Chief Oren Lyons

by Aibanrihun Lyngdoh from Shillong, India

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"The environment isn't over here. The environment isn't over there. You are the environment," says Chief Oren Lyons, one of the most striking figures at the Global Environmental Youth Convention. A Canadian Indian of about sixty-nine years of age, he has long grey hair, brownish black eyes, strong Indian facial features, a conditioned physique and he stands about five feet nine inches tall. He now lives in Onondaga, in New York state and belongs to the Wolf Clan, one of six clans of the Hautenosauna Nation.

According to Chief Oren Lyons, he and his clansmen are committed to care for the Earth just as the Earth cares for them. They offer thanksgiving ceremonies for the sun, moon, fruits, vegetables, corn, etc. They respect and honour the Earth and what it gives us all.

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"If you have a clean environment, you will have a healthy atmosphere," he says. "This will make you happy and your happiness will bring joy to your parents and it will affect the community, too. Then there will be peace of mind to one and all."

Chief Lyons gave the introduction speech at the GEYC "Wildlife Day" in Hoor but was unhappy with the title. "In our nation there is no word for 'wild' only 'free' - 'freelife'. The animals are like us human beings. They take care of their young ones and teach them how to survive. We must appreciate them, cherish, protect and work with them," he said. "They are family."

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The Chief felt that the cultural diversity of the 14- to 17-year-olds in Lund was the key to environmental solutions. "It is not a matter of color, it is the variety of people. You must keep your language and your ways. You must cherish them, hold them close. You should never give it up. Pass it on to the next generation."

Chief Lyons said he had a firm belief in the youth of today. They have a broad vision of hope and a commitment to the environment; they are full of energy and good spirit and are also influential. "The young generation can influence their elders and can make them understand the environmental problems that are faced by us today. The youth can make them see that our environment is deteriorating day by day," he said.

"Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world," he said, quoting a delegate from India. The Chief sincerely believed that the deforestation faced by Canada and the Amazon rain forest would be saved by the youth of today, for they are the ones who can make a difference.

"We the old people have reached the top of the mountain and are looking down at everyone but you the young ones are still climbing the mountain," he said.

Page created on 7/4/2004 10:27:17 AM

Last edited 1/7/2020 8:21:12 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Chief Lyon's 1993 speech to the United Nations
Seventh Generation Fund - for Indigenous Peoples. Inc. - Visionary and Practical Solutions for Restoring the Earth
Canada Kid's Stop

Extra Info

Oren Lyons is Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy). Oren has also been active in international indigenous rights and sovereignty issues for over three decades at the United Nations and other international forums. He is an Associate Professor in the American Studies Program at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is also the publisher of "Daybreak," a national Native American news magazine.

Haudenosaunee Faithkeeper, Chief Oren Lyons addressing delegates to the United Nations Organization opened "The Year of the Indigenous Peoples" (1993) in the United Nations General Assembly Auditorium, United Nations Plaza, New York City, December 10, 1992.

"For all of us. I am Oren Lyons, Haudenosaunee, and speaking on behalf of the Indigenous People of North America, this Great Turtle Island. Mr. President, distinguished delegates, Chiefs, Clan Mothers, Leaders and Members of the World's Indigenous Nations and Peoples, we thank you, The General Assembly, for the recognition and the proclamation of "1993, The International Year of the Indigenous Peoples," for the theme of, "Indigenous Peoples, a New Partnership." We thank Madam Chairman Repal Chur (sp?) of the Working Group for Indigenous Populations for consistent, enthusiastic support, and Diaz. And at this time, we recognize the inspiration and spiritual force of Augusto Williamson Diaz, for his vision of such a day as this, and our gratitude to those leaders of Indigenous Peoples and people who also had the vision of this day for our people, who put their blood, their sweat and their tears into this moment. And to those who are no longer here, our profound gratitude and appreciation.

This proclamation brings home inspiration and renewed dedication to our quest for self-determination, justice, freedom and peace in our Homelands and our Territories. Indeed, the quest is a renewal of what we enjoyed before the coming of our White Brothers from across the sea. We lived contentedly under the Gai Eneshah Go' Nah, The Great Law of Peace. We were instructed to create societies based on the principles of Peace, Equity, Justice, and the Power of Good Minds. Our societies are based upon great democratic principles of the authority of the people and equal responsibilities for the men and the women. This was a great way of life across this Great Turtle Island and freedom with respect was everywhere. Our leaders were instructed to be men of vision and to make every decision on behalf of the seventh generation to come; to have compassion and love for those generations yet unborn. We were instructed to give thanks for All That Sustains Us. Thus, we created great ceremonies of Thanksgiving for the life-giving forces of the Natural World, as long as we carried out our ceremonies, life would continue. We were told that 'The Seed is the Law.' Indeed, it is The Law of Life. It is The Law of Regeneration. Within the seed is the mysterious force of life and creation. Our mothers nurture and guard that seed and we respect and love them for that.

Just as we love I hi do' hah, our Mother Earth, for the same spiritual work and mystery. We were instructed to be generous and to share equally with our brothers and sisters so that all may be content. We were instructed to respect and love our Elders, to serve them in their declining years, to cherish one another.

