December 5, 2023

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‘Listen to the Elders’ event highlights Haudenosaunee culture, traditions

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Haudenosaunee Onondaga Hawk Clan Chief Spencer Ohsgoñ:da’ Lyons led the second “Listen to the Elders” presentation of the fall Monday night.

The event was hosted by Syracuse University at the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center in Liverpool. Lyons focused on the Haudenosaunee tribe’s traditions and history ahead of Thanksgiving.

“The Haudenosaunee means ‘People of the Longhouse.’ The floor of the longhouse is the earth and the ceiling of the longhouse is the sky. Everything in between is the Haudenosaunee, hence the name,” Lyons said.

Lyons emphasized the prevalence of the Haudenosaunee in today’s time and acknowledged its cultural presence.

“We’re not a people of the past,” Lyons said. “The Haudenosaunee are still the Haudenosaunee. We have our language, we have our songs.”

Patricia Roylance, a professor in SU’s English Department, said the intention of the event was to educate students about Indigenous cultural knowledge they may not learn in the classroom.

“The idea of this series is to showcase Indigenous knowledge keepers, the kinds of traditional forms of knowledge about Haudenosaunee culture in particular, so Six Nations culture, that students at Syracuse often don’t get access to in traditional textbooks,” Reynolds said.

Lyons gave a Thanksgiving address, also known as “Words Before All Else.” It is given to provide peaceful energy to a room and bring recognition to the earth and all parts of the world, Lyons said. It is also used to acknowledge humanity and to bring minds together as one.

He gave an account of what is important to the Haudenosaunee people, particularly emphasizing how the traditions — including songs, culture, and food — are passed down through word of mouth.

Lyons also shared a story about how the Great Law of Peace came to be in Haudenosaunee culture, which traditionally is meant to share ideas of peace, power and righteousness to places that need it or are in conflict, he said.

As he closed out his presentation, Lyons said that now, he and other Indigenous people want to be respected as people.

Lyons said the United States has not kept its promises in many of the treaties it has signed with Indigenous people. He said treaty rights are not a “special privilege,” they are reserved rights protected by federal law. However, the government is rarely held accountable for how well they follow these treaties, Lyons said, often negatively impacting the Indigenous rights supposedly guaranteed by the agreement.

“I want to be human the way I want to be human, as a Haudenosaunee person. And that was what was guaranteed to us through our treaties,” he said. “It is important for treaties to be in favor of a way indigenous communities can understand it for themselves.”

Devon Narine-Singh, a teaching instructor for SU’s School of Visual and Performing Arts said it was important for him to attend the presentation to be aware of the land he’s living on in Syracuse.

“It is important to observe and to be intersectional with our approach, especially at this time,” he said.



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