At IMM’s Peace and Social Justice Committee meeting on Sunday, August 15, we discussed a recent article from the Finger Lakes Times about Gayogoho:no (Cayuga*) people again living on their traditional lands around Cayuga Lake, and their interactions with the Seneca County Board of Supervisors (link below). We are deeply concerned about violence instigated by the federally-recognized Cayuga chief, Clint Halftown, against traditional Gayogoho:no living in Seneca Falls. However the article describes an inspiring development at the August 10 meeting of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors.
*Cayuga is the English spelling of Gayogoho:no, the Nation’s name in the Gayogoho:no language. Like the Finger Lakes Times, this article uses Gayogoho:no to refer to the traditional community and governance, and “Cayuga Nation” to refer to the organization headed by Clint Halftown, recognized as the sole chief by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), but not by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s Council of Chiefs. Each of the Haudenosaunee nations has multiple clan chiefs, or sachems, who are selected and guided by the clan mothers.
For many months, Clint Halftown had not been willing to meet with the Board of Supervisors to discuss the destruction and violence Halftown ordered in February of 2020 against the Gayogoho:no community. (More recently, he has been threatening eviction of Gayogoho:no families renting homes owned by the Cayuga government.)
In spite of being frustrated by Halftown’s lack of cooperation, the Board of Supervisors had not reached out to the Gayogoho:no community, on the assumption that they could only interact with the BIA-approved chief. However Bear Clan Sachem Sam George and a group of traditional Gayogoho:no people showed up at the August 10 meeting, and respectfully asked to be able to speak. Sachem Sam George explained how their governance works both within each Haudenosaunee nation and among all Six Nations via the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council of Chiefs; the commitment to peaceful cooperation between the Haudenosaunee and European Americans embodied by the Two Row Wampum belt; and thus why traditional Gayogoho:no leaders are more appropriate for the BIA and the Seneca County Board of Supervisors to be working with.
The Board of Supervisors decided to write a letter to Deb Haaland, the US Secretary of the Interior, which administers the BIA, and to two key BIA staff. From the Finger Lakes TImes: “While Seneca County explained that they would not ‘pick and choose’ who they believe rightfully represents the Nation, supervisors insist it’s clear that the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ leadership’s commitment to fairness and cultural values ‘offers our communities a better path forward to understanding and a positive model for the future.’”
The Peace and Social Justice Committee concluded that Friends wanting to support the non-violent traditional leadership could write postcards or letters to Secretary of the Interior Debra Ann Haaland and to key BIA staff in support of recognizing traditional Gayogoho:no sovereignty rather than Clint Halfown.
Debra Anne Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
United States Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20240
Darryl LaCounte, Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs
MS-4606, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 202
Kimberly Bouchard, Eastern Regional Office
Bureau of Indian Affairs, 545 Marriott Drive Suite 700, Nashville, Tennessee 37214
Since our meeting, an on-line petition by a group of allies has also been started: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/rescind-bia-recognition-of-halftown-recognize-the-gayogohon-council-of-chiefs-instead?source=direct_link&=<clid=febfe14a-48f7-44ab-9128-e9b5fc12f995
Because this article has not been reviewed or approved by any Gayogoho:no people, any errors, inaccuracies or omissions are mine alone. I wrote it based on coverage from the Finger Lakes Times and email updates by allies working with the Gayogoho:no community. For more general background, I am learning from programs given by Gayogoho:no and Onondaga elders and educators offered by NOON (Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, a group of allies associated with the Syracuse Peace Council) and by the Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center in Liverpool. –Margaret McCasland
Finger Lakes Times stories:
–Story about Sachem Sam George’s presentation to the Seneca County Board of Supervisors: https://www.fingerlakes1.com/2021/08/11/there-is-no-negotiating-with-halftown/
–Update on the letter written by the Seneca County Board of Supervisors to Sec. of the Interior Deb Haaland, which includes an overview of events since the February 2020 destruction of Gayogoho:no community buildings:
–Background on the February 2020 destruction of buildings built by traditional Cayugas and the aftermath:
Background on the Haudenosaunee:
Because of the genocide and disruption caused by European and then United States governments, bands from each of the six Haudenosaunee Nations are based in Canada as well as in various parts of the US. https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/who-we-are/
The Onondaga Nation, which lost much of their land but is still based on part of their original territory, remain the home of the Confederacy’s “central fire.”
The Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Heritage Center focused on telling the story of the native peoples of central New York. The history is told through the lens of the Onondaga Nation and covers topics such as Creation, European Contact, The Great Law of Peace, and more. The Onondagas, or People of the Hills, are the keepers of the Central Fire and are the spiritual and political center of the Haudenosaunee. Skä•noñh is an Onondaga welcoming greeting meaning “Peace and Wellness.” https://www.skanonhcenter.org/about-the-center
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