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Sat Mar 14, 2020, 08:25 PM

On a Film

A friend sent me a film of Oren Lyons speaking yo an audience earlier this month. Oren is the Faithkeeper from the Onondaga Nation's Turtle Clan. He sat with Chief Paul Waterman on both the Onondaga Council of Chiefs, and on the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy's Grand Council of Chiefs. My friend and I have decades of adventures with Oren dating back to when we were young. She and I are older and slower these days, though Oren – now 90 years old – maintains a brisk pace.

Half of his talk focused on recent events at Cayuga Territory. The traditional Cayuga people live, without any US government aid, as one of the original Iroquois Nations. They maintain their system of Chiefs, appointed by Clan Mothers, who serve the people, rather than being served by the people. However, the US government has appointed a “leadership” that was never supported by the Cayuga people. This appointed “leadership” gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in government aid, thus far without any accountability. And not a single penny of it has gone to the traditional people.

Last month, backed by the non-Indian police force, the head of the non-traditional leader had bulldozers destroy the center of the Cayuga settlement. They destroyed the Cayuga day care center, the school, the trading post, the community-cultural center, and more. They also assaulted and “arrested” numerous traditional people – despite being informed beforehand by the BIA that this non-Indian police force lacked the authority to make arrests.

The traditional Iroquois and their supporters are making advances in getting politicians from the area and the state and federal government – including Senator Chuck Schumer – involved in the case. It is not the first time that traditional Indian people in the United States have had to deal with a “leader” appointed by the BIA, who lacks any support from the traditional communities, threaten their safety and stability. Generally, these “leaders” are men of low character, looking to get rich by allowing outside interests to exploit the people's resources. Many of them have unhealthy connections to organized crime.

This, not surprisingly, led directly to the second topic that Oren addressed. He made clear that 2020 is the year that will determine if the United States remains the nation that it had been up until 2016. Though it is imperfect, it has shown the ability to make progress in many areas during our lifetimes. That ability would almost certainly be destroyed should Trump “win” a second term. The US cannot afford to have an outside power decide who its leaders will be.

I often find myself, when listening to Oren, thinking back to the influence the Iroquois had on our Founding Fathers. Though not the only influence, of course, the Iroquois were a powerful influence. Their traditional government is set up, for example, to prevent the rise of a sociopath to power. I think back to Oren's long friendship with Senator Daniel Inouye, of his addressing the United Nations, and so many other things he has done over the decades.

I think back to May of 2019, when Cayuga Sachem Sam George opened the graduation ceremony at my daughter's college. Out of seemingly nowhere, two large bald eagles appeared low in the sky, circling above Sam, as everyone in the outdoor audience watched. It brought back memories of a simiar event, decades ago, at a re-burial ceremony that Chief Waterman conducted. It was the first time the non-Indians were allowed as participants. And I remember that Paul used to tell me that the problem with the US was that we had too many of the wrong people elected to office.

If Oren Lyons is correct, if Donald Trump remains in power, the damage to the environment will increase in severity. As that happens, representative government will no longer be even a possibility. It is up to citizens, Oren says, to prevent that from happening.

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