Video for the Classroom: Onandaga Chief Oren Lyons at the 2009 GIA Conference

It’s rare that the past and the present connects in such a visceral way.

Around this time, social studies classrooms in New York are studying the Native American nations of our state.  Among the most famous are those of the Haudenosaunee, the confederacy known as the Five Nations (which became Six Nations in the early 18th century) and more familiarly as the Iroquois.  At their height, the Haudensaunee confederacy stretched their influence from Ohio to Maine, and were powerful actors in the struggles for control of North America in the 17th and 18th Century.

Theres is one of the earliest examples of representative government, and their ancestors are still activists today.

Oren Lyons, chief of the Onandaga Nation, Faithkeeper of the turtle clan of the Onondaga and Seneca Nations, is featured today in a talk he gave at the opening plenary session of the 2009 Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Brooklyn, New York.  In his youth, Lyons was a legendary lacrosse player, both for Syracuse University (where he played alongside football great Jim Brown) and professionally. 

Today, Lyons is a respected and much-admired advocate for indigenous rights, both for his own Haudensaunee brethren and for indigneous people worldwide.  He has spoken to government leaders, indigenous leaders from other nations, even opening a session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1992.  Lyons is also a respected teacher: he serves as a SUNY Distinguished Service Professor and Director of the Center of Native American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

 His talk concerns the rights of indigenous people to their land, as well as the need to control climate change in order to maintain the sanctity of nature.  Watch with your students, especially those who feel that Native American lore is a subject for long ago.

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