Issues and themes in Native American society influence River Symposium

By Sara Blair Matthews


Native American themes of unity and strength as well as the importance of health in the Native American community were discussed at this year’s sixth annual Susquehanna River Symposium .

The event took place on Oct. 14 and 15, featuring a mixture of lectures, appreciation events, panel talks and keynote addresses. All of the events took place in the Elaine Langone Center and were free and available to the public. 

The first event was a tree dedication ceremony held in front of the Krebs Family Fitness Center. Sid Hill, president and Tadodaho (spiritual head) of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, led the ceremony. His dedication focused on the themes of unity and strength within humanity. Our society is governed by natural laws, such as how animals live and how we uphold peace and contentment in our forests, he said. He stressed the importance of not taking more than we need. Mother Nature provides for all of us,” he said.

“The tree of peace is a strong symbol of comfort, peace and contentment,” Hill said.

Hill discussed the importance of not going against the current.

“It is important to respect, cherish and acknowledge [Mother Nature’s] needs, so there is something for future generations to enjoy. It is up to us to keep up the earth for those future generations,” he said.

He also spoke of the interconnectedness of humanity and nature. There is no end to the roots, and like the floor in our house, everyone is welcome, he said.

“We are of one mind, heart and body, and we must protect each other and our trees,” Hill said.

Another highlight of the weekend was the “Health and Identity in Native Communities” talk and panel session held from 3:00-4:30 p.m. on Friday.

Ann Dapice, director of education and research at Native American non-profit organization T.K. Wolf, started by discussing problems in Native American society. She cited stalking, obesity, alcoholism, violence and cancer increases as major issues. She said that Native Americans have the highest unemployment, school dropout and alcoholism rates of any ethnic group.

“American Indians, especially women, are the most likely to suffer violence out of all races,” Dapice said.

Obesity has also become a large problem among Native Americans because the government only supplies them with lard and wheat flour. Native Americans are forced to make the best of their unhealthy options. 

“If the river [is] healthy, people are healthy,” said panelist David Arquette, director of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force.

Most Native American diets consist of fish that come from the river. When hazardous waste sites contaminated the river, the Native Americans lost their main food source and were forced to consume foods high in carbohydrates. Arquette said this is directly linked to the increase in diabetes and obesity among people in his tribe.

“Unfortunately, most of the doctors on these reservations have been kicked out of their native states for malpractice, so they are not always qualified to prescribe drugs to people,” Aquette said.

Also, most of them are unfamiliar with Native American heritage and common diseases, so it is hard for them to treat the Native Americans. Tribes are trying to encourage more of their members to attain medical degrees so they can come back and help their own tribes, Dapice said.

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