“Cayuga Nation Bear Clan Sachem Sam George and Cayuga Nation Cultural and Language Coordinator Al George hold a replica of the George Washington Belt, commemorating the Treaty of Canandaigua while Onondaga Nation Chief Jake Edwards explains the history of the treaty.”
Attendees included elected officials, teachers, citizens
WATERLOO, NEW YORK — Over 40 elected officials, teachers, and community members gathered at the Holiday Inn in Waterloo Tuesday for a unique opportunity to better understand the Cayuga Nation. Organized by the Cayuga Nation Unity Council to promote mutual understanding and respect, the workshop brought Cayuga Nation leaders and community members to share history, culture, generational trauma, and hopes for the future of the Cayuga Nation.
Attendees included elected officials from the Towns of Springport, Junius, Aurelius; Cayuga County Legislature Chairman Michael Chapman, and Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould; teachers from Wells College, Ithaca College, the Lehman Alternatives Community School and New Roots School in Ithaca, and seven members of Strengthening Haudenosaunee-American Relations thru Education (SHARE).
“The purpose of this workshop was to promote cultural awareness of the Haudenosaunee and Cayuga people. To that extent it was very successful,” determined participant David Dresser, advisor to the Seneca County Indian Affairs Committee. “The presentations during the workshop promoted a helpful understanding of the history of the Haundenosaunee Confederacy and the Cayuga Nation, and the legal basis for tribal sovereignty.”
The event began with the traditional opening, given by Cayuga language student Kelsey VanEvery. Sam George, Sachem of the Cayuga Nation Bear Clan welcomed the attendees warmly and thanked them for coming.
“Many schools still only teach about our people as part of the past,” noted Sachem Sam George. “We want to help our neighbors learn about us in the present, fill in gaps in knowledge.”
Chief Jake Edwards of the Onondaga Nation brought three wampum belts to explain the historical basis of current Haudenosaunee governance and government-to-government relations. The Onondaga are the wampum belt keepers for the Haudenosaunee. The Hiawatha belt memorializes the founding of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, over 1000 years ago, which also established the system of Chiefs appointed by Clanmothers which is still used to this day. The Two Row Wampum was the first agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch, committing to live side by side in peace and friendship, not interfering in each other’s affairs. The George Washington Belt was commissioned by President George Washington to memorialize the Treaty of Canandaigua, the second treaty ever made by the United States government.
Article 2 of the Treaty of Canandaigua acknowledges the lands reserved to the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga Nations. The diplomatic protocols established with the Two Row belt were used in the negotiations, and it was fully ratified by Congress. The paper version of the treaty is currently on exhibit in the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. All of these agreements form the basis of how the Cayuga Nation Council governs to this day.
Dan Hill, Seatwarmer (a holding a place for a Chief’s title) for the Heron Clan of the Cayuga Nation, explained the effects of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign of 1779, a scorched earth campaign ordered by General Washington against Cayuga and Onondaga villages. With their peach trees, crops and villages burned, many Cayugas moved westward to Seneca Nation lands at that time.
“It is important to understand that the Treaty of Canandaigua was made after the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign,” noted Hill. “Our people were still here.”
Attorney Joseph Heath explained the U.S. Federal laws and court decisions that recognize Cayuga Nation sovereignty and the 64,000 acre reservation at the north end of Cayuga Lake, citing, among others, the 1988 concurrent resolution between the House and Senate recognizing the influence of the Haudenosaunee on the United States Constitution. It also reaffirmed the government-to-government relationship and recognized the sovereign status of tribes.
In the afternoon, Cayuga Nation member Pete Hill, who has worked for many years in the social services field, discussed the impact of intergenerational traumas, including dispossession from the land and the Indian boarding schools many children were forced to attend, resulting in multiple generations of Native Americans who had their native tongue literally beaten out of them in a misguided effort to separate the children from their Native culture. These and other traumas have resulted in high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, diabetes, domestic violence, etc. among Native peoples.
“For Cayuga people, we’ve been apart for over 200 years,” observed Pete Hill. “We have a lot of people coming back who have been assimilated, who don’t know the cultural teachings. It will take time, but healing comes from reconnecting Native people with their culture.”
“It’s been a couple hundred years since we had someplace we could call our own,” explained Cayuga Nation Heron clan member Amber Parker. “Being here is home. It is essential that we have our people here, learning the ways.” Cayuga traditions were preserved among the Cayuga people living at Grand River in Canada.
“What will happen in the near future is we will have our own longhouse here,” stated Sachem Sam George hopefully. “But we have to have more people here first. That is starting to happen.”
Cayuga Nation Culture and Language Coordinator Al George explained the cultural programs that were now being offered by the Cayuga Nation Council, including language classes and the construction of the Schoolhouse as a place to share songs, dances, and elements of Cayuga culture.
“There were never programs for children to be learning the language,” observed Parker, recalling how it was under Clint Halftown’s so-called leadership. Others noted the harassment and insecurity they had suffered.
“[The Council] is here because Halftown forgot about the people,” stated Sachem Sam George.
Referring to the Council takeover of the government offices last April, VanEvery observed, “It didn’t look very good, but it was the only way we were going to get Clint out.”
“We will have our ups and downs,” admitted Sachem Sam George. “It will take awhile for us to come together. But we have our Nation meetings, our community meetings, and we’re all trying to figure how we can work together with our neighbors. Today’s event is one of the ideas we came up with.”
“We have the Council and consensus, and that is the way it should be. We should not rely on a single person’s mind,” concluded Parker, referring to Halftown. “If just one person who didn’t know before walks out of here knowing that the Cayuga Nation Council still holds the reins, this event will have been a success.”