Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Ganondagan–Pride of the Seneca Nation

Friday July 15, 2016                                                                           Most Recent Posts:
Sampson State Park                                                                  Over the Frost Heaves and Down the Rabbit Hole

Romulus, New York                                                                  The Keuka Outlet Trail Proves to be a Great Ride





Today we drive 41 miles north west of the park to visit Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan) State Historic Site in Victor New York.  The new center here is the on the site of what was one of the largest 17th century Seneca towns until its destruction by the French in 1687. 

The people of Ganondagan were Onondowa’ga: (ON-on-DAH-wa-gah) or  Seneca, one of the Five Nations of a  Confederacy of  Peace.  The other nations are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga.  Together they are called the Hodinohso:ni (h oh - D EE - n oh - SH oh - n ee) or “people of the longhouse”.  French settlers called them Iroquois which means snake.  It’s amazing that they are willing to use the name just as the Lakota are willing to use Sioux. 

The democratic ideals of the Hodinohso:ni Confederacy (Iroquois Confederacy) served as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution.  Too bad their 7 generations concern and their matrilinial society didn’t get incorporated I think to myself.

But their Matrilinial society did inspire the 1848 declaration of sentiments at nearby Seneca Falls that eventually lead to a woman's right to vote.

This Seneca Art and Culture Center just opened this past fall and it does a truly superior job of presenting the history, beliefs and customs of the Onondowa’ga:’  People.




When we open the doors and step inside, we are welcomed by a video of a Seneca man delivering

an ancient Onondowa’ga: address in their native tongue.  This address is common to all Hodinohsoni nations reflecting a shared vision of the connectedness of life.  A leader of the community recites this address at the beginning and the ending of a gathering.  Individuals may say it at sunrise as a way of greeting the day and at sunset.  It thanks the  Mother Earth, the waters, the fish, the Food Plants, the Medicine herbs,
the animals, the trees, the birds, the four winds, the thunderers, the sun, Grandmother Moon, The Stars, the enlightened teachers and the creator ending each section with the phrase “With our minds gathered together as one we send greetings and thanks to …………..   Now our minds are one”

The address is given here in their native language. I’ve put a translation of the  text of this moving address of Thanksgiving at the end of this post for those who would like to read it.  It is really wonderful to hear it in the Native Seneca Language.

Next to the video is a glass case with some lovely crafts done by the People.  I was very taken with the Spirit Masks created by Tammy Tarbell (Mohawk).


web entrance









We pay our admission ($4 for seniors and college students, $8 for adults, $2 for children 5-11, under 5, free) and head into the small theater to see the Seneca Creation Story film. It is an intimate room although there is a larger theater for bigger groups.  We feel lucky to have the theater all to ourselves.

When the lights come up we notice paintings all around the room portraying the major characters and ideas of the film.  They are beautifully done.





web displays

We notice that all of the people working here appear to be Seneca.  I’m not sure how the state/tribal partnership works here but it is clear that the museum is the work of knowledgable people devoted to portraying the details of the history and culture of this tribe. 

G. Peter Jemison, a reknown artist and 8th generation descendent of Mary Jemison (see my previous post),  is the manager of the site.  He also represents the Seneca people on repatriation issues with the National Museum of the American Indian.  

This is a Center for Native Americans by Native Americans and we are the beneficiaries. To that end, we look out the window as we are moving through the interactive and multi-media exhibits and see a bus dropping off a large group of students.

We had thought school was out so we’d be safe from noisy school kids.  But here they are and here we are so we continue on.  And boy are we glad we did.  These young people are very respectful quiet and attentive as volunteers take them through the exhibits talking about “our past”, “our ancestors” and thanking them for being so respectful to their teachers and elders.  We feel very lucky when they invite us to tag along.  We learn much more than we might have on our own,  particularly about the history, during our time with them in the museum.





Many in the group are wearing Tshirts of the camp they are attending,  The Seneca Nation of Indians, Keepers of the Western Door, Summer Youth Program.




We are not finished looking around the museum when the group leaves to walk up the hill to the longhouse.  We follow them and are again so lucky to be part of the interaction between the guide and the students with regard to the lifestyle of their ancestors.

