A meaningful piece
of history has been officially restored to the Seneca Nation's ownership.
Nation leaders welcomed officials from the New York State Museum
to Salamanca on January 9, 2020 to announce that a pipe tomahawk
originally given to the respected Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter
by George Washington has been officially repatriated to the Nation.
The announcement took place at the Nation's Onöhsagwe:de' Cultural
Center, where the pipe tomahawk has been on loan to the Nation since
"In Seneca history, Cornplanter stands among our greatest and most
respected leaders," said Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong,
Sr. "George Washington originally presented this pipe tomahawk to
Cornplanter as a sign of respect, friendship and recognition of
our sovereignty. Now, this piece of our great leader's remarkable
legacy can finally and forever remain on Seneca land
where it belongs."
Washington gave the pipe tomahawk to Cornplanter in 1792 as a gift
during discussions for the Treaty of Canandaigua. Signed in 1794,
the Treaty of Canandaigua confirmed the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee,
with the United States pledging to honor the land rights of the
Seneca diplomat Ely Parker donated the pipe tomahawk to the New
York State Museum in 1851. Sometime between 1947 and 1950 the piece
went missing from the Museum and for nearly 70 years was in the
hands of private collectors. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous
donor, the pipe tomahawk was returned to the State Museum in June
2018. The museum loaned the tomahawk to the Nation for display last
year, before officially restoring the Nation's ownership of the
"Cornplanter's tomahawk is an incredibly important object that
speaks of Native American, New York, and American history and culture,"
said Mark Schaming, Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and
Director of the State Museum. "It is due to this shared history
that it is our great honor to return the tomahawk to the people
of the Seneca Nation. We make this return in representation of mutual
trust, partnership and fruitful years ahead, as was intended by
"Cornplanter's descendants are very glad that his prized tomahawk
pipe has been returned to his Seneca family," added Odie Porter,
Cornplanter Descendants Association Co-Chair. "We will work with
the Seneca Nation to ensure that Cornplanter's legacy of protecting
Native rights will continue by educating the public about this pipe
and what it symbolizes."
On one side of the tomahawk's blade is Cornplanter's name, Gy-ant-waka,
and on the other side of the blade is the name "John Andrus," possibly
the manufacturer. When Parker purchased the tomahawk, the original
handle, or haft, was gone. He replaced the haft with one made of
curly maple wood and silver inlay to reflect what the original haft
may have looked like. Parker also added a brass plate engraved with
his name on the bore end of the tomahawk.
"We are incredibly grateful to all those who understood the greater
meaning and importance of Cornplanter's tomahawk, and who understood
that there was only one true home for this piece of our shared history,"
President Armstrong said. "In restoring the Nation's ownership of
the tomahawk, you have shown the spirit of respect for our Nation,
our people, and our sovereignty in which President Washington first
presented this gift to Cornplanter. Now that it is home for good,
it can forever shine as an example of those same ideals for all
generations of Seneca people, as well as for our friends and neighbors."
The tomahawk will be on permanent display at the Onöhsagwe:de'
Cultural Center, which opened in 2018 on the Seneca Nation's Allegany
Territory. Measuring 33,000 square feet, the center is inspired
by Native oral history and designed to guide and immerse visitors
throughout with a variety of exhibits, collections, artifacts, educational
programs and special events. The center is open seven days a week.
For information, call 716-945-1760 or visit https://www.senecamuseum.org.
Remarks by President Rickey Armstrong, Sr., Cornplanter Tomohawk
Repatriation, January 9, 2020
Today is truly an important, historic, and meaningful day for all
Seneca people everywhere, and especially meaningful for me as our
In Seneca history, Cornplanter stands among our greatest and most
respected leaders. In the time after the American Revolution, Cornplanter
stood for and defended our sovereignty while forging a diplomatic
bond with the new United States government.
That bond took shape in the Treaty of Canandaigua, in which the
United States pledged to respect, honor, and defend our rights to
our land. George Washington was so impressed with Cornplanter that
he gave him this tomahawk as a gift of respect and friendship.
In the 200 years since, generations of Seneca leaders have struggled
to defend our sovereignty, and we have seen our agreements broken
but never our will to live as a sovereign people.
Even as Cornplanter himself had his final resting place moved in
the egregious betrayal that was the Kinzua Removal, the Seneca people
resolved that what was promised to us, and what was rightfully ours
our recognition as a sovereign people would never
be stripped away from us.
It is that recognition which is reflected in this important artifact.
It is more than a tomahawk it is an enduring lesson for all
Seneca people, for our friends, neighbors, and visitors, that we
are Onondowagah and that this is our home, our place granted by
The Creator, and forever recognized as such.
Last year, for the first time in more than 150 years, Cornplanter's
tomahawk returned to Seneca Territory. It was originally supposed
to be on loan to us.
How can you loan to someone a piece of who they are? How can a
reminder of one's central identity be given to them temporarily,
as if they were borrowing a tool from a neighbor or taking out a
book from the library?
Thankfully, others saw and understood the greater meaning and importance
of Cornplanter's tomahawk. People who quickly understood that there
was only one true home for this piece of Seneca history.
It is through their understanding and with their cooperation that
some piece of our great leader's remarkable legacy can finally
and for all time remain on Seneca land where it belongs.
On behalf of the Seneca people, I want to thank Mark Schaming from
the New York State Museum, members of the Western New York delegation,
including Assemblyman Sean Ryan, and many others who saw something
that was wrong and worked with the Seneca Nation to correct it.
We are grateful for your cooperation in returning this important
artifact to Nation ownership.
In doing so, you have shown the spirit of respect for our Nation,
our people, and our sovereignty in which President Washington first
presented this gift to Cornplanter.
Now that it is home for good, we hope that Cornplanter's tomahawk
will shine as an example of those same ideals; as a lesson in diplomacy;
and as a permanent reminder to all generations of Seneca people
of our collective responsibility to always protect our identity,
our sovereignty and our home.