This is a letter to the editor written by Common Council candidate Maddie Halpert. To submit letters to the editor, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local efforts are asking entities including Tompkins County and Cornell University to heed the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (Cayuga Nation) Council of Chiefs’ calls as the governing body of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’. SA R18, a resolution Cornell’s Student Assembly passed on Sept. 9, demands the university administration urge the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to revoke Clint Halftown’s “federal representative” designation. It is critically important that representatives and residents educate ourselves as necessary and continue passing such resolutions.
Growing up in Ithaca, I was surrounded by the word ‘Cayuga’ while simultaneously absorbing the myth that Cayuga people are no longer here (let alone having awareness of the sovereign Cayuga Nation’s ongoing governance within their territory). May all myths be busted—Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people, including a condoled Chief, have been publicly sharing their stories, including at the Sept. 7 Tompkins County Legislature meeting.
But given patterns of Indigenous erasure, many may still feel too uninformed to have a position on over a decade of statements by the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ community, Clanmothers, and the Council of Chiefs instructing the BIA to revoke Halftown’s “federal representative” status. You may feel you don’t know enough to comment on the fact that last year Halftown ordered the overnight destruction of numerous Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ community spaces, including a schoolhouse used to teach longhouse ways.
If you don’t feel you can or should take a stand, consider the following:
1. “Not interfering” is not an option — Halftown holds power because of our federal government’s choices. We must honor the Two-Row Wampum and hold our government accountable for the ways it has inappropriately interfered already.
2. This is not a question of “listening to both sides.” One “side” has been around roughly 20 years, and only exists because of funds and privileges of a U.S.-government-created position. It is a form of colonial violence to put that individual on an equal plane with a thousand-year-old system of governance.
3. Yes, this is relevant to us. Such resolutions would reflect what local entities already put into practice–with Cornell’s official Land Acknowledgement approved by the Council of Chiefs, and The History Center in Tompkins County’s currently in a similar process, according to its website. Regardless of our action or silence on this issue, we all already have a relationship to the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Nation and people–by being represented by our federal government’s actions and by living on this land. (Uneven relationships of neglect and denial are still relationships.) Literal signs reminding us of this relationship are all around the places we call home.
Momentum is building given neighboring counties’ actions, with Seneca County having recently sent the BIA a letter on this issue. Cornell and local government bodies must act too. Such actions are small but critical steps to lessen legacies of colonial violence. May we leave our collective relationships with the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Nation a little better than we found them. (Relevant materials, including the most recent letter from the Council of Chiefs, are available at https://linktr.ee/HalftownMustGo.)