Oren Lyons said these words to rising applause in his memorial tribute to Muhammad Ali, as world and religious leaders came to honor and pay tribute to the people’s champion. Haudenosaunee leaders served as representatives of Native American and Indigenous peoples in a tribute to Ali and his family.
Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan for the Onondaga Nation, and Chief Sidney Hill, the Atodaho, or spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee, Iroquois Confederacy, were invited to speak at Muhammad Ali’s funeral ceremonies in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday, June 10. Also attending was Ernie Stevens of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association.
Delivering the condolence ceremony ritual given at all funeral services to family members, Chief Sid Hill spoke first in his Onondaga language, which was translated by Oren Lyons: “Ali’s passing has created a great darkness, but that family members should be at peace of mind, for his path back to the Creator’s land is clear and straight.”
Lyons then spoke of Ali, “He was a leader among men and a champion of the people. He fought for the people of color. He was a man of peace and principal and a man of compassion who used his great gifts for the common good.
“He fought for our inherent land rights, self determination, identity and collective rights that include the natural world. We know what he was up against because we’ve had 525 years of survival training ourselves,” Lyons said to loud applause.
Lyons also described how Ali was always a supporter of indigenous people, and recalled the Longest Walk in 1978, when Native Americans walked from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to protest a bill presented by a Congressman who wanted to terminate Native American treaties with the U.S. Government.
“Ali marched into Washington with us,” Lyons said as the audience again applauded loudly. “He was a free, independent spirit, who stood his ground with great courage and conviction, and yes he paid a price, this country paid a price, and we all did. Values and principles will determine one’s destiny, and the principles of a nation will do the same.”
Lyons closed with these heartfelt remarks: “On his journey in life he lived and learned the hard way. He brought a light into this world and that light will shine a long, long time. On behalf of indigenous people everywhere: Peace.”
Before the memorial service, Lyons spoke to Bud Poliquin of Syracuse.com the morning of June 10 as he prepared to leave for Louisville. “I am astonished that I’ve been asked to talk,” said Lyons, who is 86 and played lacrosse at Syracuse University with Ali’s friend, Jim Brown. “But I’m happy to do it. Muhammad Ali was remarkable. He had what I call ‘native intelligence.’ He never went to a university or anything like that, but he was brilliant. He was a brilliant man.”
Lyons also told Poliquin, “He was always looking out for the common man. He had a lot of heart for the common man, and he specifically fought for people of color.”
According to Muhammad Ali’s family, Ali was directly involved with details of his funeral services.
Lyons said, “on the day of his transition and as he begins his journey, Muhammad Ali was able to show the world that he is still the world champion, still the People’s Champion.”
Other speakers at the memorial service included former President Bill Clinton, senior adviser to the President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Billy Crystal and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.