Lyons, Williams to be honored at commencement

Oren R. Lyons and Agnes Williams.

Oren R. Lyons and Agnes Williams.

Published April 28, 2023

The President’s Medal will be presented to Oren R. Lyons at the College of Arts and Sciences’ graduate ceremony on May 19.

A member of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Lyons was a UB faculty member for nearly 40 years and was a founder and director of the Native American Studies Program.

As an artist, author, environmentalist and activist, he has dedicated most of his life to advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples. He was a leader in the Trail of Broken Treaties, the 1972 caravan to Washington, D.C., to convince the Bureau of Indian Affairs to honor federal treaties. In 1977, he was part of the Haudenosaunee delegation of Iroquois representatives to the first World Conference on Racism. In 1982, he helped establish the United Nations’ Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Ten years later, he addressed the General Assembly of the U.N., opening the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Lyons is a founder of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders, the grassroots council of the major Indian nations of North America. A veteran of the Korean War, he earned a BFA from Syracuse University, where he was an All-American lacrosse player. He went on to a successful career in commercial art for a New York City greeting card company before returning to his ancestral homeland to serve as a faithkeeper, entrusted with keeping alive his people’s traditions, values and history.

In 1993, Lyons was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. In 2022, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious honorary societies.

From assisting youth impacted by the Indian Relocation Act to helping organize the Longest Walk, Agnes Williams has remained a steadfast voice for Indigenous communities.

She will receive a SUNY Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the College of Arts and Sciences’ graduate ceremony on May 19.

A citizen of the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Williams earned her BA, BSW and MSW from Syracuse University. From there, she directed the Urban Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, Calif., becoming involved in issues including the occupation of Wounded Knee, the forced sterilization of Indigenous women and the encroachment of nuclear waste on sacred land. In 1983, Williams called for the halt of nuclear weapon development at the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.

Returning to Western New York in 1985, Williams served as a family counselor with Child and Family Services of Buffalo, a correction counselor with the Department of Corrections, education director for the Seneca Nation of Indians, family counselor for the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Health Center and coordinator of Buffalo’s Indigenous Women’s Initiatives.

She also served on the founding Central Committee of Women of all Red Nations, helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network and was appointed to the Seneca Nation of Indians Climate Change Task Force. Her participation in the delegation to the United Nations started the course that would lead to the 2007 Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Williams, MA ’91, has been closely affiliated with UB for decades, particularly with the Native American Studies program and its founders. A graduate of the program, she has participated in activities including UB’s Haudenosaunee Native American Research Group and was instrumental in the development of UB’s new Department of Indigenous Studies.