1 Tribal Nation Fights for Land Rights: A Landmark Case Against New York State - Jillian Hishaw Esq.

1 Tribal Nation Fights for Land Rights: A Landmark Case Against New York State

The Onondaga Nation | Reclaiming Ancestral Land | Land Rights Case Against the United States, New York

Discover the history of the Onondaga Nation and their fight for justice. Learn about their unique venue at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribal nation, has been fighting for centuries to reclaim their ancestral land, which was unjustly taken by the state of New York. Despite failed attempts in U.S. courts, the Onondagas have now taken their case to the international stage.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has granted them the opportunity to pursue their land rights claims, offering a unique venue for a land rights case against the United States. In this article, we delve into the history of the Onondaga Nation, the injustices they have faced, and the significance of this landmark case.

The Onondaga Nation’s History and Land

The Onondaga Nation, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, once occupied a vast territory spanning nearly 4,000 square miles in what is now upstate New York. Today, their federally recognized territory consists of only 7,500 acres south of Syracuse. This drastic reduction in land size has severely impacted the Onondaga people, who feel crowded and restricted on their diminished territory.

Unjust Land Grabs and Violations of Treaties

The Onondagas claim that their land was unlawfully taken by New York state through a series of deceitful maneuvers and violations of treaties and federal law. The 1788 sale of approximately 3,125 square miles of land was agreed to by unauthorized Onondaga negotiators, leading to the loss of vast expanses of territory where the Onondagas once hunted, fished, and lived.

Seeking Recognition and Restitution

For over 200 years, the Onondaga Nation has tirelessly sought recognition that their land was unlawfully taken. Their goal is not monetary reparations, but the return of their ancestral land. While the Onondagas understand the challenges of reclaiming land in heavily developed areas, they believe that there are still opportunities to negotiate and potentially regain some of their territory.

The Role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has opened a unique avenue for the Onondaga Nation to pursue their land rights claims. As part of the Organization of American States, this commission provides an international platform for addressing human rights violations. While the U.S. government is not obligated to abide by the commission’s opinion, a ruling in favor of the Onondaga Nation would carry significant moral weight and could be used for future advocacy efforts.

The Potential Impact on Native American Land Rights

If the commission issues an opinion in favor of the Onondaga Nation, it could set a precedent for other Native American tribes seeking justice for past land injustices. The recognition of tribal sovereignty and the violation of indigenous land rights could have far-reaching implications for the United States and its relationship with Native American nations.

The Response of the United States

Historically, the United States has been resistant to international bodies telling it what to do. While the U.S. takes petitions filed against it before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seriously, it has often chosen not to follow the commission’s non-binding opinions. The Onondaga Nation’s case will likely face similar challenges, but the pursuit of justice and the amplification of their cause are significant achievements in themselves.

The Importance of Recognition and Advocacy

Regardless of the outcome, the Onondaga Nation’s pursuit of justice and recognition of their land rights is significant. It brings attention to the long-standing injustices faced by Native American tribes and highlights the need for advocacy and support. By shedding light on the Onondaga Nation’s struggle, this case opens up opportunities for dialogue, understanding, and potentially, future resolutions.


The Onondaga Nation’s fight for their ancestral land is a testament to their resilience and determination. Despite facing numerous obstacles, they continue to seek recognition and restitution for the land that was unjustly taken from them. The international platform provided by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights offers hope for a fair hearing and potentially a significant step towards addressing historical land injustices faced by Native American tribes across the United States. As we witness this landmark case unfold, we must confront the history of land theft and support the Onondaga Nation in their pursuit of justice and the restoration of their tribal sovereignty.

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Jillian Hishaw, Esq., is a MacArthur Awardee, Agricultural Lawyer, Founder, and Director of F.A.R.M.S., an international non-profit and Hishaw Law L.L.C., a virtual law practice. Inspired by her own family’s land loss, F.A.R.M.S., provides technical and legal assistance to small farmers, while reducing hunger in the farmer’s community. Hishaw’s first book, “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid,” examines how U.S. long-term care facilities can exercise their federal authority to place a lien on a resident’s property, if an outstanding debt, is owed.

Hishaw, has over 20 years of professional experience in the areas of civil rights, land protection, and agricultural policy. Her prior experience includes working at local, state and federal agencies on conservation and civil rights matters. In 2017, Hishaw was recognized as a Food Changemaker, by the Clif Bar Foundation and featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, The Atlantic, Vice News, Growers Co., (CAN), and among others. In 2019, the Food Tank organization voted Hishaw, 1 of 15 women in the World Impacting the Food Industry.

Hishaw, has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tuskegee University, plus a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master’s in agricultural law, from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville law school.

Hishaw is the author of “Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid,” “US Farm Tax Credits for all 50 States,” “The History of 50 U.S. State Flags & their Historic Symbolism,” and “Systematic Land Theft” winner of the 2022 Independent Press Award, the 2022 National Indie Excellence Book Award, 2022 NYC Big Book Award and Finalist for the 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.