Sarah Wraight

Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2008

Capstone Advisor

Maureen Schwarz

Honors Reader

Douglas Armstrong

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Other Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


On March 11, 2005, the Onondaga Nation became the last nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to file suit against New York State for what it claims was the illegal seizure of the vast majority of its aboriginal land between 1788 and 1822. The Nation is asking for a declaratory court judgment condemning New York’s actions and recognizing that the Onondagas still bear legal title to their homelands. (Onondaga Nation v. State of New York et al., [2005]:12-14). It argues that the suit is not possessory, but rather is an attempt to regain certain rights to the land. The Onondagas have expressed the hope that a court victory will force New York State to negotiate with them on a number of their long-term political goals (Onondaga Nation v. State of New York et al., Memo in Opposition [2006]:7-8). They have also asserted that their approach to the suit and their goals for a future settlement are deeply rooted in their cultural identity (Berry and Nave 2007: part 1). Many non-Natives in the Syracuse area have lauded the Onondagas for framing the suit in this fashion and have organized to publicly demonstrate support for them (McAndrew 2005). At the same time, no significant organized resistance to the land rights action has yet developed. However, a close examination of non-Natives’ discourse about the goals of the land rights action paints a considerably more complex picture of their reactions to the suit. Data was analyzed from local newspapers, a public educational lecture series entitled “Onondaga Land Rights and Our Common Future,” a written survey conducted at a public festival celebrating Onondaga culture, and from individual interviews and a focus group discussion conducted with non-Native members of the Syracuse community. This research suggests that there have been significant gaps in cross-cultural communication that have led many non-Natives to place greater emphasis on environmental cleanup and the improvement of Native/non-Native relationships than on the many other goals that the Onondagas have identified as being extremely important to them. These non-Natives’ misconceptions about the goals of the suit may derive in part from a dependence on Western stereotypes of Native Americans, particularly that of the Ecological Indian. Over-emphasis of some of the Nation’s goals to the neglect of others poses a potential threat to the many positive steps the Syracuse community has taken toward improving intercultural communication and collaboration.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
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