Chief Oren Lyons

Hearing Chief Oren Lyons speak as the keynote speaker at the NAAEE conference was an experience I was looking forward to when I found out I’d be going to Buffalo. I first became interested in Chief Oren Lyons while working as the main researcher for the Earth Day 40th Anniversary Curriculum. Over the course of his eighty years, Lyons has become one of the best known Indigenous leaders in North America and around the world. While centered at the State University of New York at Buffalo where he taught for many years as a professor of American Studies until he recently retired, Lyons also travels around the world calling for Indigenous rights. He testified before the United Nations’ Indigenous Peoples of the Human Rights Commission, which led to the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. The theme of his speeches focuses on the importance of the land and environment and stresses the need for a change in our core values and the way we think about the environment. Oren Lyons repeated the common American Indian proverb, “we do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestor’s, but rather we borrow it from our children.” Oren’s speech held a sad tone as he talked about the state of the world and the imminent threats of climate change. Describing the fight he and his peoples have gone through over his lifespan to get equal treatment and rights and the continued struggle on behalf of the environment, Chief Oren Lyons’ message to the environmental educators before him at the luncheon was one of perseverance as we must continue to educate and raise awareness.

As one of the leaders of the Onondaga tribe, Oren Lyons is a leader of one of the original five nations of the Iroquois and is now part of the Six Member Iroquois Confederacy. As one of the oldest communities in North America, his people have been living near Niagara Falls since before recorded American history and have witnessed the many changes over the years. An interesting facet of Lyon’s speech was when he talked about how this old community has learned to evolve in sustainable ways and now owns the rights to Plantagon, aSwedish developed idea for a vertical greenhouse. This innovative technology takes an idea that has been around for some time, the “vertical greenhouse” and applies a practical approach with an energy efficient way of moving soil up a slope located on the inside of the greenhouse, basically creating a “giant moving screw,” according to Plantagon International CEO Hans Hassle. This greenhouse is already causing excitement and several hundred have been sold although they are not expected to be seen until 2012. If successful, this could have a huge impact on Oren Lyons and the Onondaga Nation as well as efficiently feeding millions of people and taking the burden off the land.