Sep 25, 2017

Skä•noñh-Great Law of Peace Center. in Liverpool, NY

John and I had visited the St. Marie Among the Iroquois a couple of times years ago but I knew it had been redone so decided it was time to revisit.  We were impressed with the changes and, as always, inspired by the Native American’s perspective on Mother Nature. In reality, the site is two historic sites and there are great views of Onondaga Lake. The museum, which was closed for a couple of years, reopened on November 21, 2015 and is now called Skä•noñh-Great Law of Peace Center.  The French Fort remains virtually the same.  Both are interesting but only the museum is open year round

In the 1700s the French sent a group into the area to set up a mission. There were soldiers, workers, and Jesuit priests. The fortified mission called “Sainte Marie de Cannentaha” had a church, workshops, dormitories and kitchen but it only lasted two years. Peace with the Haudenosaunee was on the verge of breaking down so the mission was abandoned.  By the way the correct name is Haudenosaunee. Iroquois is the French name. There is an interesting book for those who would like to know more about Pierre Radisson (hence the name
Radisson, NY) by Edith Hough called “Blue-eyed Iroquois.”  It is an historical but somewhat fictionalized account of Radisson’s life and details the quick withdrawal of the French from the fort.  Before he arrived in the Onondaga area, when a young boy, he was captured and adopted by the Mohawks. The newly renovated museum is excellent with several videos that detail various aspect of the Iroquois culture with an emphasis on the Onondagas, one of the six nations of the Iroquois.

I love the Haudenosaunee story of how the world was created on the back of a turtle but I am amazed that many other cultures have a similar story.  A turtle is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.  Another part of the story is the two sons which is also a common theme in many creation stories.  For the Iroquois one son was in charge of the day and the other night.  They become representative of the two sides of most things – the good and the bad - and hence the balance in nature.

Nearby are displays that tell about how the Iroquois culture and
method of governing were admired by the founders of the United States, especially Benjamin Franklin.  The Onondagas are matrilineal meaning that the power is in the hands of the women making them an early promoter of Women’s Rights. One area tells the story of the Peacemaker’s Journey and the Great Law of Peace.  It was not an easy journey but peacemaking never is but with the help of Hiawatha peace unity was brought to the five nations. The George Washington wampum belt ratified the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty establishing peace between the Haudenosaunee and the United States.

Preserving one’s culture is difficult but for the Native Americans it was even more difficult because native children were often taken from their parents and placed in government run boarding schools where they were Americanized thus losing their heritage. There were several such schools in New York State.  I visited one in Wisconsin and was told that they became so Americanized that when they watched cowboy and Indian movies they yelled and cheered when the cavalry arrived.

The museum gives insight and understanding to Iroquois culture. So many cultures have been lost that it would be a shame to lose this part of American history.