Oren R. Lyons is a traditional Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, and a Member of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, or the Haudenosaunee ("People of the Long House"). He is Professor of American Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he directs the Native American Studies Program.
Oren Lyons was born in 1930 and raised in the traditional lifeways of the Iroquois on the Seneca and Onondaga reservations in northern New York State. After serving in the Army, he graduated in 1958 from the Syracuse University College of Fine Arts. He then pursued a career in commercial art in New York City, becoming the Art and Planning Director of Norcross Greeting Cards with 200 artists under his supervision. He has exhibited his own paintings widely and is noted as an American Indian artist.
Since his return to Onondaga in 1970, Chief Lyons has been a leading advocate for American Indian causes. He is recognized not only in the United States and Canada but internationally as an eloquent and respected spokesperson on behalf of Native peoples. He is a sought-after lecturer and participant in forums in a variety of areas, including not only American Indian traditions, but Indian law and history, human rights, environment and interfaith dialogue, and has received numerous honors and awards, including the Honorary Doctor of Law from Syracuse University. On the Columbus Quincentenary in 1992, he published Exiled in the Land of The Free, co-edited with John Mohawk, a major study of American Indians and democracy.
For over fifteen years he has taken part in the meetings of Indigenous Peoples held in Geneva under the auspices of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, and helped to establish the Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival, and is a principal figure in the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders, an annual council of traditional grassroots leadership of the major Indian nations of North America. In 1990 he received the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor. He was a negotiator between the governments of Canada, Quebec, and New York State and the Mohawk Indians in the crisis at Oka during the summer of 1990, and led a delegation of seventeen American Indian leaders which met with President Bush in Washington on April 16, 1991.
Chief Lyons was the subject of a one-hour television documentary produced and hosted by Bill Moyers which was broadcast on PBS on July 3, 1991. In 1992 he organized a delegation of the Iroquois Confederacy to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and while in Rio was invited by Maurice Strong, Secretary General of UNCED, to address the national delegations.
A lifelong lacrosse player, Oren Lyons was an All-American in this sport, which was invented by the Iroquois, and the Syracuse University team had an undefeated season during his graduating year (the NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown was a teammate and fellow All-American on the Syracuse lacrosse team). He is currently Honorary Chairman of the Iroquois National Lacrosse Team, which competed in the summer of 1990 at the World Games in Perth, Australia, against the national teams of the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. In 1993 he was elected to the Lacrosse National Hall of Fame.