Onondaga Nation files human rights petition over land claims

Apr 15, 2014

With its domestic options exhausted, the Onondaga Indian Nation has taken its land claim case to an international commission.

It’s been six months since the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Onondaga’s claim to 2.6 million acres of land in central New York. In the lawsuit first filed in 2005, the nation says land was illegally taken from it in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The courts ruled the Onondaga and other upstate New York-based tribes waited too long to file the suits and any action now would be too disruptive.

With no higher court left to turn to in the U.S., the Onondaga filed a human rights violation petition this week with the Organization of American States human rights commission, which has no legal authority in the United States.

"The nation is hopeful that with that kind of a ruling, that we can move closer to getting everybody into a discussion to find some healing, or some justice, for these ancient harms," said the nation's attorney, Joe Heath.

Any kind of decision or recommendation from the commission could take several months, or even years, said Heath, but the nation is willing to wait. He said they’ve already waited more than two centuries.

"Ultimately, a resolution of this ancient problem will have to involve Congress and probably the state of New York," Heath said. "So there are political avenues that might be open if we could get the state to talk to us about this."

Heath and other Onondaga Nation leaders went to Washington D.C. to file the petition and hold a rally Tuesday.

The land in dispute stretches from the Southern Tier to the Canadian border.