The Price of a Lake

By Caroline Bertholf

The land on which we live is extremely valuable. Few people understand, appreciate, and respect its value more than the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee make up the six nation Confederacy, known by Americans and Canadians as the Iroquois Confederacy. They are known as a peaceful people both in the United States and on international platforms. The “Central Fire,” which is the Capital of the Haudenosaunee, is located in the Onondaga Nation.

The Onondaga Nation or “People of the Hills”, is located in Central New York. The Haudenosaunee and the United States are two separate nations, as recognized and reaffirmed in the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794. For decades the Nation has sought to defend its land rights against the State of New York and the United States. Decades of litigation to defend land rights have taken place on a state level, a federal level, and on the international level in 2014, when the Nation filed a petition against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Most of the land claims stem from the poor condition that the environment in these once Haudenosaunee lands are now in, as a result of the land being reduced, taken, and used for purposes inconsistent with the Haudenosaunee culture. One of the factors that exacerbated the deterioration of the land in the Central New York region specifically, was as a result of Industrial Revolution, when manufacturing flourished in the United States, interstate commerce became widespread, and technological advancements, well into the 21st Century, drove mass production to the forefront of American society. Thus, the original land that the Haudenosaunee, and the Onondaga Nation enjoyed and lived on was enormously reduced and most of it permanently destroyed because of these things. Onondaga Lake was a victim of such industrialization chemical pollutants and presently has become unenjoyable by the New York public, and the Onondaga Nation.

This past December, after decades of litigation, Honeywell International, Inc., which owns a portion of land surrounding Onondaga Lake, and was responsible for years of industrial chemical pollutants, has agreed to pay $9.5 million in restoration costs. While this seems like a victory to some, the Haudenosaunee see the once pristine and sacred lake, as priceless. Where no amount of money would be able to restore the Lake back to its original beauty and serenity and account for the years of loss to the Haudenosaunee people. Furthermore, the restoration project does little to take into account the value that the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee put on the land, the generations of commerce that was halted, and the rich cultural traditions surrounding the lake that was forced to change.

Hopefully this will serve as a lesson, for generations to come, on how important it is to preserve the land shared by all.


Glen Coin, Honeywell will pay $9.5 million for Onondaga Lake restoration project costs, (Dec. 24, 2017)

Honeywell, (last visited January 26, 2018).

Joseph J. Heath, U.S. Should Honor Onondaga Treaty, New York Law Journal (Online) (April 12, 2016).

Onondaga Nation (last visited January 22, 2018).

United Nations News & Media (last visited January 22, 2018).

The United States Department of Justice, Proposed Consent Decree found at (last visited Jan. 22, 2018).

Posted in Blog