Though the Indigenous Rowing Club (IRC) took the bronze medal in the RowSTRONG Regatta on October 11, 2016, and they improved upon their time by two minutes from last year, the all women’s team has faced criticism from within their own community for participating in an event on the environmentally embattled EPA Superfund site, Onondaga Lake.
Earlier this year there were publicity efforts held by local politicians and local media members attempting to laud the cleanup efforts of Onondaga Lake.
Politicians and local media claimed cleanup of the superfund’s effects on Onondaga Lake is satisfactory, while the Onondaga Nation and others in the surrounding community have deemed this effort as inadequate.
Some see the IRC’s participation in this event as an endorsement of the Honeywell lead propaganda that Onondaga Lake’s cleanup is adequate. This propaganda included taking a pontoon boat with local politicians, local media and DEC director Joseph Martins out to jump into the lake for a photo opportunity in an effort to convince the entire community the lake is safe.
This is not the truth according to team captain Asa Shenandoah, (Tuscarora) “We are NOT endorsing the inadequate cleanup...We recognize the lake is not clean enough. But we do see the value in rebuilding our relationship with the lake. We see there is an opportunity here, not just for women, but for the whole community. There is something therapeutic and spiritual about being on the water, surrounding yourself with a historic and sacred landscape, working and moving precisely together with 7 other people, one heart and mind”.
Shenandoah also told Indian Country Today that the positive health benefits are noticeable in her teammates. She says all of the team members know their importance of competing on this sacred lake because they are spending more time in the gym and eating healthier to compete.
As the team becomes stronger and looks forward to next year’s season, Shenandoah says next year’s chance to bring home the gold on the lake of their ancestors have been on since time immemorial is getting closer to their grasp.
Follow ICTMN's Alex Hamer on Twitter @AlxHamer.