The Seneca people are said to have emerged from a mountain by the Creator and were referred to as the People of the Great Hill. However, while the Haudenosaunee people agree that this statement about the Senecas is indeed true, they still use a similar creation myth as the rest of the Haudenosaunee members—the origin myth of sky woman (or Eagentci as the Seneca nation refers to her) and the twins good minded and evil minded. One important thing to note is that the Seneca’s creation myth has the Seneca people emerging from the land itself—similar to that of other Native tribes emergence pools myths—as opposed to being created from good minded twin. The Seneca nation consists of eight clans–Turtle, Bear, Wolf, Beaver, Snipe, Heron, Deer and Hawk–and are known as the Keepers of the Western Door given their nation’s location in accordance with the rest of the Haudenosaunee nations.
I discovered a great video on youtube that was produced by the Seneca Nation Education Department Summer Program as a cultural initiative in 1993 that does a very solid job of sharing the story of Sky Woman. It isn’t the best quality given the year it was produced, but the story is a lot more interesting through this medium than anything I could transpose into written words. So I am leaving a link to the video for anyone who is interested and may not already be familiar with the story of Sky Woman and the turtle’s back.
Just last month was the 11th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. The Buffalo History Museum hosted a celebration for Western NY that brought indigenous arts from across the world, showing how Indigenous people not only traded over vast distances, but also that skills and cultural traditions have been preserved and passed down for generations. What a day to celebrate, but I couldn’t help but notice that it is only the 11th anniversary which is honestly incredibly jarring. Indigenous people did not have human rights enforced up until 2007! When looking into the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, the call for protecting Indigenous peoples’ rights began back in the 1920’s by the Haudenosaunee—of course the United Nations was not established until 1945, but the League of Nations was around.
As big of a milestone the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People was, it was far from the end for indigenous issues. The article, published by WBFO, goes on to discuss Agnes Williams, a Seneca member and indigenous activist. Williams goes on to talk about the need to end dependence on federal foods, but the hindrance of radiation poisoning that “has long been in the waters across Seneca land, on the way to Lake Erie and along the rest of the Great Lakes, where the radioactive water is the source of drinking water for millions.” While there has certainly been moments in history worth celebrating, it becomes apparent when speaking with indigenous people and activists that there is still so much left on the global agenda.
The False Face Society is a society of healers who don false face masks, traveling to the homes of the sick who request the False Face Ceremony. The main reason behind the false face masks’ appearances is because the intention of the mask is to scare off whatever evil spirit or energy is causing such ailments to the individual. The mask is carved from wood and uses horse hair. After an individual receives the ceremony, they are now inducted into the False Face Society for life.
Many Haudenosaunee people do not regard false face masks as “artifacts” which I very much agree with. The false face masks are not merely objects, but are apart of the Haudenosaunee religion and serve to represent a spirit. Additionally, the Haudenosaunee people are not an extinct people, there is no such thing as “the vanishing Indian,” their culture and history is very real, important and very much alive for them. For them to call their own culture not an artifact is something museums and individuals must respect, only gifts from the tribes should be accepted for museums.
Creating this timeline was probably the most challenging part of this course thus far! Luckily I understand it now and even though it may not be as beautiful as it probably could be, it’s something I created and am proud of the end product.
When creating the timeline, I grabbed a bunch of dates from the readings that I felt were interesting and topics I would want to investigate further. Some of the dates I was given were in fact B.C.E. which was super interesting and the silent debates between archaeologists and actual native members really makes you question just how reliable modern science and history is.
All in all, my experience with creating a timeline was certainly positive and beneficial. It is a skill that will be incredibly helpful for both the final project, and other research and assignments I do in the future!
While working on the scavenger hunt, I realized just how many resources my library has to offer and just how underutilized they truly are by students such as myself. The librarian workers and archivist were incredibly kind and show a big interest in the project Hannah and I will be working on—they were nice enough to show us around and later label things we will be needing for our research.
I was honestly very shocked by how much the library archives had to offer—we have hand drawn maps that cannot be found anywhere else but here, how cool! I was expecting there to be only a few things to use and a disinterest from the staff in our project, but I was pleasantly surprised. The archivist Liz was bursting at the seams with excitement for our project, eager to assist us with out research and looking forward to all the new finds we will produce through our project.
If anything, the scavenger hunt got me excited to actually begin doing independent research (well not solely independent because Hannah will be helping me, along with Liz). Because of our project, Liz said she could probably gain a collection of letters from the Wadsworth family that the library was originally pursuing but recently stopped pushing for the letters.
The resources the library has to offer is tremendous and Hannah and I are so grateful for all the assistance the library has offered to us, making us feel truly welcomed.
The scavenger hunt while difficult and daunting at first, has certainly allowed me to become excited for the research that needs to be done, but also has encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and use resources offered to me as frequently as they are needed.
Link to scavenger hunt sheet: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rZ6jt9w_xyIyC8IY072qIgpCdtyIBN9Qx9lQxxqmj9o/edit
Welcome to Hidden Pasts Sites: Mary Jemison (The White Woman of the Genesee) was born to an immigrant family coming to the New World, only to later be adopted by the Seneca nation during her teens. The story of Mary Jemison’s life is crucial to studying the relationships between white settlers and native nations, as well as the gender roles existing within the matriarchal Haudenosaunee society.
Mary Jemison is a crucial figure for the the land which SUNY Geneseo resides on. Not only did she live on this land but she is also currently buried here, at Letchworth State Park. Additionally, Mary Jemison was one of many Haudenosaunee people present at the Treaty of Big Tree, a pivotal point in Geneseo’s history and the history of America in general.
On campus, Mary Jemison is known simply as “MJ” and thought of as nothing more than a dining hall. Presently there is nothing informing students of where the name originates from and why they should care, as is the case with all buildings located on campus. SUNY Geneseo should serve their purpose of education by properly informing the faculty and students, rather than voluntarily withholding information about the rich history that exists not only within the land of the United States, but also Geneseo personally.