Education on Cayuga genocide continues
By Shannon Burns -- Today correspondent
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - On April 17, students at Syracuse University were told about a little-known part of New York state history. In 1779, under the direction of George Washington, armies of men stormed central New York, burning villages and crops and sending Iroquois people - particularly the Cayugas - away from their homelands.
The genocide, known as the 1779 Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, was captured in journal- and letter-writing by Washington, who ordered Major General John Sullivan and Major General James Clinton to see to the ''total destruction and devastation'' of Indian villages.
It was a political move on Washington's part; but more than two centuries later, the aftermath of that genocide continues to haunt the Cayugas. To this day, they are living hundreds of miles away from their homeland; others eventually settled in Oklahoma, others at the Six Nations territory in Ontario.
''They fled west, they fled north, some went south,'' said Brooke Hansen, of Ithaca College's anthropology department.
In 2001, a group of activists and professors, including Hansen, came together to discuss ways in which they could educate non-Natives in New York about the Cayugas, and also possibly help the Cayugas come back to their homeland. The Strengthening Haudenosaunee American Relations through Education group was formed as a result, and they continue to educate and promote awareness today.
On April 17, Hansen and a colleague at IC, Jack Rossen, spoke to SU students about the SHARE program and the Cayugas.
''We're trying to educate the broader non-Native community,'' Hansen said. ''We go into every single school in our district here and we talk to you [students] about the history of Native people right here in our area.
''One of the things that we're always surprised about is these kids have never heard of the Sullivan campaign and it was one of the most significant events of genocide in our area''.
Through presentations, Hansen and her SHARE colleagues try to spread education of Indian history and presence.
Speaking with adult-aged students at SU, Hansen and Rossen broadened their scope of education, speaking partly about the SHARE program and what they've accomplished, but also exploring the entire anti-Indian movement and why individuals might join such a cause.
''It's usually just a lack of education,'' Hansen said. ''We talked about those broader issues that really brought SHARE to light.''
SHARE's single most celebrated accomplishment was its assistance in bringing an old farm back to the possession of the Cayugas. Now called the Cayuga SHARE Farm, the 70-acre property is being developed and taken care of by Cayugas.
In 2001, when SHARE was formed, the Cayugas had no property in their original homelands. Part of SHARE's goal was to change that.
''We started by just doing education and then the opportunity arose to buy this farm,'' Hansen said. ''We thought, 'That's exactly what we wanted to accomplish.'''
The farm was purchased and by 2005, the Cayugas were ready to completely take it over. It has been in their possession ever since.
''It was the first single piece of property they got back in their homeland,'' Hansen said.
The farm is located in Springport, about 30 miles north of Ithaca.
The land has an old house on site and when the Cayugas took over ownership, Dan Hill volunteered to take on the task of running the farm.
''He was the first Cayuga to move back to the homeland in 200 years,'' Hansen said.
Fittingly, the Cayuga SHARE Farm is where the center of the Cayuga Nation used to be. The area was once home to more than 50 longhouses.
''We were really lucky that the 70-acre farm we were able to acquire was really smack-dab in the middle of the Cayuga ancestral homelands,'' Hansen said.
The farm currently has a 70-tree apple orchard with different types of apples, a medicinal herb garden, berry patches and a ''big old beautiful farmhouse.''
Members of SHARE and Cayugas from all over visit the farm regularly to help Hill keep it maintained. With a listserv keeping volunteers in contact, Hill is able to call for a ''work day'' and dozens of students, volunteers and Cayugas will travel to the farm for the day and do whatever work needs to be done.
The farm is also used for many education events and there are plans to construct a longhouse there to begin the process of re-teaching Cayuga culture.
The long-term goal is to eventually have several Cayuga families move to the farm and start a community.
The shorter-term goal is to bring more Cayugas to the farm on a regular basis to let them get their hands dirty in their ancestral land.
Two hundred years after being driven away, the Cayugas now have the opportunity to go back.