Niagara Falls honoring islands above falls as sacred to Senecas, urges state to follow

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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB)–The islands above Niagara Falls are an idyllic place to capture photos, but for the Onondaw ga (Seneca) people the land has a special meaning.

“Our stories are here on these islands and these lands, people were buried here our warriors were buried here, “said Nicky Thompson.

Historical records show they buried their most revered warriors and healers on Celinda Eliza and what is now known as Goat Island. The City of Niagara Falls is now honoring that history.

“My father raised me to do the right thing, and after doing some research and understanding the history of where we are standing and what it means to the Senecas, I felt it was necessary to honor the ancestral lands, their heritage, the indigenous people, and the aboriginal title itself,” said Niagara Falls City Councilman Bill Kennedy.

The Niagara Falls City Council unanimously passed a resolution last month honoring the Seneca people and recognizing the lands as an important part of their heritage.

Members of the Onondaw ga people say the resolution is a long time coming. but they want the state to follow suit. They say New York needs to step up and show reconciliation.

“There’s such a history of broken treaties, I think we feel like that voice has not been acknowledged. We’re still here but they act like we don’t exist. It’s still Columbus Day it’s not Indigenous Day in this state,” said Thompson.

“It’s time we had a seat at the table. This is indigenous land and it was indigenous land from conception, it was indigenous land before the state of New York was even a thought. There needs to be some type of decree or legislation,” said Seneca language and cultural instructor Jocelyn Jones.

Community activist Ken Cosentino echoes those sentiments. He says New York State has been lax on showing significant support that these islands were burial grounds for the Onondaw ga people, even removing large stones that were part of a site of worship.

“We need New York State to pay attention, we need international courts to pay attention because something has to be done.”

We reached out to the governors office on if they had any plans to pass similar legislation and have not yet received a response.

The New York State Parks Department sent the following statement:

“We are mindful of historic evidence of Native American burials on Goat Island. The park works closely with the SHPO to avoid potential disturbances to burials. We are currently working to improve interpretive material at the park to more fully tell the history of indigenous people at Niagara Falls.”

Kelly Khatib is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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