Onondaga Land Rights and Environmental Justice: Syracuse, NY

Trip Overview:

Historically the Onondaga Lake has served as a site for sustenance and recreation for the Onondaga people, as well as the meeting place of the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. However, the past two centuries have seen the lake's shoreline developed and its waters degraded with domestic and industrial waste to the point where it is now one of the most polluted lakes in North America. While the Honeywell Corporation and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation are implementing a plan to clean up the lake, these efforts fall far short of what many, including the Onondaga people, believe to be required to see full restoration of the lake. This trip will introduce students to the history of this project and allow them to meet with key stakeholders, scholars, and activists participating in the Onondaga Lake cleanup.

In addition, the Onondaga seek healing with the state’s wrongful taking of their land, noting that the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous People protects fundamental rights associated with land—including the prevention of environmental degradation, stating that “indigenous people have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories or resources.” As part of this trip, students will learn about this history—both through conversations with scholars and community leaders, as well as through the attendance of local events.

Trip participants will also meet with Onondaga community members and leaders to discuss programs underway to maintain Haudenasaunee culture and to bring better understanding of traditional cultural elements such as lacrosse and the Haudenasaunee’s role in the roots of democracy. Students will visit the Great Law of Peace Center, the Onondaga Nation School, and see a box lacrosse game at the Nation's arena.


Ska-Nonh Great Law of Peace Center

Onondaga Nation School

Syracuse Rescue Mission

Sample Itinerary:

Day 1: Travel to Syracuse, settle into housing, dinner with Onondaga community leaders

Day 2: Tour Onondaga Nation - Onondaga Nation School, Longhouse, Buffalo Fields, Arena; Lacrosse stick-making demonstration

Day 3: Visit Onondaga Lake; walk along Onondaga Creek to see mud boils and learn about history of pollution of the lake; tour Honeywell's Onondaga Lake Visitor's CenterLacrosse Stick Making

Day 4: Visit Ska-Nonh Great Law of Peace Center; meet scholars to discuss Doctrine of Discovery, Onondaga heritage, and related issues; attend a box lacrosse game

Day 5: Meet with organizations working to clean up Lake Onondaga, NGOs that partner with the Onondaga Nation in their fight for environmental justice

Day 6: Discussion with lawyers representing the Onondaga Nation; last visit to Onondaga Lake for debrief and reflection with Onondaga leaders; travel home

Project Leader:

Hey! I’m Mairead McCarthy, a sophomore studying Spanish/Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies and Sociology. On campus I participate in Casa de la Cultura, a program that teaches English to immigrant adults. This year, I’m leading a project to Syracuse, NY to learn about environmental justice and the land rights of the Onondaga people. Environmental justice became important to me in 2014, when I traveled to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, where tourism has negatively affected the local animal’s habitats. I’m really excited to get to lead this project to the Onondaga Nation and I hope it will be a fun and beneficial experience to everyone involved!