Monday, March 29, 2010

Orleans County

After breakfast on March 20th at the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory, we all got into cars and rode to Middleport. If we had walked from the Tonawanda Territory to our end point in Albion that day, we would have walked thirty miles. My opinion on walking thirty miles in one day is "let's not and say we did!
Visiting the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory was a good experience for me.  I am very grateful for the generous hospitality that I received there. I was reminded that the Senecas (who call themselves Onöndowága,' meaning "People of the Great Hill") have a land claim on Grand Island. Their name for Grand Island is "Go-Weh No-geh. I said, "I'd be happy to give it to you!"
Everyone laughed at my eagerness to give away Grand Island, which I suppose I can't do since I don't own even a small part of it.
One interesting note: the room where I spent the night is used also as a classroom, where children are taught the Seneca language. According to Wikipedia, there are currently only about 200 speakers of the Seneca language. It is an Iroquoian language and is linguistically related to other Iroquois languages. Certainly, the efforts of the Indian boarding schools, which I described in a previous post, has had a terrible effect on indigenous cultures throughout the United States and Canada. According to James Estes of the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, approximately 300 languages were spoken in North America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. After that event and the arrival of other Europeans (which is also termed the "European Invasion"), half of those languages are now extinct and many others are described as "moribund," meaning that they have few speakers and all of those speakers are elders.
The most widely spoken indigenous language in North America is Navajo with 148,530 speakers. Navajo was used as a code during World War II. The Germans never broke that code. Other widely spoken languages are Ojibwa, Western, with 35,000 speakers; Dakota with 20,355 speakers;  Choctaw with 17,890 speakers; Apache, Western, with 12,693 speakers; Cherokee with 11,905 speakers; Papago-Pima with 11,819 speakers; and Yupik, Central, with 10,000 speakers.
It is my hope that more work can be done to preserve endangered languages, that more schools are opened for people to learn to speak and to communicate in those languages.
As I walked into Orleans County, I thought about the little school where the Seneca language is taught to children in the Tonawanda Territory.

I was also fascinated by my surroundings. We walked past dormant corn fields and horses running in fenced-in fields, and broken down barns. We were never far from the Erie Canal. It didn't take us too long to walk into Medina. An old town with many beautiful structures, Medina, like other towns in this area, were boom towns in the years after the Erie Canal was built and before the Welland Canal was built. We walked through the streets of Medina and were then out of town, back on Route 31, headed east. Three miles west of Albion, we ate our lunch.
We arrived in Albion and found that the church where we were to spend the night was locked. Before long, a locksmith had been called. The locksmith, who was also a photographer, came to open the church for us. The church where we were to stay was called the Pullman Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church. It is an historic church that was built by George Pullman as a memorial to his parents. The church was dedicated on January 31st, 1895. Two of George Pullman's brothers participated in the service. Both the brothers, Dr. Royal Henry Pullman (1826-1900) and Dr. James M. Pullman (1836-1903), were Universalist ministers.
George Pullman (March 3, 1831 – October 19, 1897) was famous for being an inventor and an industrialist. He invented the Pullman sleeping car, which, according to Wikipedia, were modeled after the sleeping arrangements in the packet boats that traveled the Erie Canal. The first sleeping car was finished in 1864. People paid considerably more money to ride in sleeping cars than in coach. A Pullman sleeping car even carried the body of President Abraham Lincoln to Springfield, Illinois, for burial.
George Pullman hired many people to work in the sleeping car, providing excellent service. Many of the employees were newly freed slaves from the south. Pullman also built a "company town" for his employees to reside. His company owned everything in the town. According to Wikipedia, the town was run almost like a feudal city state.
George Pullman, however, became infamous in the mid-1890s, when the workers went on strike. Their complaint was that, in the wake of a bad economy, their wages had been cut and their working hours had been increased. Also, jobs had been cut. At the same time, there had been no changes in rents and prices in the company town, where you shopped at the only store around (the company store). The strike was violently crushed.
The Pullman strike was a sad event in the history of U.S. labor relations.
But... back to the church...
Inside the church, we held an interfaith afternoon prayer service to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the U.S. launching of the Iraq war. We remembered everyone, both members of the military and civilians,  who had lost their lives in the war. We also held the prayer service in solidarity and support of the march that was held in Washington, D.C. Later, I found out that Cindy Sheehan and seven others had been arrested on the sidewalk in front of the White House. Six persons, including Cindy Sheehan, were taken to jail and held until they were arraigned on Monday, March 22nd, because they were from "out of town."
Our hosts in Albion prepared a delicious pot luck dinner.The pastor, whose name is Kelly, offered a beautifully worded prayer about hands. I enjoyed sitting with new friends, including Margaret and Monica, and sharing this wonderful meal. I don't know how it is but, at every place we visited, I was always served my favorite foods!
The next morning, we were served a wonderful breakfast, courtesy of Gerald and others. Feeling well-fed and happy, we continued our trek east and stopped for lunch at the First Presbyterian Church in Holley. My first introduction to Holley came in the form of a Holley police car. It seems that a few walkers fell behind when they stopped to talk to a woman who had come out of her house when she saw us marching down Route 31. As we were walking into Holley, a police car pulled up beside us. Two walkers hopped out of the back seat. The car left. Shortly afterward, the police car pulled up beside us for a second time. Another walker hopped out of the car. The police car left. Those walkers truly traveled in style!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Seneca Nation -- Tonawanda Territory

