Oren Lyons

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Oren R. Lyons Jr.
Born1930 (age 93–94)
New York, United States
NationalityAmerican, Onondaga
EducationBFA Syracuse University

Oren R. Lyons Jr. (born 1930, Seneca) is a Native American Faithkeeper of the Wolf Clan. The Seneca are one of the Six Nations of the historic Haudenosaunee Confederacy.[1] For more than 14 years he has been a member of the Indigenous Peoples of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations and has had other leadership roles.

A highly recognized college lacrosse player at Syracuse University during his undergraduate years, Lyons later became increasingly active as an advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples. He is the founder of the Haudenosaunee lacrosse team.[2]

He became a professor of American Studies at University of Buffalo.[3]

Background, education, and athletic career[edit]

Lyons was born in 1930 and raised in the culture and practices of the Seneca and Onondaga nations in what is now Upstate New York.[3]

Oren Lyons, dancing at evening camp fire, Camp Onondaga, Long Lake, NY, 1947.

In the summers of 1947 and 1948, he worked as a junior counselor at Camp Onondaga on Long Lake New York.

Lyons served in the United States Army. He received an athletic scholarship in lacrosse to Syracuse University, where he was awarded the Orange Key for his academic and athletic accomplishments.[4] He graduated from the College of Fine Arts in 1958. A lifelong lacrosse player,[5] Oren was an All-American at Syracuse, where the Syracuse Orange men's lacrosse went undefeated during his graduating year.[3] Athlete Jim Brown, later known for his professional football career, was also on his team.

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).[3]

Upon leaving Syracuse, Lyons pursued a career in commercial art in New York City, becoming the art and planning director of Norcross Greeting Cards.[6] While working for Norcross, Lyons appeared as a challenger on the February 14, 1960 episode of the popular panel game show What's My Line?.

Outside of work, Lyons exhibited his own paintings during this time[citation needed]. In 1970, Lyons returned to Onondaga to be closer to his cultural heritage[original research?].

In recognition of his contributions over many years as a teacher of undergraduate and graduate students at 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.[1]


In the 1960s, Lyons joined the Red Power movement and joined the Unity Caravan, which traveled through Indian Country to foster dialogue about traditional tribal values. In 1972, he was a leader in the Trail of Broken Treaties, a caravan to Washington, DC to convince the Bureau of Indian Affairs to honor federal treaties with Native American tribes.[6]

In 1971, during a protest against the expansion of I-81 through the Onondaga Reservation in New York state, Lyons met with singer/songwriters John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The couple wanted to help with the protest, after arriving in Syracuse for Ono's exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art.[7]

In 1977, Lyons helped create the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth at a meeting in Montana. Since then, the Circle has gathered annually at different sites in Indian country.[8] In 1977, he also was part of the Haudenosaunee delegation of Iroquois representatives to the first World Conference on Racism.[6][9]

"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.[6]

In 1981, he traveled with Stephen Gaskin and Ina May Gaskin to New Zealand to attend an indigenous festival at Nambassa, where he delivered a number of lectures and workshops. At Nambassa he coordinated with Maori land rights activists on questions of indigenous peoples sharing his Native American experiences.[10]

For more than fourteen years he has taken part in meetings in Geneva of Indigenous Peoples of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations. He helped to establish the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982.[citation needed] 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. He was a negotiator among the governments of Canada, the province of Quebec, New York State, and the Mohawk in the Oka crisis during the summer of 1990.[citation needed]

In 1992, Lyons addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations where he opened the International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples.[11]

Representation in other media[edit]

Lyons was among those featured in the one-hour documentary Faithkeeper (1991), produced and hosted by Bill Moyers[12] It was broadcast on PBS, July 3, 1991. He also appeared in the documentary The 11th Hour (2007), directed by Leila Connors and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio.


