Polishing the Silver Covenant Chain: Building Relationships between the U.S. EPA and the Haudenosaunee

The Hiawatha Belt symbolizes the Five Nations from west to east in their respective territories across New York state.

By Grant Jonathan

The U.S. EPA Region 2 staff benefitted from an all-day cultural sensitivity training on May 16 provided by leadership of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquoian term meaning “People of the Longhouse”) and by representatives of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force. The training, called Polishing the Silver Covenant Chain; Building Relationships between the USEPA and the Haudenosaunee, provided the basics on Haudenosaunee culture and history, the Great Law, and the foundations of Haudenosaunee relationships, including the Two Row Wampum Treaty (“Guswentah”), and the Treaty of Canandaigua.

Haudenosaunee presenters who participated in the training included Jeanne Shenandoah, Tonya Gonnella Frichner, and Chief Jake Edwards of the Onondaga Nation;  Thomas “Sakokwenionkwas” Porter, Chief Howard Thompson, Dave Arquette, and Noah Point of the Mohawk Nation; and F. Henry Lickers of the Seneca Nation.  The training was facilitated by Neil Patterson, Jr. of the Tuscarora Nation.  The central goal of the Haudenosaunee presenters was to educate EPA staff on the unique culture and traditions of the Haudenosaunee and to increase EPA awareness of Haudenosaunee protocols.  This would help to further strengthen Nation-to-Nation interactions and to improve EPA consultation efforts with the Haudenosaunee Nations.

Some of the highlights from the training included the Mohawk rendition of the Thanksgiving Address as provided by Mohawk Chief Howard Thompson, followed by an English translation of the Address by Thomas “Sakokwenionkwas” Porter.  Tonya Gonnella Frichner and Chief Howard Thompson presented on the historical participation of the Haudenosaunee at the United Nations and on the Haudenosaunee’s current involvement with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  Together, they covered matters pertaining to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, sovereignty, treaty rights, Haudenosaunee passports, and a paper titled: “The Doctrine of Discovery; Its continuing impacts on Indigenous Peoples and Redress for Past Conquests.”  Presenters David Arquette and Henry Lickers presented during the afternoon on how the EPA and the Haudenosaunee can use the treaties made between the Haudenosaunee and the U.S. as foundations to mutually address environmental matters together.

Many in the audience expressed how much they enjoyed the training presentations and that the information shared brought clarity to them for when they will collaborate with the Haudenosaunee on addressing their environmental matters of concern.  Region 2 staff were also delighted to receive the free book at the training titled “The Iroquois Book of Life: White Roots of Peace” by Paul Wallace, and a complimentary copy of the “UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

About the author: Grant is the Indigenous Environmental Affairs Specialist for the Indian Program Team in DEPP and works directly with the Indian Nations located in Region 2.  He grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Western New York, went to undergraduate and law school at the SUNY at Buffalo, and received a Masters of Studies in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School.  He is of the Bear Clan at Tuscarora.  Grant currently resides in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where you will find him outdoors, biking, eating great Polish food, or pursuing his other passion of Tuscarora Raised Beadwork design.

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