Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


pictograph divider


Iroquois to probe origins of Confederacy

by Diana Louise Carter - The (Rochester, NY) Democrat and Chronicle Staff Writer

Talks by spiritual leader, writer, prof aid Friends of Ganondagan

Tree of PeaceG. Peter Jemison recalls sitting in a conference a few years ago and hearing archaeologists claim that the Iroquois Confederacy was something that came together in reaction to white colonists.

This despite several U.S. founding fathers having written in their journals that they admired the way the Iroquois operated as separate nations and a confederacy at the same time — one of the models of democracy they emulated with the U.S. Constitution.

”Every scientist worth his salt has taken a crack at defining who we are, how we came to be in the Western Hemisphere and where we originated,” said Jemison, who is a member of the Seneca nation, one of the five original Iroquois nations. “There’s seldom an opportunity for us to present views that are contrary to that.”

The Iroquois position is that the confederacy came into being at least several hundred years before Native Americans in the Northeast had contact with Europeans.

So this spring the Friends of Ganondagan have chosen the origin of the Iroquois Confederacy as the topic for a series of lectures. The group raises money for and runs special events at Ganondagan State Historic Site, the Native American-themed site in Victor, Ontario County, that Jemison manages.

The series’ three featured speakers are all Iroquois — a Mohawk spiritual leader; a Seneca college professor of Native American studies; and a Tuscaroran artist, museum curator and writer.

The first lecture is scheduled for Monday at the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s Bausch Auditorium. Thomas Porter, a Mohawk chief and elder who started a traditional Mohawk community in 1992 in reaction to intra-tribal conflicts over gambling, will present “A Traditional Elder’s View of Oral Tradition.”

Although each of the lectures will draw upon oral tradition of the various nations that constitute the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee, as they call themselves), there also will be plenty of written and historical documentation.

The second speaker, Barbara A. Mann, a Native American studies professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio, will present astronomical evidence to support her theory that the confederacy started precisely on Aug. 31, 1142, the date of a solar eclipse viewable throughout Iroquois country. The eclipse is featured in the oral history about the Huron spiritual leader, known as the Peacemaker, who was credited with uniting the formerly warring Iroquois nations.

Mann said the powerful Senecas were holdouts. “He convinced the Seneca nation by saying, ‘I will give you a sign in the sky,’” Mann said.

Rick Hill, the Tuscaroran artist and writer who speaks third in the series, doesn’t quite go along with Mann’s theories but he’d like to hear more about them. Yet, he said, “the specific date is less important than the sequence of events.”

Indeed, a State University College at Geneseo history professor said the date may always be clouded in history.

”What matters is that you had this entity that existed prior to European arrival,” said Michael Oberg. The confederacy was not so much a government, he said, as “a ritualized way of coping with internal violence.” But it also set out codes of diplomacy and protocol that European traders and explorers learned to emulate from their earliest contact with the Iroquois.

So why does any of this concern us today? Iroquois speakers say this issue comes into play when their nations try to reclaim the burial remains taken from their communities by collectors and archaeologists. Some museums and educational institutions have denied repatriation efforts when the remains date to a period prior to what they claim was the starting date of the confederacy.

It’s also an issue of giving credit where credit’s due, they say.

”It’s forcing a recognition that native peoples are important and have made major contributions to the modern world,” Mann said.

Ganondagan State Historical Site, NY Map

Maps by Travel

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!