Honoring Nations: Oren Lyons: Rebuilding Healthy Nations

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons urges Native nations to continue sharing their stories of success, learning from each other, and working towards creating a better future for the next seven generations.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Lyons, Oren. "Rebuilding Healthy Nations." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Amy Besaw Medford:

"Welcome! My name is Amy Besaw Medford and I'm the Director of the Honoring Nations program. I'm Brothertown Indian from Wisconsin and Korean. I come from two wonderful, beautiful cultures and I'm very happy to serve in the function as director here. I work under Professor Joe Kalt, who's the Director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. That's the home for the Honoring Nations program. All of you, the honorees, create the raw material with which the Harvard Project produces research. You also impact the lives of the students here at the [John F.] Kennedy School of Government and the greater Harvard community, as being opportunities for them to hear on-the-ground examples of good governance practices, particularly in the fields of health and education and justice. So you've reached a broader audience than you possibly could imagine, and we thank you from the Harvard community.

Before we begin the day, we'll have a series of folks to start the general conversations about tribal governance. We don't say 'tribal government' in just the hard sense because a lot of the things that happen here are about governance, about community-driven models, about things that come from citizens' involvement. But then the key piece of it is is that it's coming through government function, that you're building stable institutions of good governance practices, that you're serving the needs of your citizens. And so tonight we celebrate, or today we celebrate governance. I hope you all will join me in welcoming our fearless, fearless leader, Chief Oren Lyons, who -- what do you say about a man who is known throughout the world for his Indigenous leadership, for his thinking, for his advocacy work, and for his lacrosse playing? Rumor has it he's also wearing the new Nike© shoes. So without further adieu, Chief Oren Lyons."

Oren Lyons:

"Thank you, Amy. Indeed, I have the new Nike© shoe on, and we'll talk about that. This is the important gathering where we celebrate the accomplishments of the Native people of North America, your accomplishments. It's all positive. It's a recognition of the abilities of our people to meet the problems of the day, these contemporary times. And it's important when we come to a new land -- the Wampanoags are the leaders here. They had to deal with the English the first time, the great leader Massasoit, [King] Philip (Metacom). There's a great history here that a lot of people don't know. You hear about Thanksgiving. There was, there was a great meeting once, and then it seemed to disappear. And then Colonel Bradford, sometime later after the Wampanoag Wars and after they had killed Metacom in a swamp with 16 men fighting to the end, he declared that day a Day of Thanksgiving. So the history here is the first in the old, in the westward movement of our Brothers from across the water, engulfed all of us sooner or later, from here to the West Coast. And our Brother kept going. He went on to the Philippines and he was stopped there. Later on, he went on to Vietnam and he was stopped there. Now he's gone east, having quite a bit of trouble.

Meanwhile, here we are. We're still here, we still have our nations, we still have our leaders and certainly, we accomplish things. Our young people are struggling in these times, as all the young people are in this world. It's not an easy time for anybody. And in Indian Country we can name the problems, but today we're going to celebrate the positives and what we can do and what we accomplished and what you have done for your nations, for you have represented them very well. Honoring Nations is a very difficult program to choose winners. I always feel bad because of the many programs that come forward and we wind up with 14. But it was so difficult for all of us to come to these 14 because they're almost all equal. And it's a tribute to our people, to our resiliency and to our ability to adapt and at the same time keep our traditions, keep our cultures, which is our identity. That is our identity -- cultures, the language. That's your best issue of sovereignty. You keep your cultures and your language, remain who you are, they can't beat you, no matter what. You remain to be who you are. In these times, we have land rights, land claims. We have battles going on on a daily basis. From every nation that we come from, you know what the problems are as leaders. When that phone rings, you just never know who's going to be on the other end of it. Nevertheless we prosper and we're -- you, I would say, are the living proof of the abilities of Indian nations in this country today. They're turning back to us now. International leaders are now reaching for the philosophies of the Native people. And why? Because we have a long-term perspective, as we have on this Nike© shoe, N7©. That's the seventh generation. That's a very direct relationship with one of the largest corporations in the world, and they have now espoused the philosophy of all of our nations, seven generations. From our directions and from the instructions given to the leaders of the Haudenosaunee when they say -- among many other instructions -- we are reminded and the words are direct, 'When you sit and you counsel for the welfare of your people, think not of your children, think not of yourself, think not of your family, not even your generation. Make your decisions on behalf of seven generations coming.' Now that's an instruction on responsibility, a very serious instruction on responsibility. Peacemaker said that, I don't know, a thousand, maybe two thousand years ago. It resonates today. Today it resonates. Be concerned about the seven generations and how we are going to survive and we survive by doing on a daily basis. So that's what your accomplishments are. You have proved to everybody that you can do and you will do, and serve as an example to the rest of the Indian nations and share. Probably one of the most important instructions that we have is to share. They've tried and tried and tried to beat the Indian out of us, which is to share, but we still continue to do it, because that's our fundamental survival basis. And now it's starting to resonate around the world. It's no longer business as usual. That's over because of global warming. We are now facing very, very serious times and we're dealing with a timeframe which is quite short, a lot shorter than people are talking about. We have to be ready. So programs like yourself and what you've produced are how we prepare ourselves and instruct ourselves. And remember the instructions of all of our leaders. Every one of our leaders always looked out for everybody. That was the quality of the leadership that we had. Every single one of them stood for the people.

And so here we are today in a great program, the Harvard program Honoring Nations, and I'm honored to be serving with an amazing board who gives of their time. There's no remuneration here for this board. The only thing that we receive, I think, is to see the accomplishments and to promote that. And we're going to have to step up, too, as we move along. We're going to have to take charge ourselves. Our nations are going to have to own this business. It's up to us. It's an amazing thing. And I just take my hat off to the leadership here, Joe [Kalt] and our staff, tireless staff, and then our board of governors, a tremendous group to work with. So it's a privilege for me actually to be here. I don't know -- you can be pretty fearless when you've got help like that I think. So I think today this is celebration time, presentation time. Tell the world what you've done, explain to the world what you've accomplished and say, 'We're here to share.' That's what I have to say. Thank you."

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