Supreme Court rejects Onondaga Indian Nation's land claim against New York

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the Onondaga Indian Nation's petition to review the dismissal of its long-running lawsuit claiming a massive swath of land running down the middle of New York state.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the Onondaga Indian Nation's petition to review the dismissal of its long-running lawsuit claiming a massive swath of land running down the middle of New York state.

The Nation had argued the 4,000 square miles in 11 counties was illegally taken by the state through a series of bogus treaties. The lawsuit also named the city of Syracuse and a number of local companies as defendants.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the land claim outright in 2012. The Supreme Court decision on Tuesday rejected a petition to review that dismissal.

While Tuesday's decision ends the Onondagas' lawsuit in U.S. courts, the tribe's attorney, Joe Heath, says a challenge may be filed with the United Nations or another international arena.

Late Tuesday evening, The Onondaga Nation responded with this lengthy statement:

Todayâ??s denial by the US Supreme Court of the Onondaga Nationâ??s Petition for Certiorari review of the dismissal of the Nationâ??s historic Land Rights Action is the final proof that there is no justice for Indigenous Nations in the US court system. This denial of justice sanctions New Yorkâ??s un-denied and knowing illegal taking of the Onondaga Nationâ??s lands in the late 1700s and early 1800s; and it means that the US government continues to ignore and break the three treaties that were made with the Haudenosaunee Six Nations in 1784, 1789 and 1794.

This is just another example of the shameful history of broken treaties, land thefts, forced removal and cultural genocide that is the foundation of New Yorkâ??s and the United Statesâ?? treatment of the Indigenous peoples and nations. Essentially, the courts have ruled that none of these horrible, historic harms matter under US law, because â??it is not fairâ?? to raise these problems at this timeâ??they claim the Nation waited too long. This despite the fact that the courts were closed to the Nations until very recently and despite the fact that, from the very beginning, the Onondagas have constantly worked to redress these harms, in accordance with their Treaty right.

Todayâ??s denial is but the last step on a shameful path of injustice and inequity which the Supreme Court has engaged in for almost 200 years, by adding its blessings to the horrendous treatment of Indigenous peoples and their lands and cultures. History will someday recognize how despicable this failure has been.

â??Our people have called for healing, of the land and waters, and with our neighbors who share our lands,â?? said Tadodaho, Sidney Hill. â??Our people have always talked about and worked for a return of our stolen lands, and we will continue to do so, for the sake of the future generations yet to come.â??

All of US Indian law is based on the mediaeval and racist doctrine of discovery, as articulated in the 1923 case of Johnson v. McIntosh. This construct was created by the Vatican and European monarchs in the 1400s as a cover for their plunder of Africa and the â??new worldâ??, and it claimed that because the Indigenous peoples living in these land that were â??discoveredâ?? by the European explorers were not Christian, they were â??savagesâ?? with no real right to the title of their lands. So, when a Christian nationâ??s explorers landed on newly â??discoveredâ?? territory, the European government immediately claimed that title passed to them. US courts have repeatedly used the doctrine to attempt to reduce Indigenous nationsâ?? sovereignty.

As cowardly as this construct is, since late March of 2005, the Supreme Court has made the record even worse by concocting a new defense for the State, which they try to say is â??equitableâ??. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not fair to make up an entirely new defense, based on presumed and made up â??factsâ??, which turns centuries of equitable law and principle on its head and which only applies to Indian nationsâ?? land rights. This is the Plessey v. Ferguson of Indian law and someday, history will condemn it.

The Onondaga Nationâ??s struggle for justice will not end with todayâ??s denial; and the Nation is working with its attorneys to file a challenge in an international arenaâ??either the United Nation or the Organization of American States Commission on Human Rights.

â??We have recognized for years, that no justice would come to the Nation in US courts,â?? said Onondaga Nation General Counsel, Joe Heath. â??The struggle for healing and justice will continue; and this is no longer a land rights caseâ??it is a land rights movement. It is time to admit these historic harms; and it is time for justice, time for healing.â??

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