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Haudenosaunee educator, earth advocate shares continuing mission... and growing warning

Oren Lyons
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Oren Lyons

A renowned Haudenosaunee diplomat, Faith Keeper in the Turtle Clan and environmental advocate came to Buffalo Friday to be honored for a lifetime’s work, including his advocacy for the environment. Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs continues to issue warnings about the planet’s health.

Lyons, now 91 years old, received a lifetime achievement award from the Western New York Peace Center at its annual dinner. Prior to that event, he spoke with WBFO by phone about his life’s work, mostly covering his environmental advocacy.

He prefers using the phrase “Mother Earth” over “environment.” And he urges the world’s leaders to act more quickly, saying the planet needs immediate attention and remedy.

”You’re cutting yourself too much slack people saying by 2050 we're going to do this. I say by 2050, you may be under water,” he said. “And, you know, it's politics and business, business as usual that is sustaining the challenges we have today. So, common sense versus dollars and cents.”

Lyons says a lesson that needs to be learned is that humans are not supreme, and that contemporary leaders have a misconception that they have an ultimate authority.

He recalled speaking to leaders at the United Nations in 2000, and then virtually repeating the same address several years later.

“They asked me to address the general counsel on the on the conditions of the earth, you know, so I was busy trying to write the follow up. Then I said, well, why should I write another speech? I'll just give the same speech I gave 14 years ago. And that's what I did,” he said. “I delivered that same speech, the ice is melting. And all the people and all the leaders were sitting out there and they were all wisely shaking their head with very concerned looks on their face. And at the end of it, I said, well, I gave you this speech 14 years ago, and nothing has (changed). In fact, things are worse today than it was then.”

The Haudenosaunee leader’s career includes nearly four decades as a professor at the University at Buffalo, and service as a paratrooper in the United States Army. He says in addition to rising warning signs of a changing planet, there’s another crisis which only makes matters worse, an exploding population of humans in recent decades that will tap out limited natural resources.

“When I was 20 years old in 1950, there were 2.5 billion people in the whole world. And that took hundreds of thousands of years to get there. And in my short lifetime here, 70 years later, here we are. There's almost eight billion people in the world, almost triple the population of the world in one lifetime. And I'll tell you, quite frankly, and very realistically, that is not sustainable.”