Wellness Specialist Shares Onondaga Experiences with Residents

When St. John’s Meadows Wellness Specialist Steve Gardner first interviewed for his role in 2021, an independent living resident on the search committee asked if he had Native American heritage. When Gardner explained that he did, he suggested that if he were to be offered the position, he would present on his experience as a member of the Onondaga tribe to residents throughout the St. John’s communities he would to support.

Now that Gardner has settled into his role leading over a dozen fitness classes and discussions each week, he has made good on his offer.  Over the past few weeks, Gardner has led three programs in all– two at St. John’s Meadows and one at Brickstone by St. John’s— on Growing Up in the Onondaga Nation.  By his count, he has presented to 217 residents throughout these three programs.

Gardner was christened on the Onondaga Nation, located just south of Syracuse, when he was 5 months old. Although he has never lived on the reservation, he has spent his life visiting and interacting with those who do. “It’s no different than being a kid anywhere else,” says Garnder of growing up as part of the sovereign nation. “I would walk through with my grandfather and my great-uncle, and it’s actually a lot like working here (at St. John’s),” he says. “Everyone knows who you are and they say hello to you and want to learn more about you.”

Residents in attendance were treated to a lot of really interesting details about the Onondaga nation, including the fact that in the 1840s, the tribe developed the modern faceoff (or “native crouch”) in the ancient sport of lacrosse. Gardner also explained the detrimental effects resulting from tribe’s sale of a large portion of their land to the New York State Thruway Authority during the 1950s. He also explained Pickering’s Day, a celebration that happens every Veterans Day to celebrate the Pickering Treaty in 1794.

Those who missed Gardner’s presentations the first time around need not fret. On the heels of the overwhelming interest his recent programs, Gardner plans future programs “that will go a little deeper” in the spring.

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