Onondaga Nation reclaims part of ancestral burial ground in Jamesville
The Onondaga Nation has reclaimed one acre of traditional land adjacent to Jamesville prison. After years of start-and-stop negotiations with the Onondaga County government, the Nation plans to use the land as a cemetery. The remains of 81 long-deceased ancestors were reburied at the site in 1996. The location was also a cemetery during their original period of ownership. Joe Heath, Onondaga Nation lawyer, said the transfer of ownership is a positive sign.
“This is a good step. It’s a positive completion of a story that’s at least 27 years in the making," Heath said. "But as with all issues involving indigenous nations, the history goes back centuries. And the context of this is repatriation; returning both human remains and cultural items to indigenous nations as mandated by the federal law."
Heath said the relationship between the Onondaga Nation and county government has room to improve. He also acknowledged that the transfer of land ownership is a complex issue with administrative, logistical and financial factors. But he said solutions are possible. The Jamesville development is the latest in an ongoing process.
“The Nation, for a couple of decades, has had a program of trying to purchase land, either directly adjacent to their currently recognized territory or very, very close to that, with the idea that they could gradually grow the territory in a way without harming anybody,” said Heath.
Heath said the Onondaga Nation at one point owned 2.5 million acres of land. Today they own 7,300 acres, according to the Nation’s website.