Jhakeem Haltom

Cayuga Wetlands Project

Jhakeem Haltom
Cayuga Wetlands Project

By Jhakeem Haltom


When Europeans first settled the area at the southern basin of Cayuga Lake, they sought to live in the areas in which 3 significant stream/rivers emptied into Cayuga Lake. These were, Fall Creek, Cascadilla, and 6 mile. For them they were the new rightful owners and essentially generational newcomers to the area.

Twenty years after the American Revolution, the early marketing efforts to despise and hate the so called savages that lived here before was well in place, even before modern media outlets. News periodicals of the time regularly spoke about the horrors of scalping and the intellectual inferiority of the red man. This illusionary gossip was not informed and ignorant to the reality of the vast intelligence and intuitive science developed by the Haudenausanee and in this Cayuga Region, the Cayuga Nation.

The scientific world of the Cayuga' included such fields as astronomy, agriculture, environmental practices, genetics, medicine, carpentry, architecture.  But all of this was dismissed and viewed as a threat.Their militant stance years before Ithaca, NY was settled, culminated into a last ditch effort to stop this new people who were invading and trying to ignore the human responsibility to the "Great Law" established by the great peacemaker in and around 1000 AD.

In fact this "Great Law", at the time Ithaca was being settled, had been co-opted and transformed into a new system with an old name, democracy.

Of course any credit to those first nations people who developed the idea of checks and balances within branches of government, was stripped away from them.
An exhaustive study could be done on the mind set, writings, and media of these new Cayuga lake settlers but let us look directly at their actions to reflect on their apparent disregard for Native wisdom.

It is true that the Cayuga Nation actively chose not to live in this basin which they called, the "muckyland"; not because they lacked the intelligence to do so, but because they were intelligent enough not too.

This sensitive, diverse and pristine natural area was flush with animals for food, beautiful diverse fish population, wild rices for food, and most of all critical to the trading capacity of the Cayuga nation, medicinal herbs renowned and needed by the other 4 nations spanning beyond the borders of New York to the East and West.

This southern Muckyland acted as a kind of lung for the lake. It helped the waters of Cayuga lake remain drinkable and pure based on the cleansing capacity of the plant life within this wetland.  

The ignorant decision to live in the wetland lacked the Indigenous knowledge of the Cayuga Nation. They believed as did the other Haudenesaunee nations, that each decision we make should reflect on positively for seven generations ahead of your own. If this had been the mind set of the settlers in the Cayuga region they may have chose to live in the hills in a more communal relationship with the Cayuga Nation.

Our lake is now polluted for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is the biodiversity which protected the health of the lake was systematically stripped and removed, as it was settled. Even dirt was piled up on top of the lake so that the general public could be accommodated.

Those who know Ithaca history have heard the story of the Typhoid break out dating back to the early 1900's. This event affected more than 300 people in a short period of time and resulted in over 80 deaths. This was and is one of the largest outbreaks in North American history.

Its origin traces back to poor water quality and sanitation practices of this quickly growing settler population. The causes could easily be linked to the disrespect of mother earth in and around the "muckyland".

The original people had so much respect for this wetland that they are called to this day, "the people of the muckyland". Not because they lived their, but because of their balanced utilization and maintenance of the wetland.