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Chief Oren Lyons' Role

Chief Oren Lyons has played a seminal role in defining the world's native peoples as "indigenous", the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the acceptance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Chief Lyons created the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team as well as their uniform. He also designed the Haudenosaunee passport on which he and the team travel internationally.

In the first video below, Chief Lyons discusses the path to leadership. In the second video, he explains that in 1977, indigenous people gained access to the United Nations in Geneva through the international Non-Governmental Organization Convention on Discrimination Against the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.

The 100 delegates from 15 nations in North, Central, and South America brought forward the four issues of greatest importance to the 20 million Indians they respresented: self-determination, nationhood, land rights, and genocide. Through an ever-growing movement, indigenous peoples continue working towards international recognition of their rights. See more information below.


See Chief Oren Lyons in the Issues Section for more of his biography.

​Born in 1930, Oren Lyons was raised in the traditional life ways of the Haudenosaunee on the Seneca and Onondaga reservations. In 1982, he helped establish the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations where he has participated in the Indigenous Peoples Conference in Geneva, an international forum supported by the United Nations' Human Rights Commission. He is a principal figure in the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders, a council of traditional grassroots leadership of North American Indian nations.


As Faithkeeper, he is entrusted to maintain the customs, traditions, values, and history of the Turtle Clan and uphold Gai Eneshah Go' Nah, the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee while representing the people's message from the Haudenosaunee to the World Community in every aspect as deemed necessary by the Onondaga people.

In 1992, Chief Lyons was invited to address the General Assembly of the United Nations to open the International Year of the World's Indigenous People at the United Nations Plaza in New York. During that year, he organized a delegation of the Haudenosaunee to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and was invited by UNCED Secretary General Maurice Strong, to address the national delegations.

Co-editor with John Mohawk of Exiled in the Land of the Free: Democracy, Indian Nations, and the U.S. Constitution, publisher of Daybreak, a national Native American magazine, Oren Lyons serves life's needs and the needs of the seventh generation, addressing such essential issues as Spirituality, Natural Law, and the Ethics of Authority.

Chief Lyons is Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo where he directs the Native American Studies Program and teaches undergraduate courses in Surveys of Native American History and a Native American Studies Colloquium.

Chief Lyons has served as a Principal Faculty Member for over 40 Masters Degree Committees and for 5 Doctoral Degree Committees. Topics of research supervision include Native American Education, Native Legal Situation with the Federal Government and the Canadian Federal Government, Economic Development on the Native Territories and Sovereign Issues in the International Perspective, Native American Health Issues, and Native American Cultural and Artistic Expression.



1965: Oren Lyons became Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee. He sits on the Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee. He was in the council which chose the word “indigenous” to define Native peoples.

1977: The Council of Chiefs decided it was time indigenous nations were represented at the United Nations. With support from Indians across North America, the groundwork was laid for native people to gather at the 1977 Non-Governmental Organizations Forum at the United Nations at Geneva. Chief Lyons used that trip to debut the Haudenosaunee passport he had designed to represent Haudenosaunee sovereignty. He designed the purple and white Haudenosaunee flag based on the Hiawatha wampum belt.

Chief Lyons' address, “A Basic Call to Consciousness” represented the needs of indigenous peoples and pointed out, “…native peoples have need of a forum where our voices can be heard”. He was on the working group that established the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples (UNPFII). At that meeting, delegates started work on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which Chief Lyons points out 30 years to get passed.

1983: Founded the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team and designed their uniforms.

1992: Oren addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations to kick off the 1993 United Nations Year of Indigenous Peoples.

1997: Chief Lyons is a founding member of the Council of of Elders and Youth.

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