Two days after we left the Tuscarora Nation in the Town of Lewiston, we arrived at the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory. This territory straddles two counties -- Erie and Genesee -- and the town closest to it is Akron.

When we left Lewiston, we traveled east through Sanborn until we arrived in the City of Lockport, where we spent a night at the YWCA. Lockport is located right on the Erie Canal and is named for the locks that were built in the 1840s. The next day, we left Lockport and walked to the Seneca Nation's Tonawanda Territory. Mostly, we walked on either Akron Road or Old Akron Road.
At the edge of the Tonawanda Territory, we were welcomed to the Seneca Nation by Chief Hill and by several clan chiefs. Chief Hill offered a prayer for peace in the Seneca language. This prayer was then translated into English. Jun-san then translated the prayer into Japanese for the benefit of the Japanese members of our group. After we had been welcomed, we walked to the Long House, where we had another welcome. I learned that there are two entrances to the Long House. One is for men and the other is for women. We also were told that the building behind the Long House was where we would have our dinner and where the women would sleep for the night. The men were to sleep in the Long House, which is a bigger structure. We have more men than women in our group, I found out. proved to be very delicious. We had our choice of bean burger or buffalo burger. I had a buffalo burger, as I had never tasted one of those in the past. I was told that buffalo burger is very low in cholesterol, unlike the more typical hamburger, which can boast a very high cholesterol count. I was happy to put fresh tomato slices and lettuce on my burger. We also had sweet potatoes, salad, and applesauce. For dessert, we ate strawberries.
After dinner, Darwin Hill offered us some interesting information. We were told that this flag is a replica of a 1,000 year old Hiawatha wampum belt. It is now the flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. They are also known at the Iroquois Confederacy. The six nations of the Confederacy are the Seneca (Keepers of the Western Door), Tuscarora, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Mohawk (Keepers of the Eastern Door). We also learned that, before the European invasion, the Senecas had been located in the Genesee valley, which is east of their current location. Two hundred years ago, Darwin Hill said, the Senecas were pushed away from their homeland by the settlers.
"Very few people stayed in their original land after the European invasion," Darwin Hill said, adding that the Senecas were fortunate that they did not move too far from their original home, unlike some other nations. The Cherokees and the Creeks, for example, were forced off of their ancestral land in the southeast and made to walk all the way to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. Take a look at the history of the Trail of Tears. During this forced march of well more than 1,000 miles in the 1830s, many men, women, and children died. It was one of the cruelest and saddest moments in U.S. history.
Darwin Hill also told us that the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has been trying to get a resolution to the issue of stolen land for years. Currently, they are working on resolving that issue in the United Nations, where they are recognized as nations, rather than as "NGOs" (non-governmental organizations). He explained that, since the 1980s, there has been a working group on indigenous populations in the United Nations. The Declaration of the rights of Indigenous Peoples came about in 2007. Take a look at the declaration . Only four nations did not vote for it. Those four nations are the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
The United Nations also has a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
"The United Nations has no police force. It is a very slow acting body but, at least, we have a forum," Darwin Hill said, adding, "We are recognized in the United Nations but not in the United States or in Canada."
Another topic of discussion that evening at the Long House was the whole issue of war versus peace. In the 1960s, many Native American men were drafted into the Army and were sent to fight in Vietnam. Currently, many are serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's a conflict that we have to deal with," Darwin Hill said. "It conflicts with our message of peace."
Darwin Hill said that, 1,000 years ago, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy buried their weapons of war.
Yukio, who is one of the walkers, offered a Japanese perspective. He said that, after World War II, Japan adopted a peace constitution, which prohibits Japan from having a military or from fighting wars. Now, he said that the United States wants Japan to have a military. Yukio does not like this so he decided that he would walk for a nuclear-free future and to bring a message of peace to the United Nations.
Another walker, Al, is a Cayuga who lives in the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus territory. He said that, during the Vietnam War, he made the decision that he would not fight in the war. He took a man named Mad Bear with him and went to the FBI. He told the FBI that they could arrest him but that he would not fight in the war. He was not arrested.
He talked about the Creator as a peacemaker and said, "There will be no more wars from us. We're all the same people on Turtle Island. We need to have peace again. That's why I walk with you."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Niagara Falls pictures and story

