Haudenosaunee Environmental Action Plan
by F. Henry Lickers
Gambling, smuggling, civil strife and conflict over the past years have seemed to be the norm for Haudenosaunee territory. The ever decreasing resources of our people make the struggle for existence more and more difficult. Our Confederacy and National governments have been ridiculed and ignored. The very fiber of our communities is coming apart. Our children are becoming skeptical about their futures in a Haudenosaunee culture. Indeed the future of our people is bleak and sometimes as an individual, I despair for the environment and my people. But every once in a awhile, there are victories which give me hope.
Over the past 18 months, the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force has labored on a document which would begin the process of detailing the environmental impacts that the western society has had on our lands and territories. The discussions were difficult because the Haudenosaunee do not have the resources of other nations. We do have a dedicated group of people who are willing to sacrifice their time and effort for the task.
Oren Lyons and myself were asked to serve as co-chairs for this taskforce. I must say that I was honored and humbled to be asked to serve in such a capacity with the help of Janet Whitney Annunziata (Washington) and Uradyn Bulag from Indigenous Development International (Cambridge). The Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration, An Indigenous Strategy for Human Sustainability document was compiled and edited for presentation to the United Nations Environmental Program.
The Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force was composed of people from each of the Haudenosaunee communities who were willing to compile the environmental problems from their communities. Every effort was made to gather the information. When the document was compiled and printed, the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force looked on the document as being a living record of impact. This means that the document will be revised every year to reflect new problems and issues of the Haudenosaunee communities. The document will have a variety of editors and reflects the beliefs of the Haudenosaunee.
On July 18, 1995 at the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations, Jake Swamp (Mohawk), stood and spoke the Words of Condolence and Ohentenkariwatekwen which began the Summit of Elders at the United Nations. The United Nations Environmental Program, headed by Noel Brown and later by Joanne Fox-Przeworski, invited the Haudenosaunee to present the First Indigenous Strategy for Human Sustainability. This strategy is to help the member states of the United Nations fulfill their obligations to indigenous people under Agenda 21, Chapter 26 entitled Recognizing and Strengthening the Role of Indigenous People and their Communities.
The United Nations asked that Tadadaho (Leon Shenandoah, Onondaga) and Ambassador Keith Johnson Co-chair the conference. Their opening remarks and the messages from the United Nations, were given about the strategy and the document. They also spoke about developing a partnership between the Haudenosaunee and the United Nations. This partnership would be built on the respect that the United Nations felt for the Haudenosaunee.
Clanmother Audrey Shenandoah, formally presented the Haudenosaunee document to the United Nations and gave a brief Statement of Concern which stressed the need to act.
After the document was formally received, the Co-chairs of the Haudenosaunee Environment Task Force, gave a presentation. Oren Lyons spoke about the social and political history of the Haudenosaunee. I was asked to give the scientific prospectus of the environmental impacts. Next, Janice Whitney Annunziata, Ward Stone D.E.C, Norman Jacobs (Six Nations), Dennis Bowen (Seneca Nation), Chief Irving Powless (Onondaga Nation), Chief Leo Henry (Tuscarora Nation), Clint Halftown (Cayuga Nation), Chief Bernard Parker (Tonawanda Seneca Nation) and Chas Wheelock (Oneida Nation), each gave a presentation which outlined the specific issues for each nation. The most heartfelt presentation came from Clint Halftown, a young man from the Cayuga Nation but also in the name of youth. The Cayuga Nation has no land base in its national territory. Like our youth, they felt alone with their problems and concerns about the environment.
A press conference was held in which the co-chairs and Norman Jacobs presented brief outlines of the reports and answered question of the press. The press were most interested in how this strategy was to be financed and implemented.
At the luncheon, guest speakers, Tonya Frischner, (American Indian Law Alliance) and Anthony Socci, (U.S. Department of the Interior) spoke about Gene Patenting and the implications to indigenous people. This work clearly had serious implication to our people.
In the afternoon, presentations from Noel Brown (UNEP) and Christopher Stephens (Cambridge University) spoke about the competency of the report both politically and scientifically. They emphasized that this report was both practical and feasible for the United Nations. Noel Brown suggested that the United Nations adopt Ohentenkariwatekwen as the opening for all United Nations functions -- even the General Assembly.
Audrey Shenandoah and Joanne Shenandoah both spoke about the problems of their communities and the role of women in supporting this effort. Audrey Shenandoah told the assembly the women in Haudenosaunee communities gave their men their strength and spirit to carry the good message to the world.
Joanne Fox-Przeworski, Regional Director, (UNEP) gave the assembly and the Haudenosaunee assurances that United Nations would broker this program at the international level. UNEP will work as partner with the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force to implement this strategy.
As co-chair I was asked to outline the estimated cost of implementation of the Haudenosaunee Strategy.
Clanmother Carol Jacobs then issued the Haudenosaunee call to action of all peoples to support this effort. In an emotional plea, which visibly affected the assembly, she talked about our knowledge and the crisis which are effecting the Mother Earth. She challenged us to concern ourselves with protecting the seventh generation and the Earth on which they will depend. She also told us that the time for words was over, and now we must act.
Chief Harvey Longboat was asked to close with Ohentenkariwatekwen.
After the day was over heading home to our families, I had time to reflect on the day. A skeptical person could I have looked on the day as a useless presentation to a dying organization. However, I was proud to be Haudenosaunee that day. I listened while the good mind and good words of our people affected not only the United Nations but also gave our people courage to agree and to act. As the book, Basic Call to Consciousness, called for political action of our people, this document calls for all of our people to act for the protection of Mother Earth and future generations. The Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force came away from this presentation with the resolve to furfill our responsibilities to protect the Earth and always thinking seven generations in the future.
As Clan Mother Carol Jacobs said: "What more of a challenge do we need?"
More about the United Nations Summit of the Elders in this issue:
F. Henry Lickers is a turtle clan Seneca, who is presently the Director of the Department of Environment for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
Henry is a biologist who has spearheaded environmental action in respect to the St. Lawrence River and other environmental concerns.
Henry is constantly sought for his expertise and traditional wisdom.
Henry serves as a consultant and advisor to Health and Welfare Canada, the Assembly of First Nations Environmental Committee, the Eastern Ontario Model Forest, the St. Lawrence River Centre for Environmental Studies, the (Treaty #8) Northern River Basin Study, the (Treaty #8) Great Bear Health Study, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Research Council, the Committee for the Effects on Aboriginals in the Great Lakes Environment and the AFN Sustainable Development and Conservation Committee.
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