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Aura Bogado: Onondaga Nation fights to reclaim stolen land

Filed Under: Law | National
More on: aura bogado, land claims, new york, onondaga, supreme court

Aura Bogado writes about the land claim of the Onondaga Nation of New York:
Last month, the Supreme Court rejected the final appeal in Onondaga Nation v. State of New York, a land claim case that has been in the courts for eight years. The case focuses on Onondaga Lake and surrounding lands in what is now upstate New York. Prior to European settlement, the shores of Onondaga Lake marked a spot of deep historical, spiritual and cultural connection for the Haudenosaunee, a confederation of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations that lived in the region (a sixth nation, Tuscarora, joined in 1720). Today, the lake is a Superfund site divided into nine subsections that address the nearly 50 pollutants in the water, lake bottom and fish.

The state of New York took land from the Haudenosaunee in a series of five seizures in the 18th and 19th centuries in clear violation of federal law. Yet, in 2010, a U.S. District Court of New York ruled that the Onondaga Nation’s claim was Onondaga Nation v. State of New York was dismissed because, according to New York’s Northern District Court, “the claim would … undermine and disrupt settler land ownership and expectations.” The Onondaga appealed and were denied. That denial was upheld by the Supreme Court last month.

“New York let that lake become some of the most polluted waters,” says Matthew L.M. Fletcher, who heads the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University’s College of Law. “The Onondaga want a say in how the cleanup effort moves forward, particularly because the body of water is of upmost significance to the nation, and to the Haudenosaunee as a whole. The case is largely about being able to have the same interactions with the water that the Onondaga have always had, prior to confiscation.”

Get the Story:
Aura Bogado: This (Stolen) Land Is Our Land (Color Lines 11/12)

2nd Circuit Decision:
Onondaga Nation v. New York (October 19, 2012)

District Court Decision:
Onondaga Nation v. New York (September 22, 2010)

Related Stories:
Onondaga Nation vows to push land claim in international arena (10/16)
Supreme Court declines to take up Onondaga Nation land claim (10/15)
Supreme Court delays action on Onondaga Nation land claim (10/7)
2nd Circuit won't reinstate Onondaga Nation land claim lawsuit (10/19)

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