We were instructed to love our children, indeed, to love ALL children. We were told that there would come a time when parents would fail this obligation and we could judge the decline of humanity by how we treat our children. We were told that there would come a time when the world would be covered with smoke, and that it would take our elders and our children. It was difficult to comprehend at the time, but now all we have to do is but to walk outside to experience that statement. We were told that there would come a time when we could not find clean water to wash ourselves, to cook our foods, to make our medicines, and to drink. And there would be disease and great suffering. Today we can see this and we peer into the future with great apprehension. We were told there would come a time when, tending our gardens, we would pull up our plants and the vines would be empty. Our precious seed would begin to disappear. We were instructed that we would see a time when young men would pace back and forth in front of their chiefs and leaders in defiance and confusion.

There are some specific issues I must bring forward on behalf of our Nations and Peoples.

North America: The issue of nuclear and toxic waste dumps on our precious lands; the policy of finding a place for the waste with the poorest and most defenseless of peoples today. This brings the issue of the degradation of our environment by these waste dumps, over-fishing, over-cutting of timber, and toxic chemicals from mining processes throughout our lands.

Treaty violations: We have with the United States and Canada 371 ratified Treaties and Agreements. The Ruby Valley Treaty of the Western Shoshone is a prime example of what the violation of treaties brings: human rights violations, forced removals, disenfranchisements of traditional people with confiscations of their property and livestock.

The refusal to recognize and support religious freedoms of our people and the decisions by the (U.S.) Supreme Court which incorporates this attitude into Federal Law. This translates into the violation of Sacred Sites. Mt. Graham in the Apache Country is now a project site for an observatory, causing great stress to the Apache People who have depended upon the spiritual forces of this mountain for survival. Ironically, a partner in this project is the Vatican, and even further, it has proposed to name this project 'Columbus.'

The appropriation of our intellectual properties is continuous and devastating. Land is the issue. Land has always been the issue with Indigenous Peoples. Original title is a problem for all of you. We must try to reach an agreement on a more level playing field that allows us to, at least, a chance for survival.

Out brother, Leonard Peltier, has been too long in prison, In 1993, to signal a new attitude ---and what better than his release after 16 years --- symbolic of the exercise of dominion over our Peoples.

All this has come from across the seas. The catastrophes that we have suffered at the hands of our brothers from across the seas has been unremitting and inexcusable. It has crushed our people, and our Nations, down through the centuries. You brought us disease and death, and the idea of Christian dominion over heathens, pagans, savages. Our lands were declared 'vacant' by Papal Bulls, which created law to justify the pillaging of our land. We were systematically stripped of our resources, religions and dignity. Indeed, we became resources of labor for goldmines and canefields. Life for us was unspeakable, cruel. Our black and dark-skinned brothers and sisters were brought here from distant lands to share our misery and suffering and death. Yet, we survived. I stand before you as a manifestation of the spirit of our people, and our will to survive. The Wolf, our Spiritual Brother, stands beside us and we are alike in the Western mind -- hated, admired, and still a mystery to you, and still undefeated.

So then, what is the message I bring to you today? Is it our common future? It seems to me that we are living in a time of prophecy, a time of definitions and decisions. We are the generation with the responsibilities and the option to choose the The Path of Life for the future of our children , or, the life and path which defies the Laws of Regeneration. Even though you and I are in different boats, you in your boat and we in our canoe, we share the same River of Life -- what befalls me, befalls you. And downstream, downstream in this River of Life, our children will pay for our selfishness, for our greed, and for our lack of vision. 500 years ago, you came to our pristine lands of great forests, rolling plains, crystal clear lakes and streams and rivers. And we have suffered in your quest for God, for Glory, for Gold. But, we have survived. Can we survive another 500 years of "sustainable development?" I don't think so. Not in the definitions that put 'sustainable' in today. I don't think so. So, reality and the Natural Law will prevail: The Law of the Seed and Regeneration. We can still alter our course. It is NOT too late. We still have options. We need the courage to change our values to the regeneration of our families, the life that surrounds us. Given this opportunity, we can raise ourselves. We must join hands with the rest of Creation and speak of Common Sense, Responsibility, Brotherhood, and PEACE. We must understand that The Law is the Seed and only as True Partners can we survive.

On behalf of the Indigenous People of the Great Turtle Island, I give my appreciation and thanks. Dah ney' to. Now I am finished. "


Author Info

On June 15, 2000, a program to train youths to become young journalists at the service of biodiversity was launched by IUCN - The World Conservation Union and its partners, the Reuters Foundation, Sony International, the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics (IIIEE) and Canadian television producers Via Le Monde. The program aims to train an international corps of young reporters that will be dispatched to cover major events ranging from conferences on climate change and forest conservation to the Olympics and environmental trade fairs.

Aibanrihun Lyngdoh was a participant in the Global Youth Reporters Programme. She writes:

"In my city, Shillong, we are facing problems of deforestation. As a Youth Reporter, I hope to learn more about many global environmental issues and also focus on the issue of deforestation."