Sandra Scott Travels: Explore Central NY’s Native American Heritage

Great Turtle Island

Great Turtle Island

Last week I asked: Where is Ganondagan?

In Victor, New York.

ethno botanical
ethno botanical

Before the Europeans arrived in what is now called New York State, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy ruled the area.

They formed a confederacy comprised of the Mohawks, Onondagas, Oneidas, Cayugas, Senecas and Tuscaroras.

By the way, Haudenosaunee is the correct way to refer to the Iroquois.

The word Iroquois is an English corruption of a French corruption of an Algonquian word that was used as an insult.

John and I exited the NYS Thruway at Victor and visited Ganondagan, the site of a village where the Senecas lived 300 years ago.

At one time an estimated 4,500 Haudenosaunee lived there.

It is now a state historic site.

The Senecas were the “Keeper of the Western Door.”

Great Turtle Island
Great Turtle Island

There is a small display of artifacts in the Visitor Center but one of the most interesting displays is the full-size replica of the 17th century Seneca longhouse.

Inside there are many items that would have been typically found in a longhouse – corn husk mats, tools, pots, and other necessary items for everyday life.

There may have been 20 or so people living in the longhouse – all related through the female side of the family.

There are long benches the length of the longhouse that were used for sleeping and storage.

Food had to be gathered during the growing season and stored for the winter.

In the center there were fires that were used for cooking above which were air holes to let out the smoke.

The name “Ganondagan” means “Town of Peace,” and they believed that the “Mother of Nations” is buried there.

Storyboard - three sisters
Storyboard – three sisters

What seems like an idyllic life in harmony with nature was often broken by periods of violence.

In 1687, the French destroyed the village during a campaign aimed at eliminating the Seneca Nation.

In Montreal the French assembled an army of 1,000 Canadian militia, 832 French regulars, and a contingent of Mohawk and Algonquin launched their attack from Kingston.

The army of 3,000 was double the number of the Seneca warriors.

There is a reason the Haudenosaunee villages were surrounded by wooden palisades – for protection.

Besides the wars there were times when nature must have seemed like the enemy with freezing temperatures in the winter, not enough rain for their crops, and storms.

Nature is and was the center of their existence.

In front of the Visitor Center is the Three Sisters Garden – corn, beans and squash.

And near the long house is The Creator’s Garden with a signboard that explains the Creation Story according to the Senecas.

There are trails complete with interpretive signboards.

Three Sisters Garden
Three Sisters Garden

One trail is the “Earth is our Mother” trail that explains the ethnobotanical plant world from the Seneca perspective.

Another trail with red borders deals with the importance of the women in Seneca life.

It was a matrilineal society.

Americans everywhere owe a debt to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy their democratic ideals served as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution including the governmental concept of Balance of Power.

The Seneca’s matrilineal Society helped inspire the woman’s rights movement.

Their diet of natural foods is popular today as are many of the natural medicines they used to treat illnesses.

In October 2015 they will be opening the state-of-the-art Seneca Art and Culture Center that will have a film explaining the Creation Story and galleries filled with unique artifacts, contemporary artwork and a town model.

It is on my “to-do” list.

Trivia Tease™: What lock was the first lock to open on the modern Erie Canal?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!