Onondaga Nation sues for land rights in New York state

The Onondaga Nation earlier this month filed a lawsuit claiming ownership of some 3,100 square miles of New York state, including Onondaga Lake in northwest Syracuse — a large body of water to which the community claims to have ancestral connection. That lake also happens to be one of the most polluted in the country; once a source of trout and medicines, the lake was used for decades as a dump site for industrial wastes and is now a Superfund site awaiting cleanup. In their lawsuit, the Onondaga are not asking to uproot current residents or for monetary compensation; instead, they want the right to influence major policy decisions regarding the environment of their ancestral lands, as well as increased agricultural and housing opportunities and the ability to protect ancestors’ gravesites. The Onondagas feel they were not properly consulted before the state’s announcement of a $448 million lake cleanup proposal, which they believe is inadequate. “This is our home, this is where our history is, and it was treated as a trash dump,” said Brad Powless, an Onondaga chief.