On September 30, 2010, at The Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and Claus Biegert, co-founder of the Nuclear Free Future Awards, co-hosted the NFFA award ceremony to honor the prolific work of five inductees: Martin Sheen, Henry Red Cloud, Oleg Bodrov, Bruno Barrillot, and the African Uranium Alliance. Over the years, their inexhaustible work -- together and independently -- has accelerated awareness and a call for a nuclear-free future.
The NFFA's goal is to stop depleting the earth of uranium -- one of life's essentials elements -- in order to consider the well-being of the "seventh generation" to come. In other words, NFFA's mandate demands a future free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. "Whatever we do today", said Biegert, "we, must consider its consequences tomorrow". In Biegert's view, "the Great Law of Haudenosaunee", also known as the Iroquois, "can help us from our predicament".
The opening address -- a spine chilling 15 minute statement -- was delivered by Chief Oren Lyons from the Onondaga Nation. An eloquent and soft-spoken man legendary for his messages of truth, peace, and wisdom, Chief Lyons delivered three missives. First, to seriously reflect on "how we live" and "the way we live"; secondly, to contemplate the ongoing process of our destruction; and lastly, to understand that whatever generation allows for the earth's destruction will regret it "beyond all comprehension... so don't let it be your generation".
On the flip side of his prophetic dispatch Chief Lyons assured the audience that there is still "great hope" for those who are willing to fight, stand their ground, and show courage in this great "commodity war" we are fighting. "It is the people" said Lyons, "who have to do the work and carry the weight. The leaders", he said "will soon die".
In traditional Native American wisdom, time is conceived as being circular. An interesting "circular" coincidence took place that evening. On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous "Right Makes Might" address at the Cooper Institute -- "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it"... that speech quickly catapulted him onto the national stage. In March 1861, Lincoln was named the 16th President of the United States. Ten years later Lincoln's words were echoed on July 16, 1870, at Cooper Union by Chief Red Cloud of the Ogala Lakota Sioux nation.
Chief Red Cloud's speech outlined his own concerns about the future of his people and although different in scope it was similar in tone to Lincoln's earlier discourse. "Our riches will... do us no good... for we cannot take away into the other world anything we have".
One hundred and thirty years later on September 30, 2010, Chief Red Cloud's great-great-great grandson rang a similar note. As Henry Red Cloud spoke from behind the red velvet of the same lectern as his predecessors he described parallel concerns about the future of his people and about his work on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He explained how important it was for him to train young Lakota's to become solar engineers. His hope he said "is that renewable energies will save the He Sapa (Black Hills) from a new wave of uranium mining".
In a span of 200 years the messages although distinctive resonate with a similar sentiment. "This time" Red Cloud said, "we must revisit the past with a new found drive, energy and values". Biegert added that "to help undo the grips of the tragic past, it is necessary to revisit the sites of its shaping". And with this in mind Chief Red Cloud exited with a brief statement: "the best kind of award is an award by the people (not by a corporation), so do your work, that's your instruction".