SPRINGPORT, N.Y. -- The Cayuga Nation has come home.
In late December, the nation acquired a 70-acre farm in this rural town on
the east shore of Cayuga Lake -- the first noncommercial property it has
owned in its ancestral land claim area in two centuries.
"It's hard being homeless, without your own territory," said Dan Hill,
Heron clan, who now lives at the farm.
The nonprofit group SHARE (Strengthening Haudenosaunee-American Relations
through Education) assisted the Cayugas in reacquiring the land. SHARE
raised funds to purchase the farm itself in 2001 and, late last year, sold
it at a discount to the nation.
"We can't wait for the courts to bring justice -- they're ineffectual and
take too long," said Brooke Olson, a SHARE member. "The farm can be a
cultural healing place for all Cayugas."
SHARE coalesced in 1999 when Seneca Falls resident Julie Uticone heard some
disturbing news on the radio. At the time, tension over the Cayuga land
claim case raged throughout the area.
"My wife overheard a radio broadcast saying someone would drive a truck
filled with explosives into the Turning Stone casino," said Jim Uticone,
Julie's husband. (Turning Stone is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation, which
also owns this newspaper's parent company.)
Believing that local passion over the land claim might spiral out of
control, the Uticones organized a "peace circle" in their hometown of
Seneca Falls on Thanksgiving Day, 1999. Some 30 people attended; the
organization now has a mailing list of more than 800 names. While the group
might be viewed by some as an adversary to the Upstate Citizens for
Equality, a vocally anti-Indian group, Uticone dismisses that idea.
"There's always room for opposition," Uticone said. "We're not against any
other organizations. We're for helping people who were wronged. We figured
that energy spent opposing [UCE] was misspent -- we spent our energy
helping the Cayugas."
SHARE may, however, have succeeded in wooing some locals away from UCE's
rhetoric. For the last several years, UCE-sponsored signs declaring "No
reservation, No sovereign nation" were frequently seen along area roads.
According to Jack Rossen, another SHARE member, that's slowly changing.
"A lot of people were intimidated by the signs and didn't want to speak
up," Rossen told Indian Country Today. "Once we arrived, a lot of people
came out of the woodwork. It's about education -- we've gotten information
out and neighbors have taken down their signs.
"The neighbors have realized that [the Cayugas] are just regular people,"
In addition to the Springport farm acquisition, SHARE seeks to educate the
public about Cayuga and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) history. The group's
future plans include pitching the idea of a Haudenosaunee cultural center
and a replica longhouse to be built in Ithaca, on the southern tip of
Olson said that SHARE members who have spoken at local schools have
discovered a "fairly deplorable" lack of knowledge among students at all
grade levels regarding who the Cayuga Indians are and how they were
dispossessed of their land.
Located southeast of the village of Union Springs, the Springport farm lies
in the heart of ancient Cayuga territory. Abutting the property is the
Great Gully, which holds monumental significance for the Cayuga people. In
1779, during the infamous Sullivan Campaign, Continental Army soldiers
under Gen. John Sullivan plundered Cayuga country, destroying prosperous
villages, orchards and farms. Many Cayugas who did not flee the area hid in
Hill, a tribal council member, said that ideally a Longhouse and a language
and cultural center will be built on the farm.
"This is a place to start," Hill said. "It's the first planting of
something to grow."