A New York federal court recently dismissed the Onondaga Nation’s land rights lawsuit. The ruling followed other recent cases that denied other Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy nations rights to their lands.
The Nation filed its lawsuit in 2005 against New York State, Onondaga County, the City of Syracuse and five corporations. The Nation sought a declaratory judgment that various lands situated in present-day Central New York were unlawfully acquired by New York in violation of the federal Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, the U.S. Constitution, the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix and the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn characterized the Nation’s claim as being of a “profoundly disruptive nature.” Ironically, he meant that the suit would be “disruptive” to those who are illegally occupying and benefitting from the lands (if the Nation’s claims were correct that New York’s acquisition of the lands was illegal).
Onondaga attorney Joe Heath said it was a “sad day.” “What this shows is that there’s no justice for Indian nations on land claims and no way to enforce treaty rights in our courts. There is no way you can read this decision and still think that treaties are ‘the supreme law of the land.’”
Heath also stated that the lawsuit was purposefully designed to be “the most non-disruptive lawsuit that anybody could conjure up.”
Heath added that the Onondaga Nation will take its case to the international arena but must first exhaust all legal remedies here.
“But Onondaga will not stop talking about the loss of their land. They’ll keep working with their neighbors in a healing and cooperative way to try to get their land back,” Heath said. “Maybe the legal system will catch up. This is not the end.”