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Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today

Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Indian Gaming Association’s Tradeshow and Convention on Wednesday in Anaheim, California.

“We want to celebrate Oren Lyons’ outstanding contribution throughout Indian Country. His leadership in Indian Country has been recognized as a world-renowned leader and visionary for peace, justice and sovereignty,”said Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the Indian Gaming Association. “He is a great mentor to many throughout Indian Country.”

Oren Lyons, 92, is a Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) and a member of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs. He is an artist, speaker, author and environmental activist for Indigenous peoples worldwide. He has advocated to the United Nations to recognize Indigenous rights and has addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

Oren Lyons receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indian Gaming Assocation on April 20, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Rex Lyons)

He has won numerous awards, including: The Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the United Nations NGO World Peace Prize, Smithsonian’s award for Art and Cultural Achievement and Sweden’s Prestigious Friend of the Children Award.

“At this stage of the game, he doesn't even have enough space for all the awards and accolades he's receiving.” his son Rex Lyons said, “He's set the bar pretty high and he's getting a lot of recognition.”

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Oren Lyons has served on countless boards. He co-founded the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth and is an emeritus board member of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development. He is the emeritus chairman of the board of governors for the Honoring Nation, the Harvard program for Native American economic development.

He is a retired professor in the Department of American Studies from the University of Buffalo and was named a distinguished service professor from the State University of New York in 2006.

Notably, Lyons was a former lacrosse goalie and All-American player at Syracuse University. He was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Native American Hall of Fame in 2008. He co-founded the Haudenosaunee Nationals Lacrosse program in 1983 and is an honorary chairman, of which his son Rex is a board member today.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals hope to one day appear in the Olympics, where lacrosse is currently not an Olympic sport but was in 1904 and 1908. Last year the International Olympic Committee granted full recognition for world lacrosse — a small step to perhaps be included as an Olympic sport.

Rex said they also attended the Indian Gaming Association’s Tradeshow and Convention to fundraise for the team.

''Lacrosse has been the backbone of our culture,'' Oren Lyons said to the New York Times in 1983. ''We may have factionalism in the territories, but when it comes to lacrosse we are united. Our lacrosse athletes are held in high regard. Almost all the kids play and they have a natural aspiration to make a nation's team. But if they don't make it, it's not a negative. That's the way it always has been.''

Rex said his father’s lifelong work has connected with people that when Oren received his award and gave a speech that “you could have heard a pin drop when he was talking to them because that's just something about his message and his delivery and just who he is that sets him apart from the rest of the crowd.”

He added his father is very humble and grateful to receive the award from his own people.

“He always talks about the homelands and making sure you stay connected to it, making sure you carry on the traditions, the language and protect the legacies that are given to us,” Rex said.

And one of Oren Lyons main concerns now is the environmental crisis.

“That's his biggest concern at this point, and him being 92, he knows he doesn't know how much longer he's going to be here. So he is worried about his great granddaughters, myself, my children,” Rex said. 

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