As an attorney for the Colorado-based Native American Rights Fund, Don Ragona has an insider’s view of a battle that has pit two Native American tribes against big industry and federal government.
The NARF is representing two tribes in a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration to halt an extension of the Keystone oil pipeline from Nebraska to Alberta, Canada. The suit alleges, among other things, that the pipeline poses a threat to the environment and people of the sacred, ancestral lands and violates centuries-old treaties.
On Sunday, Nov. 10, Ragona will take the stage at Finger Lakes Community College to talk about the Keystone case, and more broadly, the enduring relevance of Native American treaties. He will be joined by G. Peter Jemison, the longtime site manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor. Evan Dawson, host of the WXXI radio show, “Connections,” will moderate the discussion.
Titled “Turtle Island’s Treaties: Honor and Activism,” the event will begin at 4 p.m. in the Student Center Auditorium at FLCC’s main campus, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, Canandaigua. It is part of the George M. Ewing Canandaigua Forum, a speaker series named for a longtime area newspaper publisher who had a penchant for public discourse on timely topics.
Ragona and Jemison said they talk about treaties across “Turtle Island,” a name for land in North America commonly used by Native Americans and indigenous rights activists. “One of the points we’re going to make is that treaties are the law of the land. They are in the Constitution. They are living documents. They don’t expire. They don’t have shelf life,” said Ragona. “Tribes do rely on them today.”
Added Jemison, “The Constitution says treaties are the Supreme Law of the land. How then can laws passed by Congress supersede a treaty signed by the president and ratified by Congress?”
The discussion is well-timed. The following day, Nov. 11, is the anniversary of the Canandaigua Treaty, which established land boundaries and declared “peace and friendship” between the newly established United States of America and the tribes of the Haudenosaunee: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora.
Jemison each year helps organize a local celebration commemorating the continued observance of the treaty by the Six Nations. Ragona has attended the event more than once on the invitation of Peter Gerbic, an area artist who also helped lead the festivities. Ragona and Jemison have forged an easy connection over the years through their shared advocacy. Ragona is a frequent presenter on federal Indian law and Indian issues at academic institutions and national and regional conferences. He first joined the Colorado-based Native American Rights Fund in 1993. After a four-year departure to advise tribes in private practice, he returned and, in 2017 was appointed the dual role of director of development and house counsel.
In addition to his work at Ganondagan, Jemison is the representative for the Seneca Nation of Indians on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act as well as an Indian Tribe/Native Hawaiian representative of the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He is also an artist known for his naturalistic paintings that embody “orenda,” the traditional Haudenosaunee belief that every living thing and every part of creation contains a spiritual force.
The Nov. 10 event is the third of four talks in the forum’s 2019-2020 season. Forrest Pritchard, organic farmer and author of “Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmer’s Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm,” will give the final talk on Sunday, Jan. 26 on sustainable agriculture and family farms.
Single-event tickets are $25 each. Student tickets are free at the door with a current student ID but only if the event has not sold out.
Tickets can be ordered by phone at (585) 393-0281 or purchased online at gmeforum.org.
The forum is funded in part with an endowment from the Ewing family as well as support from Canandaigua National Bank & Trust, Wegmans and FLCC.
Forum organizers always welcome sponsors. Donors receive tickets, admission to receptions and other benefits. For more information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Paul Bringewatt at (585) 396-0759.
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