Chesapeake Insider

Sid Jamieson


Recently retired lacrosse coach for Bucknell University, Sid Jamieson is Haudenosaunee, the six-nation Iroquois Confederacy, and lives on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

Mr. Jamieson, you have lived along the Susquehanna River for many years.  Do you have favorite places along the Susquehanna that you like to visit?

There aren’t too many places along the Susquehanna that I don’t like to visit. Shikellamy State Park, has a beautiful overlook. You can stand at that high point and look along the North Branch for about 20 or 25 miles, and you can look up the West Branch for up to 15 or 20 miles. While you are doing that an eagle will probably fly by, and there is the chance that a bear might come out of the woods. It’s an imaginary place, where you can stand for hours and not become bored. You can imagine yourself traveling along the river, enjoying the sights or envisioning that you are one of the original people who took Trail Number 8 to get to the confluence so that you could trade or do business with other native groups that were similarly embanked along the river in historic days. It’s really, really an impressive place.

The Susquehanna River is an important river to many American Indians. Can you talk about its significance to the Haudenosaunee people?

The Susquehanna waterways—not just the river itself, but all the small streams and all of the other rivers that flow into the Susquehanna—were, in very ancient times, the way that you needed to travel if you needed to get some place easier than climbing over dead trees, or through vines, or up over mountains and down the other side. The Susquehanna River was the mode of transportation, primarily, for the Iroquois people in Upstate New York, who were moving down south then heading back north again. The Tuscarora Nation people, who were forced out of North Carolina, used the Susquehanna River as a way to get up to their territory, which was given to them by the Seneca people in Upstate New York. They came up the Susquehanna River, over the West Branch to Western New York, and over to their territory, which is adjacent to Lake Ontario. 

Most people are absolutely unaware of the total overall historical and cultural significance that the Susquehanna River actually had. It was the place where the native people met with the Euro-Americans to do business and trade at one time. I ask people, "what's the significance of 1744 in the national history of this country?" and they know 1776, but that's not 1744. So what is the significance of that? That is the year that the Onondaga people sent an Oneida chief and a group of other chiefs down the Susquehanna to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a meeting of the state governors at that time to discuss how territories would be divided. The message that the Oneida chief brought to this gathering was, "unless you form a union, which is similar to what we have--and we have lived in peace for many years because of the rights that have been given to the people--then you all are going to end up fighting among yourselves and you probably will not make it." That message was type-set by Benjamin Franklin, who was a type-setter at that time in Philadelphia. And he never forgot that. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Samuel Adams then began to spend a lot of time in the Iroquois territory, trying to find out how the governance system worked for the people. Out of that grew a lot of ideas and thoughts about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of this country. The federal government in 1987 unanimously recognized the Haudenosaunee contributions to those democratic principles. That journey was made possible by the Susquehanna River.

As a part of the Envision the Susquehanna core team, what do you believe is most important to conserve and protect in the Susquehanna River watershed and why?

Number one, which is ongoing, is to continue to bring together different groups of people that have similar aspirations about the river. To try to bring all of those people together as one is really, really critical to what the initiative is all about. On the other side, I think we need to bring the history and culture of the native people of the Susquehanna River to the younger generations, from an educational standpoint, to give them a greater appreciation of who lived there before, and using some of the stories that the native people have to try to stimulate interest in the young kids about the river and the need for conservation.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy believes in the Seven Generations principle of making decisions based on how they will affect people seven generations in the future. Why do you feel this principle is so important?    

The Seven Generations principle is a way of pulling back from immediacy to spend more time deeply thinking about issues, policies, and problems, rather than a quick response, as we might have today. It is giving deep thought about what an enactment will mean to the children, of the children, of the children, of the children, of the children, of the children, of the children--seven generations. When you think about issues that way, there is probably going to be a lot of discussion--thoughtful discussion--and it is going to culminate in consensus. Mixing the spirituality of all things, mixing the ethics of what you are doing, and coming to a consensus about what you are doing is a wonderful way to think about developing policies for the people. The children are always the focus of the people. 

The Haudenosaunee is the native term for the Iroquois Confederacy. Iroquois is the English name that was given to the people, but we call ourselves the Haudenosaunee people. The Haudenosaunee people are found in New York. In Western New York, west of Buffalo are the Seneca people. North of Buffalo are the Tuscarora people. South of Rochester are the Cayuga people. Adjacent to and south of Syracuse are what are called the fire people, the Onondaga people. That is the place where all of the business takes place. Moving east, in Oneida, New York, that is where the Oneida people are. In the St. Lawrence River area in way Upstate New York is where the Mohawk people live. That encompasses, from west to east, the entire state of New York. Those are the Six Nations.

How do you think the Seven Generations principle should be used to conserve the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

I think in any successful venture you have to be able to maintain that enthusiasm and that burning desire to really accomplish whatever goal that it is you have in your mind. I know in the back of my mind, that means we need to make the river healthier. That was given to me as a priority by one of the chiefs 20 years ago. I am trying to figure out how I am going to do this. Thankfully, the Chesapeake Conservancy has created an opportunity for me to help do this. That is why I do what I do. The Haudenosaunee are grateful and support all the efforts that the Chesapeake Conservancy and groups along the river that have the same goal to protect, promote, conserve, rebuild, or whatever it is we need to do to make the Susquehanna River visible and usable, and healthier than it is today.

There is a two-row wampum belt, which is an illustration of the white culture moving along the river of life in one row and the native people, represented by the other row, moving along the same river in their way of life. We are all in this river of life together, so that is how we need to react and respond to each other. It is all based on relationship building. You don't just walk into some guy's office and say, 'can you give me a million bucks?' There is a relationship that has to be built and developed. Once you do that, you build trust. Then you can move into those other areas that you are looking to move into. Without the relationships and without trust, you are not going too far. 

Shikellamy State Park

Featuring a marina and boating access to the Susquehanna River, this park also provides picnic tables, picnic pavilions, drinking water and restrooms; Shikellamy Overlook has hiking trails, and Shikellamy Marina offers paved walking trails.

Jody Couser

Jody is the senior vice president of communications with the Chesapeake Conservancy. She has a public relations background and served as spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County, MD. 

July 7, 2016

Main image: Recently retired lacrosse coach for Bucknell University, Sid Jamieson is Haudenosaunee, the six-nation Iroquois Confederacy, and lives on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
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