This longhouse is built to scale both inside and out with the same materials, whenever possible, as used by the ancestors.  At the time of the village’s destruction there were 150 longhouses on this site.  I can’t wrap my mind around the number of 150 of these very LONG houses.





We learn that the Onondowa’ga’ (Seneca) people have 8 clans or family groups. Today as in the 1600’s children inherit their mother’s clan. Their father must be from a different clan. The members of the same extended family (clan) lived together in one long house. Clan membership continues to play a role in naming a child, choosing a spouse, deciding where to live and making decisions that could affect clan, nation or confederacy. 

This longhouse was the home of one clan matriarch and her family.  This might be the grandmother and grandfather with their daughters and husband and children.  Perhaps thirty people lived here and sleep on benches in the house.









We all leave the longhouse and walk back down the hill. I’m thinking how lucky they are to know specifically where they came from, who their ancestors were and fairly clearly how they lived.  They have family/clan/tribal traditions that are sacred to them. Here they are in the place


where their ancestors actually lived more than 300 years ago.  Few of we immigrants can say the same.  They have managed not to lose their culture despite our ancestors efforts to annihilate them.  Can we say the same?

They leave for lunch in the large indoor room.  David and I sit outside on tables just behind the center.  I tell him about the Cavalier cap., 

While we were standing in the back of the group I noticed that this young man was wearing a Virginia Cavaliers cap.  I noticed it of course because he was wearing it backwards.  At one point I asked him if he’d been to Charlottesville home of the University of Virginia.  He told me that his brother played lacrosse there and yes he had been and liked it very much.  I later saw that his friend had a tattoo on his outer calf of an Indian lacrosse player.  It was so lovely I snapped a picture of it as we stood waiting to enter the longhouse.   Lacrosse is clearly very important to these young people.







After lunch the Summer Youth Program group boards their buses to return to their reservation near Allegany State Park where we were early this summer.  I wish I had thought to find out if they have a museum there that we could have visited.  I am compiling a list of what we inadvertently missed on this trip in New York and that will definitely be on it.

We return to the museum and finish going through the history of this people’s struggle to maintain their land and way of life.



web replica longhouse


Traditional Hodinohso:ni’ homelands extended all across what is now New York and adjacent Canada.  By 1750, constant war with European colonists diminished their lands considerably.  The U.S. Government continued that trend over the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  But they are still here on very small parcels of land.  Their presence is a testament to their resilience.




web lacross

The last exhibit I look at dismays me.  I learn about lacrosse. 

I’ve seen both boys and girls playing it since Carrie was in grade school but I was only vaguely aware that Native people across the continent played variations of it long before Europeans arrived. 

Here I learn that it is the Hodinohso:ni version that has evolved into modern lacrosse. 

The information tells me that “As lacrosse gained popularity among non-Natives, Hodinohso:ni teams were banned from leagues.  When they charged admission to games in order to cover travel costs, they were considered “professional” and therefore ineligible to play in official tournaments.  An Iroquois Nationals team was formed  in 1983 by Oren Lyons, a member of the Onondaga chiefs council and former All-American player.  In 1987, just 4 years after the team’s founding, the International Lacrosse Federation accepted the Iroquois Nationals as a full member nation.  This decision ended the long time ban of Native teams in international competition.”



Here comes the dismay.  The Nationals prospects for winning the 2010 international championships in England seemed very promising.  And then just 3 days before the team’s departure, British officials rejected the players Hodinohso:ni passports that they had been using for Decades.  Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, stepped in to grant the team members one-time travel waivers. Oscar-winning director James Cameron donated $50,000 to defray costs while the team was stuck in New York City as bureaucrats dickered over documents. In the end, rather than travel on the offered expedited U.S. passports — an affront to Iroquois sovereignty, the squad felt — the team forfeited.

It is a matter of sovereignty.  This issue challenges their national identity.  According to treaties between U.S., Canada, and the Hodinohso:ni Nation is soverign.  They are a confederacy now of six nations with authority to govern themselves.  A passport issued by the Hodinohso:ni Nation should be as valid as one issued by any other nation.