We got to explore Niagara Falls on March 17th! It was another beautiful day for a walk. We walked from the corner of 84th Street and Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls, to the Tuscarora Nation in Lewiston. It was a very long walk, but the places were very significant. On Buffalo Avenue, we walked through an old industrial section. There had been many chemical plants in that area, which had produced a great deal of toxic waste. Much of that waste ended up in the Niagara River. There is still some functioning industry along Buffalo Avenue but I hope that they clean up the waste in a safer way than was done in the past.
Niagara Falls is well known for toxic waste. One of the neighborhoods in Niagara Falls, Love Canal, was built on land that had been a burial site for some really dangerous toxic waste, including dioxin and benzene. The business that had buried the waste was Hooker Chemical. In the late 1970s, it was discovered that people who lived in Love Canal were suffering from various forms of cancer at an unusually high rate. The toxic waste had leached from the drums that were supposed to contain it into the soil and the ground water. Eventually, due to the efforts and Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association, the residents were evacuated from that area. It was considered to be a great tragedy. The houses in the Love Canal neighborhood were built to be the dream homes for the young families who moved there. But when the children began suffering from leukemia, the dream turned into a horrifying nightmare for those families.
After we left the industrial area of Niagara Falls, located along the Niagara River, we saw downtown Niagara Falls and we also stopped to look at the Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. And a wonder it is. There are always rainbows directly above the falls. We saw some ice and snow still on the ground and the water, despite the warmth of the air and the brilliance of the sunshine.
We then walked along the general area of the gorge, which is a fault line, although, fortunately, a very stable one so earthquakes in Niagara Falls are very unlikely occurrences. We had our lunch at Whirlpool State Park and we saw the very blue water of the whirlpool that is another part of Niagara Falls.
Before long, we were out of Niagara Falls and in the Town of Lewiston. We walked through Niagara University and started heading east. We walked and walked and walked...

When we arrived at the edge of the Tuscarora Nation, we were welcomed by Chief Stuart Patterson. We continued walking well into Tuscarora territory and finally arrived at our destination at about six o'clock in the evening. We were welcomed with a traditional ceremony and were treated to a delicious potluck dinner. As we had walked for about twenty miles, we were very hungry and footsore. We were shown a video about boarding schools for Indian children that were run by various entities, such as the federal government, states, and religious missions from about the late nineteenth century to the 1950s. 
The first Indian boarding school was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which was founded by Richard Henry Pratt in 1879 at a deserted military base (the Carlisle Barracks) in central Pennsylvania. Pratt's goal was to destroy indigenous culture in North America. He said, "Kill the Indian, save the man." Pratt had a military background; he had served in the Tenth Cavalry from 1867 until 1875 and was stationed in the Indian territories. Thus he created the school according to the model that he knew best, which was the military model.
Other schools were founded in different areas, based on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School model. Children who were sent to these schools were taken away from their families and were forbidden to speak their native languages or to learn about their own cultures. They were forcibly assimilated into American culture. As an example, a barber was brought to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School to cut the children's long hair. This caused much distress among the children. According to an article titled Carlisle Indian Industrial School History, "For the Lakota, the cutting of hair was symbolic of mourning and there was much wailing and lamenting which lasted into the night." 
In Western New York, many children were sent to the Thomas Indian School in Irving, New York. The children spent more time working as free labor than they spent studying. Children worked hard. They had to clean the school constantly. Also, many of the schools had adjoining farms. The children worked hard in the fields. They did not enjoy the results of their labor. For example, children at a school with lots of chickens never got to eat any of the eggs that the chickens laid.
At the Mush Hole School in Canada, the children were so hungry that they foraged through garbage dumps for food.
Children at the Indian schools also suffered from all types of abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. When they complained of being abused or even of being raped, no one believed them. Many tried to run away, as they were very desperate to return to their homes and their families, to places where they could speak their own languages. 
Many of the children did not survive the experience.
It was truly a very sad and shocking story about the effort of many people to destroy indigenous cultures in North America
Canada issued an apology a few years ago for the cruelty that occurred at the school. At the time, there were pending lawsuits, which Canada settled. Survivors of the schools were able to collect some money as a result of the settlement of the lawsuits.
The United States has never apologized for this very dark period in its history, when it basically declared war on children.
In addition to learning about the Indian boarding schools, which have since been closed, we also learned about the effect of waste from the Manhattan Project on the Tuscarora nation. A great deal of radioactive waste had been buried by the U.S. government in Lewiston during the 1940s. Some radioactive waste has been found in the Niagara River. The result of all of this exposure to radioactive waste is an increase in the rates of various types of cancer.
Japanese people who had survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were called hibakusha. People in Lewiston and other parts of Western New York, who were exposed to the radioactive waste created by the Manhattan Project, can also be called hibakusha. I know of one woman, Rita, who died of lung cancer. My mom knew Rita because the her husband worked with my mother at Niagara University. Rita never smoked. The cancer that killed her was a cancer of the lining of the lungs. It was not the kind of cancer that smokers are prone to develop. It is very possible that prolonged exposure to radioactive waste caused Rita's cancer.
These atomic bombs can be said to have continued to kill years after they were detonated.