Lyons has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Syracuse University.[13] 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.[1]

He has received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the National Audubon Society's Audubon Medal, the Earth Day International Award of the United Nations, and the Elder and Wiser Award of the Rosa Parks Institute for Human Rights.[1] In 2022, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Indian Gaming Association's Tradeshow and Convention.[14]

Lyons has received high recognition for his lacrosse playing:

  • In 1988 he was inducted into the Syracuse University hall of fame.
  • In 1989 he was named Man of the Year in Lacrosse by the NCAA.[3]
  • In 1993 he was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.[15]
  • In 1998 he was inducted into the Ontario, Canada Lacrosse Hall of fame.
  • In 2000 he was inducted into the Upstate New York Chapter of USA Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
  • In 2008 he was inducted into the Native American Hall of fame. The ceremony took place at the Seneca Nation Casino in Niagara Falls, NY.
  • In 2023 he was awarded the Order of Sport, marking induction into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, as a builder of his sport.[16]
  • He is Honorary Chairman of the Iroquois Nationals.[3]

Published works[edit]

In addition to his writings, Lyons has collaborated on illustrating several children's books by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. He has written about indigenous issues, economic development and spiritual culture. He is the publisher of Daybreak Magazine.[1]

  • Lyons, Oren, Donald Grinde, Robert Venables, John Mohawk, Howard Berman, Vine Deloria Jr., Laurence Hauptman, and Curtis Berkey. Exiled in the Land of the Free: Democracy, Indian Nations and the U.S. Constitution. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publications, 1992/reprint1998. ISBN 978-0-940666-50-4.
  • Lyons, Oren. Wilderness in Native American Culture. Boise: University of Idaho Wilderness Research Center, 1989. ASIN B00072A6JG.
  • Oren Lyons, author. Voice of Indigenous Peoples: Native People Address the United Nations, Ewen, Alexander, ed.; Santa Fe: Clear Light Publications, 1993. ISBN 978-0-940666-31-3.
  • Lyons, Oren, contributor, "Listening to Natural Law." in Spiritual Ecology, Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn, ed.; Point Reyes: The Golden Sufi Center, 2013.

Children's books[edit]

  • Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. (Brulé Lakota), author, and Oren Lyons, illustrator. Jimmy Yellow Hawk. Holiday House, 1972. ASIN B001KRU62Y.[17]
  • Lyons, Oren, author and illustrator. Dog Story. Holiday House, 1973. ASIN B003BGS43K.
  • Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk, author, and Oren Lyons, illustrator. When Thunders Spoke. Bison Books, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8032-9220-8.
  • Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk, author, and Oren Lyons, illustrator. High Elk's Treasure. Holiday House, 1995. ISBN 978-0-8234-0212-0.

Other contributions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Department of American Studies Faculty: Oren R. Lyons.", University of Buffalo, College of Arts and Sciences.(retrieved 26 Aug 2010)
  2. ^ Keh, Andrew; Kiehart, Pete (2022-07-27). "How Indigenous Athletes Are Reclaiming Lacrosse". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-02-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Oren Lyons - Lacrosse". Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 25 October 2020. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  4. ^ Hope and Young 164-5
  5. ^ Hope and Young 164
  6. ^ a b c d Hope and Young 165
  7. ^ Kirst, Sean (22 March 2019). "'I think he liked our position': On the birthday of John Lennon, Oren Lyons remembers a friend". Syracuse.com. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  8. ^ "American Indian Institute". www.twocircles.org. Archived from the original on February 21, 2006.
  9. ^ Kron, Josh (August 22, 2021). "Gaming the State System". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2 September 2021.
  10. ^ http://nlnzcat.natlib.govt.nz/vprimo/getHoldings?bibId=91409&pds_handle=
  11. ^ "Chief Oren Lyons' December 1992 address to the United Nations". Southern Methodist University. 10 December 1992. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  12. ^ Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. "Film Review: The Faithkeeper." Spirituality and Practice. (retrieved 26 Aug 2010)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-07-30. Retrieved 2014-01-10.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Benallie, Kalle (April 22, 2022). "Oren Lyons honored with lifetime achievement award". Ict News.
  15. ^ http://apps.uslacrosse.org/museum/halloffame/view_profile.php?prof_id=136 . See also Gordon White, "Jim Brown's Best Sport Was Lacrosse," THE PILOT (www.thepilot.com), May 23, 2010.
  16. ^ "Virtue and Moir lead star-studded group of inductees into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame". CBC Sports. 19 October 2023. Retrieved 20 October 2023.
  17. ^ "Books > Oren Lyons." Amazon.com. (retrieved 26 Aug 2010)


External links[edit]