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Old hats at sustainability, Haudenosaunee show the way during Reunion Weekend

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) peoples cared for the Finger Lakes region for thousands of years, long before Cornell was conceived. And in doing so, the Iroquois considered the impact of every decision on the seventh generation -- and still do.

In celebration of the vital role that indigenous peoples have played in sustainability, Cornell's American Indian Program and the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future (CCSF) co-hosted the 2009 Cornell Native American Alumni Association Reunion Iroquois Social, June 6 at Bailey Hall Square during Reunion Weekend.

"As New York state's land-grant university for more than 140 years, Cornell respects this ethic as a way to make the Big Red and Planet Earth places where all generations can prosper," said Daniel Roth, Cornell's sustainability coordinator.

Singer Bill Crouse (Seneca Wolf Clan) presented the traditional opening, followed by remarks by Cornell President David Skorton. Skorton noted that indigenous knowledge about environmental protection and sustainability predates Western science but can inform science to benefit our world. He also acknowledged that Cornell, which stands on the traditional lands of the Cayuga Nation, is proud to not only have a strong Native American program but also Akwe:kon , the only American Indian residential program house built on a university campus in the country.

The social also included traditional music, dances, giveaways and information on sustainability efforts under way at Cornell.

Carol Kalafatic, associate director of Cornell's American Indian Program, noted that around the world, a fundamental aspect of indigenous peoples' cultural heritage has always been a collective relationship with their lands and natural resources, and an attention to how today's actions will impact future generations. Indigenous peoples, which comprise about three-quarters of the world's distinct cultures, maintain diverse ecological knowledge and practices that steward much of the world's biodiversity, she said.

"These traditions provide valuable insights into today's sustainability challenges in areas such as food, water, energy and climate change," Kalafatic said.

Solving sustainability problems requires an interdisciplinary approach, noted Professor Frank DiSalvo, CCSF director. "The science and engineering needed to develop clean technologies cannot be separated from the ecological study of Earth's integrated human and natural systems or from the social science of human behavior and well-being."

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