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Chief Oren Lyons

​Chief Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee, explains the origin of the word "indigenous" in the video below. Chief Lyons discusses the origin and continuing impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery.​ Click the graphics to watch the video or read the article.

The January 2011 issue of the Central New York Magazine featured Chief Lyons in a 24-page cover story of with beautiful photos from throughout his inspiring life. See more of his bio below.
Chief Oren Lyons' Role in the Indian Section of this site comments more on his profound role.

Oren Lyons, Jr. was born in 1930 and raised in the culture of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) on the Seneca and Onondaga reservations in New York. He served in the United States Army and received an athletic scholarship to Syracuse University where he was awarded the Orange Key for academic and athletic accomplishments. Lyons graduated from the College of Fine Arts in 1958.

In 1989, Lyons was named Man of the Year in Lacrosse by the NCAA. His legendary performance as goalkeeper for Syracuse University with Jim Brown on the undefeated 1957 national champion team led to the induction of Oren R. Lyons, Jr. into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.


A lifelong lacrosse player, Lyons was an All-American at Syracuse, where the Syracuse Orange men's lacrosse went undefeated during his graduating year. After graduation, Lyons played for several teams, including the New York Lacrosse Club (1959–1965), the New Jersey Lacrosse Club (1966–1970), and the Onondaga Athletic Club (1970–1972). Lyons currently serves as the Honorary Chairman of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team.

Upon leaving Syracuse, Lyons pursued a career in commercial art in New York City, becoming the art and planning director of Norcross Greeting Cards and exhibited his own paintings.

In 1970, Lyons returned to Onondaga where he was chosen as Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan. Chief Lyons is responsible for maintaining the customs and traditions of the Haudenosaunee and representing their interests in the world community. He is Chairman of the Board of Honoring Nations at Harvard University, and of Plantagon which has received world recognition in greenhouse innovation.


In 1972, Lyons was a leader in the Trail of Broken Treaties, a caravan to Washington DC to convince the Bureau of Indian Affairs to honor its treaties with Native American tribes. "At first, I wanted to defend the Iroquois. Then my sights broadened to embrace other Indians. Then I saw this had to include defending indigenous peoples all over the world," Lyons said.

For over 14 years, Lyons has taken part in the meetings in Geneva of Indigenous Peoples of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, and helped to establish the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, and is a principal figure in the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders.


Lyons appeared on the one-hour documentary Faithkeeper produced and hosted by Bill Moyers on PBS in 1991. In 1992, he addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations where he opened the International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples. He appeared in Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary The 11th Hour in 2007.

Lyons has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Syracuse University. In recognition of his contributions over many years as a teacher of undergraduate and graduate students in the University at Buffalo, Dr. Lyons is listed as SUNY Distinguished Service Professor and Professor Emeritus of American Studies in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.

Chief Lyons has been the recipient of the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the National Audubon Award, the Earth Day International Award of the United Nations, and the Elder and Wiser Award of the Rosa Parks Institute for Human Rights. Lyons serves on the board of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and is board chairman of Honoring Contributions in the Governance of American Indian Nations.

Chief Lyons has authored numerous books
and is co-editor of the book Exiled in the Land of the Free. He has illustrated several children's books and is the publisher of the national Native American Daybreak magazine.

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