Category Archives: Social Justice

Peace & Social Justice Committee Allies with Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance

Written by Garry Thomas

Ithaca Monthly Meeting has a relatively long history of supporting refugees, some legal, some not, going back at least to when Ned Burtt opened his home to “Esperanza,” a Salvadoran who came to Ithaca through a sanctuary network of social justice organizations. Nancy Gabriel remembers a Meeting “phone tree” of people in the mid-1980s who were willing to go to the Burtt House if called and place themselves between law enforcement and Esperanza and Ned, if needed. It was not.

More recently, the Meeting—under the “umbrella” of the Peace & Social Justice Committee—worked with families from Burma, Iraq, and a young man from the Congo. As we helped find housing, arrange rides, deal with various bureaucracies, and help navigate cultural differences, there often developed strong friendships.

In none of these cases, whether of individuals seeking sanctuary or immigrant families needing support, did the Meeting work alone. We often worked with other organizations, such as Catholic Charities and Amnesty International. Our networks were alliances, however informal or situational.

One religious organization in Ithaca that has worked hard to formalize immigrant support is the First Congregational Church (FCCI). In May 2019, the church membership voted overwhelmingly to become Ithaca’s first “sanctuary church” and create an apartment within the church to house immigrants who were at risk of deportation. The church’s minister stated at the time, “The offering of shelter to the vulnerable is a sacred calling. Serving the immigrant community with hospitality, kindness, compassion, and love is a ministry that connects us to the core spirit of our tradition: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Over the course of the next several months, the FCCI formed the Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance (ISA), which is composed of several supporting congregations. A young Guatemalan mother and her daughter were the first to move into the sanctuary apartment and lived there for more than two years, while their case was being adjudicated.

On September 8, 2023, FCCI welcomed a Peruvian family of four to reside in its sanctuary apartment while their legal request for asylum is in process. At that time, FCCI sent out a request to approximately ten congregations asking whether they would be willing to be “supporting congregations” and serve as members of the Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance and be able to volunteer time and money to support the new family. The First Baptist Church, St. Catherine’s, the First Unitarian Society, the Living Hope Fellowship, Tikkun v’Or, and the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition have all agreed.

At its September meeting, our Peace & Social Justice Committee (P&SJ) decided that while it is not a “congregation,” it too would like to be identified publicly as being supportive of FCCI and ISA. We also decided to contribute to the sanctuary effort from our committee’s discretionary budget and we sent the names of four committee members who are interested in volunteering.

The committee also decided to take a Minute to the October business meeting asking if our Meeting would be willing to commit to being a “supporting congregation” within ISA. At the same time, P&SJ Committee hopes to interest more people in volunteering.

Supporting Federal Recognition for the Traditional Gayogoho:no Community

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:

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:

–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.

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.”


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