eco-Marketplace, February 27, in Springfield, MA. He’s really worth listening to! Check out Peter’s schedule and the other speakers and demonstrations at: (

  27. Can anyone tell me what the Onondaga plan to do with the farmland that was returned to them? I hope that it will continue to be utilized in some way… pastoral farmland that has been loved and cared for for generations can be just as sacred as untouched natural places.


  28. What a beautifully riveting and, more importantly, touching article. It is a shame that too many people in this world truly disregard the knowledge, wisdom and some cases (what I feel) the right to their land. All too often technological advancement and overall societal progression get in the way of the most incredible things that this amazing world has to offer. I pray every single day that we will begin to see a delicate blend of all that is natural with technology.

  29. Thanks for all these morally courageous and intellectually honest comments, even though approaching threats to human wellbeing and environmental health loom ominously before us. Imagine what would immediately occur if everyone followed your good examples by speaking truth to power. In the face of such daunting global challenges as humanity confronts in our time, it is so easy to curse the darkness and, by so doing, choose NOT to light candles, as you are doing. Keep lighting candles.

  30. The “Real Onondagas’ have not yet filed our land claims. But we are working on it! If you look up the land claims you will find that there has been five claims filed over the years and when it is ready to be signed, they find that the ones that are representing the Onondagas’ are not of Onondaga decent. So, just to let you all know this will be the sixth time that they will try to sign them and it still won’t go through.They are just wasting alot of time and the Onondagas’ money.As we have already spoken to Ms. Nedra Darling,Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior and told her anything they sign is null and void. As we have sent her the proof that they are “NOT ONONDAGA” and any adopted person has no right to interfere in any of the Nations business. This is from our “Great Law of Peace”. So, they have committed “Treason”

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