There are many other things to learn in this center and experiences to have both inside and outside.  But this post is long enough.  The 25th Celebration of Native American Dance & Music Festival here is a week from tomorrow and luckily we don’t move on unitl the day after, so we will for sure be here.  If you are in the Finger Lakes don’t miss this exceptional site.  The Hodinohso:ni’ have lost nearly all of their traditional lands but here they have reclaimed an ancestral homeland and have great pride in it.


The Hodinohso:ni Thanksgiving Address

The People
Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.
Now our minds are one.

The Earth Mother
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.

The Waters
We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms‐ waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.  
Now our minds are one.

The Fish
We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.

The Plants
Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.
Now our minds are one.

The Food Plants
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.
Now our minds are one.

The Medicine Herbs
Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.
Now our minds are one.

The Animals
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.
Now our minds are one

The Trees
We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.
Now our minds are one.

The Birds
We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds‐from the smallest to the largest‐we send our joyful greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.

The Four Winds
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.
Now our minds are one.

The Thunderers
Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.
Now our minds are one.

The Sun
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.
Now our minds are one.

Grandmother Moon
We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night‐time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon. Now our minds are one.

The Stars
We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.
Now our minds are one.

The Enlightened Teachers
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.
Now our minds are one.

The Creator
Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.
Now our minds are one.

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.
Now our minds are one.


  1. Very interesting post about the Native Americans in New York. We've really been enjoying the Lakota in Custer and surrounding areas. Such a proud nation!

  2. Sherry, Outstanding post!!! I have to say that I read over 20 blog posts and you do one fine job. Very informative with just the right touch of personal feelings and ideas. I have not retired yet, but am getting closer and want to travel this great country. I just hope I can discover some "gems" like you find. Thanks again, Keith

  3. Last yr I watched a documentary on PBS about the northern tribes and their Lacrosse history. They strive to get scholarships to Syracuse University where lacrosse thrives! They excel in this sport. The "songs" or prayers you mentioned remind me of the Navajo, who believe in Hozho a state of being in harmony, walking with the harmony and beauty of the Earth and the creatures of the Earth, wish we could all think this way.

  4. I would enjoy visiting here. Thanks for documenting it!

  5. I wonder what my name would be had our culture been Matrilinial from the start. I suppose naming conventions within a culture had to await development of languages and societies - the discovery that humans were actually 'stronger together', even before they learned how to communicate on deeper subjects than killing something to eat. Our history or Herstory never ceases to AMAZE me!!! I loved this place and the people and their story and am so thankful for the preservation efforts that made this visit possible.

  6. Great documentation. The students look like they were very interested. I love the Thanksgiving Address.

  7. Sherry you have put a lot of effort and details on this post and I appreciate it.
    The Hodinohso:ni Nation stood on principle, it must have been a let down for the team.

  8. Not just any visit to the museum when you're included in a Native group. Must be a special place for descendants to visit. History brings me shame thinking of how my ancestors treated the First People. But to think of this kind of treatment in the modern day is even worse. Thank you for sharing their story.

  9. So glad you were able to join the students...gave a whole new perspective to your visit. You find and share with us some amazing places that most of us would pass right by. THANK YOU!!!

  10. Infuriating the way the Brits rejected perfectly legal passports! What a shame. I have to admire the team forfeiting the game on principle.

  11. Wonderful information, Sherry! Thanks for sharing so much of the history. A great museum.

  12. What a fabulous museum and cultural center! This is a place we would love to visit. How lucky you were to tag along with a group of students for an "insiders" view. So interesting that the democratic ideals of the Iroquois Confederacy served as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution. I agree with you—we would be so much better off had we also adopted a matrilineal society and their concern for the seven generations.

  13. Such a wonderful visit to this lovely center. Getting to tour it with the guide and enjoy the respectful learning of the children is a very special treat. I agree that the young people of this culture are fortunate to have this reference to their foundation that they can see and touch. The pic of the young girl at the glass is delightful. The passport story is very sad and frustrating.

  14. Beautiful post in honor of a resilient people. Very neat you got to tour and learn with their well behaved youth. I am glad they have that place to visit. I agree the picture of the girl at the glass is a beauty. The thanksgiving address is beautiful too.

  15. Interesting information about the passport situation.


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