Seneca Falls, NY—Two canoes and three kayaks paddled by two Cayugas, two Mohawks, one Onondaga, a Menominee, and a Navajo launched from Cayuga Lake State Park to paddle four miles across the lake, on their way to the Cayuga Nation’s annual picnic at the Cayuga Nation SHARE Farm in Union Springs, which starts Saturday.
The rowers did it in honour of their ancestors, for whom traveling from village to village by canoe was a way of life, and for the sheer enjoyment of it. They intend to make it an annual event.
“Canoeing on Cayuga Lake, there is this profound sense of rightness,” explained Jacqueline House, Cayuga Nation, who organized the paddle. “This is where we’re supposed to be.”
As they crossed the lake, the paddlers stopped by Frontenac Island.
“It was an honour to come to the island by canoe to pay respect to our ancestors,” reflected House. “I’ll never forget it.”
Cayuga Nation members began moving back to the Canandaigua Treaty protected lands around the north end of Cayuga Lake ten years ago. The 1794 Canandaigua Treaty with the United States reserved for the Cayuga Nation 64,000 acres around the north end of Cayuga Lake. In the following decades New York State illegally laid claim to the lands and Cayugas were pressured to move westward to live on Seneca lands or at Grand River Six Nations territory.
In 2005, U.S. Federal courts held that New York State had acquired the land illegally, but that no legal remedy was available to the Cayuga Nation in U.S. courts. Undaunted, and determined to return to the lands of their ancestors, the Cayuga Nation began to simply acquire lands within the reservation. The Canandaigua Treaty is still in effect, and the reservation has never been disestablished.
The first property was the SHARE (Strengthening Haudenosaunee – American Relations through Education) Farm, where Saturday’s picnic will be held. It was purchased by a group of local professors and neighbours in 2005, who had gotten to know the Cayugas and wanted to help them come home.
Every year since, a picnic has been held on the property celebrating the Cayuga Nation’s homecoming, and members of SHARE donate a peach tree, to eventually regrow the Cayuga peach orchards burned by the 1779 Sullivan Clinton campaign.
The Cayuga Nation Picnic starts at noon on June 13th and goes until “dark thirty.” The event features music, food, fun, artist vendors, lacrosse games, and impromptu performances and dances. Music ranges from traditional songs to rock and blues. Performers include Dos”yo:we”h Singers; Table Top 3; Paleface; Gunrunners; Akwesasne Women Singers; The Wolfpack; and Pappy Johns Band, an award-winning blues group from Grand River Six Nations. All performances are powered by solar energy. The event is open to the public. The SHARE Farm is located at 4061 Truesdale Road, Union Springs NY.