Walking through Buffalo with Walk for a Nuclear-Free Future

On my first day walking with the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future 2010 Northern Route, we walked from the east side of Buffalo to downtown. Afterward, we headed north through the city and into the town of Tonawanda.  We spent the night at First United Methodist Church in the city of North Tonawanda, close to the Erie Canal.
Much of the east side of Buffalo looked devastated, with broken down buildings and vacant, waste-strewn lots. That is a common sight, unfortunately, in many American cities. The inner cities were left to their fate when many city dwellers moved to the suburbs.
In downtown Buffalo, we made a few brief stops. One of those stops was at the Erie County Holding Center, described by the Erie County Sheriff's department as a "pre-trial, maximum security detention facility." That's kind of a fancy way of saying that the detainees in that jail have not actually been convicted of any crime. This facility has had some serious problems in the past few years. Recently, it has been on the news on a regular basis because of the shockingly high suicide rate.

I remember when I spent a night inside the Erie County Holding Center in January of 2003 after an anti-war protest at the downtown Air Force recruiter's office. It was a bizarre, almost surreal experience... being in downtown Buffalo, yet being completely separated from the life of the city. I was on a holding room with a group of other women. We had thin mats to place in blue plastic "boats" on the floor. These were our "beds." The lights were never turned off. It seemed like a waste of electricity to me. Despite the bright lights, the Erie County Holding Center was a very dismal place.
I spent only one night there. I cannot imagine the hopelessness that people must feel when they are in there for an extended period of time. 
We, who stood outside of the jail, hope that those inside know that they are not alone.
From the Erie County Holding Center, we walked to City Hall, which is a very interesting art deco structure in the middle of downtown Buffalo. We were greeted by Mayor Byron Brown, who expressed his support for our walk and for the message of peace and a nuclear-free future that we are carrying throughout New York State in anticipation of the Nonproliferation Treaty talks to be held at the United Nations early in May.

After we left City Hall, we walked north on Elmwood Avenue though Allentown. This is one of Buffalo's historic and well-maintained neighborhoods. It is full of interesting little shops and older houses. We were enthusiastically greeted outside of an Elmwood Avenue by a teacher and her students. They gave us a peace flag. The teacher said that she was very supportive of what we were doing. "It's for them," she said of the young students, who were happily running and playing during their outside time.
We continued north and stopped for a lunch break at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. That church maintains a soup kitchen, called "Loaves and Fishes," five days a week. People who need a meal are always welcome to get one there. We set up our meal well after the Loaves and Fishes time. It was a nice space to eat.
Another highlight of our day in Buffalo was our stop at the Japanese garden at Delaware Park. The Japanese Garden was designed in 1970 and completed in 1974 as an expression of the friendship between Buffalo and its sister city, Kanazawa, Japan. It was relandscaped and rededicated in 1996. It's a great place to relax and it's also good for photography and for drawing and painting.
We just stayed there long enough to look at the beautiful garden and to take some pictures.
We continued north, heading out of the city. Eventually, we left Erie County and entered Niagara County. The last highlight of our day was the wonderful potluck meal provided to us by the ladies of First United Methodist Church in North Tonawanda.
It was a wonderful day in many ways. People with whom we came in contact in Buffalo were very warm and friendly and supportive of us and our message. I was thrilled to share both the beautiful and the struggling parts of Buffalo with my new friends. And the weather was glorious. It was a warm, sunny March day. It was a great day to walk and explore and to share a positive message of a nuclear free future.