Published February 24, 2016
MISSOULA, MONTANA —For the Onondaga Nation, it’s all about relationships. Relationships with ancestors, relationships with governments, relationships with each other, and relationship with the natural world. Each of these is highlighted in The Good Mind, a new film by New York filmmaker Gwendolen Cates that will premiere on February 27, 2016 during the 13th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.
“This film takes on the amazing task of showing how as a traditional Nation we still raise up our leaders in our traditional way while maintaining our responsibilities to Mother Earth and our communities, as we have done for over a thousand years, and how we have remained relevant in a modern world,” observed Sid Hill, the Tadodaho of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy).
The Onondaga Nation, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, is one of the few Native nations in North America that has retained its traditional government and language, and a portion of its ancestral lands. The Good Mind follows Onondaga Nation leaders as they continue the efforts of their ancestors to protect their sovereignty and culture, seek justice for the wrongs done to their traditional lands, and work to prevent further harm. It is a snapshot of the modern lives of the indigenous peoples that live surrounded by New York State, and the echoes of the past that still reverberate today.
“Learning about the Treaty of Canandaigua was my moment of realizing the Onondaga Nation’s story needed to be told,” said filmmaker Gwendolen Cates. “George Washington promised recognition and protection of Haudenosaunee lands, and the cloth payments for that treaty still arrive at Onondaga every year. But New York State in defiance of the Canandaigua Treaty stole most of the Onondaga Nation’s lands. Onondaga Lake, where the Peacemaker brought together the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca Nations to form the Haudenosaunee confederacy over 1000 years ago, was so badly polluted that it became a Superfund site. And yet the Onondaga Nation continues to work with their neighbors to protect the lands from further degradation.”
Onondaga Nation leaders speak frequently about the need to ban fracking and take action on climate change, as well as calling for a full clean up of Onondaga Lake.
Cates earned the privilege of working with the Onondagas through many years of relationship-building herself. Her first exposure to the Onondaga Nation was in 2000 while working on her book, Indian Country. Numerous short film projects ultimately led to the creation of The Good Mind, including the award-winning film Guswenta about the 400th anniversary of the first treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch in 2013.
While not Native herself, Cates has an indirect connection to the Haudenosaunee, discovered while looking at the 1748 Treaty of Lancaster one day with Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper Oren Lyons.
“The treaty listed all of the parties present,” recounts Cates. “Including the Governor of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Shoemaker, a Quaker. I said to Oren, ‘That’s my ancestor!’ Seven generations ago, our ancestors were having meetings together.”
The proceedings of the Treaties of Lancaster were ultimately printed by none other than Benjamin Franklin, who ultimately included many concepts from Haudenosaunee confederacy government in the Albany Plan of Union, the predecessor to the Constitution.
The Good Mind will be shown on February 27, 2016 at 2 PM at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival’s “Crystal” venue in Missoula, Montana.