Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates tradition among cultural threats
Thursday's celebration of 11 years of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the Buffalo History Museum was more than a political statement. It was also a celebration of indigenous arts and crafts.
Dan Hill from the Cayuga Nation was there to play a flute he made from western red cedar from British Columbia, a symbol of the way indigenous nations traded among themselves over vast distances. The flute was patterned on those made by the Kiowa from the Southwest.
Other crafts people were there to show and sell jewelry, bead work and even traditional cloth from Chipas in Southern Mexico, showing the way trade and generational training have passed those skills along to new generations.
Mohawk Wolf Clan's Dinah Porter was there for something much closer to home: soup made the traditional way from traditional corn. There are exchanges of seeds among various Indian nations to maintain the old crops. Porter said it is a choice because of cultural history.
"You can do many things with the corn. You can make mush with it. You can make bread with it. It's all nutritional value and you are putting that food into your body," Porter said. "When we're done eating it, we say nia:wen! We give thanks to the plants and the animals that gave its life to help nourish our body."
Across North America, there are pushes to return to traditional foods because they are more in keeping with human bodies, possibly easing the effects of the diabetes that runs rampant among Indigenous Peoples and is often blamed on modern foods instead of traditional crops.
Agnes Williams is a Seneca from Cattaraugus Territory who has long been an activist and a founder of this local day. Williams has been an activist for Indigenous issues and an end to dependence on federal foods.
"Flour, sugar and many people live on that, but we still live off the land and we still subsist," Williams said, "which makes the West Valley issue more important for us at Cattaraugus because people are still eating the fish out of the creek and eating the deer and the way radiation really does affect our bodies is through ingestion."
The radiation slowly leaking from the former Nuclear Fuel Services plant in West Valley has long been in the waters across Seneca land, on the way to Lake Erie and along the rest of the Great Lakes, where that radioactive water is the source of drinking water for millions.