Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Native American Heritage Month

DEC Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, and during this month, we take the time to recognize the work that Indigenous peoples have done, and continue to do, to protect our shared environment. DEC recognizes the role of Indigenous peoples in preserving and protecting the environment. This includes the ongoing stewardship of land in accordance with traditional teachings and ecological knowledge despite centuries of dispossession. It also means DEC is working to improve our relationship with Indigenous peoples, recognizing past challenges.

In August of 2022, DEC created the Office of Indian Nations Affairs (OINA). OINA will lead DEC's efforts to enhance and deepen proactive engagement with State and federally recognized Indian Nations by improving consultation, building shared knowledge, and advancing meaningful cooperation.

Over the past few years, our Indigenous neighbors have protected the Allegany River from pollution (leaves DEC website), installed solar panels to generate clean energy at Onondaga (leaves DEC website), and removed a dam blocking fish migration up the Saint Regis River (leaves DEC website).

Bird's Beak Basket by Sheila 'Kanieson' Ransom
(Mohawk), on loan from the New York State Museum.
Named for the thin woven splints of black ash that
resemble beaks of birds. Made of black ash.

As part of the Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, and as Natural Resource Trustees for the settlement with Honeywell International, Inc., DEC and the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service signed a resolution that directed Honeywell to transfer the title to more than 1,000 acres of open space in the Tully Valley of Central New York to the Onondaga Nation in June of this year. This was one of the largest returns of land by any state to an Indigenous nation and was in part executed in recognition of the Onondaga having been the original stewards of these lands and water, and out of their continuing legacy of natural and cultural resource conservation and protection.

Many Indigenous people are at the vanguard of protecting New York's environment. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the Seneca Nation's application to assume regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) in a manner similar to a state, enabling the Nation to implement its own water quality standards and certification programs, as well as to participate in CWA grant programs. With this designation, the Seneca Nation is developing water quality standards and certifying federal permits and license uses for surface waters within and upstream from Nation territories.

Out of respect for our Indigenous neighbors, DEC joined in the process of renaming agency-managed resources. These include Skenoh Island in Canandaigua Lake, Ganowtachgerage Road in Hammond Hill State Forest, and Onãaktokok Fishing Access Site in Rensselaer County.

DEC has amplified their consultation efforts with interested Indigenous Nations during the development of recreation and unit management plans, which guide how DEC manages properties held in trust for all New Yorkers. Our goal is to make these lands more welcoming to all people, including Indigenous peoples, and to explore how we can better integrate environmental stewardship practices with opportunities to sustain Indigenous cultures.

collection of beaded items with place names and dates
These Tuscarora beadwork whimsies were hand sewn and made
of felt and glass beads. The Seneca and Mohawk people are known
for their beadwork today, but Tuscarora artists are famous for the
"raised" atterns, made of multiple layers of beads upon felt backgrounds,
and for a variety of shapes including hearts, horseshoes, picture
frames, shoes, and wall pockets. The whimsies are often labeled
with the place and date of sale. These were created by a variety
of artists. "Niagara Falls Hat" and assorted Tuscarora beadwork
whimsies, on loan from Grant Jonathan (Tuscarora).

As we recognize Native American Heritage Month, we recommend that you explore and celebrate the heritage, traditions, culture, art, and history of the Indigenous peoples of New York today and in the past, and you consider how society's actions may impact Indigenous peoples and cultures. DEC also encourages you to learn more about how we can strengthen our relationship with nature and each other. Learn more about Native American Heritage Month (leaves DEC website).

  • PDF Help
  • For help with PDFs on this page, please call 518-402-9273.
  • Contact for this Page
  • Office of Communication Services
    625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233
    Send us an email
  • This Page Covers
  • Page applies to all NYS regions