Our website intends to highlight the importance of viewing history from multiple perspectives–not just taking the perspective of the European settlers that we learn in school as gospel. In order to navigate our website you can simply click each “Continue” button on the bottom of each page to be led through the website as we’ve intended–however you can also use the menu at the top of the page to jump to any page in our website that you’d like to return to.
To focus on the perspective of the European settlers that built our country limits our understanding of who we are on individual and collective levels, because the fact is this: America today is much more diverse than it’s ever been–and we can tell the story of the Boston Tea Party, and the Founding Fathers, however that is not every American’s story. We need to know where our country has been and how it operates (politically, socially, economically, etc) in order to actively participate in the present systems in order to further mold them to handle, support and understand people of all identities and backgrounds. For example, in the most recent midterm elections, there was a push to ensure that more people would vote in the midterms, and they did this by demystifying the process of voting. And the newly elected House of Representative member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is continuing to use social media platforms in order to explain each step of the process that she must undergo as she learns the ins and outs of that stage of the political hierarchy. None of this demystification could happen without people being able to point to problems within the system and identifying where the problems originated in the past. It is only with this understanding that we can move forward taking more conscious steps towards the new system we hope to build.
Our education system has long centered around the perspectives of important white male figures of our country’s history, holding them up as examples of the “perfect” citizens whom we should all try to imitate. However, this veneration often creates too simplistic a picture of these historical figures, ignoring their faults, and creating unrealistic expectations for those of us who must fight against biases and other systemic problems if we want to attain any kind of success as our present country has defined it.
These simplified narratives do not allow for any kind of true portrayal of the human experience–and these simplified narratives are everywhere if you take the time to look for them, especially surrounding marginalized communities like people of native identities. In Geneseo most town histories only briefly mention the Senecas who lived on this land prior to the arrival of the Wadsworth brothers in 1790 and other European settlers , but we know that the Senecas occupied this land for centuries before European encroachment. The story of the Seneca’s disappearance begins with the fact that the Senecas sided with the English during the Revolutionary War. Washington sent generals Sullivan and Clinton on a “campaign” to attack the native people who were attacking their troops. The troops used a “scorched-earth policy,” meaning they went into the native villages and burned down their homes and destroyed their fields, making the land uninhabitable. According to this story all the native people left the area, and the history is quiet for a while, until 1790 when the Wadsworth brothers arrived to cultivate the land and act as representatives for the federal government in the area. They are considered the first settlers of Geneseo. The next time native people are mentioned is at the 1797 Treaty of Big Tree, which, according to the story, is how the natives lost the rest of their land. There is a gap here existing between the Sullivan-Clinton campaign and the 1797 Treaty of Big Tree. The Senecas couldn’t have all left the land after the campaign in 1779 if they were there in 1797 to sign the treaty.
In our country, minority voices are often absent in telling stories about the past, limiting our perspective of history. Geneseo’s history is no exception to being whitewashed; though the history may reflect the demographics of the town, it doesn’t reflect the past. In an optimistic turn of events, the SUNY Geneseo campus has recently made efforts to revise its diversity statement to be inclusive and address marginalized groups, so there is momentum and progress towards inclusivity. Just recently, the Haudenosaunee flag was raised in the MacVittie College Union, a statement acknowledging the history of the land and the people before.
Through our website, we hope to use our privilege (as visibly white, college-educated students) to offer a source that acknowledges indigenous voices and directs viewers to resources that are indigenous. We are in no way eligible to speak for a group of people, that is not the purpose of our research or our site but rather to educate individuals on one of Geneseo’s historical narratives, and the need for communication between those who claim one narrative over another in order to develop a nuanced view of history that is more capable of holding contradictions. The story of Mary Jemison, a white woman of Irish/Scottish descent turned Seneca historical figure is one that directly contradicts the generally accept history of Geneseo. In her well known biography, regarded as one of the most read captive narratives, she fills in many gaps to the landscape’s story that the town of Geneseo chooses to leave out. Mary Jemison continued to live on the land of what is now present day Livingston County well after the signing of the Treaty of Big Tree, even becoming an icon of sorts to neighboring white settlers who would travel to meet her out of astonishment. Even with these histories and stories being at our disposal, the narrative remains skewed and accepted as such. For this reason, our website and research is attempting to add another layer—new to some but not to all—to this pulled and plucked narrative without claiming authority over it.
We hope that through our website, there will be questions and confusion as our research challenges the narrative many people grew up knowing. However, it is important to not let these questions stop piquing curiosity. We should feed these questions by researching and deconstructing the narratives, histories and stories we have been told. These stories shape our world, our understanding of it, and the experiences we create, so to believe these false stories is very much like living a life of lies.
To end with a quote from indigenous author Thomas King about stories and what we choose to make of them,”don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” We hope our website encourages you to ask questions about the places you call home