How can you acknowledge what you don't understand? Neal Powless defines key terms in the Syracuse University Land Acknowledgment.
We acknowledge with respect the Onondaga Nation, firekeepers of the Haudenosaunee, the Indigenous people on whose ancestral lands Syracuse University now stands.
Left: The flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy flying at Syracuse University; photo by Sreynoch Van. Right: The flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy; Source: Added Wikipedia users @Himasaram and @Zscout370c. Public Domain, Wikipedia Link.
The flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy derives from the Hiawatha Wampum Belt, which symbolizes the original Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy—the Mohawk Nation, the Oneida Nation, the Onondaga Nation, the Cayuga Nation, and the Seneca Nation—moving right to left across the flag, representing the Nations' geographic position moving east to west. The confederacy dates its formation among those five nations to have taken place over 1,000 years ago. In addition to those five Nations, since 1722, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy has include a sixth nation, the Tuscarora Nation, whom the flag also represents as part of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
The geographic locations are symbolized in the form of a Ganoñhsésgeh, or longhouse, the traditional form of shelter of the nations of the confederacy, to represent the nations' status as forming a cohesive unit, symbolically under one roof. The word Haudenosaunee itself means "People of the Longhouse". At the ends of the flag stand the Mohawk Nation, as the Eastern Doorkeeper, and the Seneca Nation, the Western Doorkeeper, whose permissions were required to enter Haudenosaunee territories, respectively from the east or west. The Oneida and Cayuga Nations are within the longhouse on the east and west sides, respectively.
In the center of the flag, is a symbol that represents the Onondaga Nation, whose lands serve as the capital of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The symbol can be interpreted in multiple ways. It symbolizes the Tree of Peace, where the nations made peace and buried their weapons upon forming the confederacy. It also represents a flame in the center of the longhouse and the Onondaga Nation's status as the Firekeepers of the Haudenosaunee, who are obligated to keep the fire burning for the confederacy to assemble. Finally, if the flag is inverted, the symbol resembles a heart and the Onondaga Nation's location at the heart of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and its territory.
Source: The Onondaga Nation: https://www.onondaganation.org/
In 1779, at the height of the American Revolutionary War, George Washington tasked Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton with launching a campaign against the Haudenosaunee Nations that had allied with the British. This included the Onondaga Nation, as well as Mohawk, Cayuga, and Seneca Nations; the Oneida and Tuscarora Nations largely allied themselves with the United States Continental Army. The troops under Sullivan and Clinton burned Haudenosaunee settlements to the ground.
Central New York Military Tract map drawn by Simeon DeWitt and colored in by Wikipedia user @Nonenmac. Public Domain. Wikipedia Link.
At the conclusion of the war, the land taken by the United States from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was turned into the Military Tract of Central New York and largely given to veterans of the Continental Army in return for their service to the United States in the American Revolutionary War. Some territory became reservations for nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, including the Onondaga Nation territory (in yellow in the map above), that occupied much of what is now Onondaga County.
Most of that land was bargained away in illegal treaties with the State of New York by Ephraim Webster, a white settler who befriended the Onondaga Nation and then proceeded to ostensibly negotiate on their behalf, illegally selling most of the original Onondaga Reservation until all that remained was the territory that constitutes the Onondaga Nation today.
The names of the individuals responsible for taking and appropriating the lands of the Onondaga Nation continue to be present in the names of area locations such as Webster Pond in Syracuse (named after Ephraim Webster); Clinton Square in Syracuse (named after James Clinton's son); the town of DeWitt, New York (named after a cousin of Simeon DeWitt, who was also a nephew of James Clinton); and Sullivan County, New York, and the Town of Sullivan, New York (named after John Sullivan).