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Peace Medal Returned To Seneca After 116 Years
by Adria R. Walker - Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
After Red Jacket's passing, the medal bounced from owner to owner
The Canandaigua Treaty was signed by the Haudenosaunee and Col. Timothy Pickering representing President George Washington and the United States, in 1794. It recognized the sovereignty of both entities to set laws as distinct nations. (Photo courtesy of Democrat & Chronicle via AP Storyshare)

Red Jacket's Peace Medal, measuring about 7 inches, is made of silver and depicts George Washington, the former United States president, and Red Jacket, the former Seneca chief, shaking hands.

It was given to Red Jacket as a gift from the man with whom he is pictured to commemorate discussions that led to the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794. Red Jacket so cherished the medal that it he is said to have worn it every day until his death.

After his passing, the medal bounced from owner to owner. It was given to Red Jacket's nephew, who attempted to sell it to the New York Museum in 1851. Ely Parker, another descendant and a U.S. Army officer, prevented the sale and ended up possessing the medal himself.

As its steward, Parker allowed the medal to be held by prominent people, including Abraham Lincoln, who did so the day before being assassinated, according to Joe Stahlman, director of the Onöhsagwë:de' Cultural Center, also known as the Seneca Iroquois National Museum.

After Parker's death, his widow sold the medal to the Buffalo History Museum, where it would remain from 1895 until early 2021.

On a Monday afternoon in mid-May, Red Jacket's Peace Medal — after over a centurylong journey — returned home.

A couple hundred people gathered outdoors at the Onöhsagwë:de' Cultural Center in Salamanca, New York. There, the Buffalo History Museum formally repatriated the Red Jacket Peace Medal to the Seneca Nation.

The day was bright and hot with an infrequent breeze and the occasional shade provided by passing clouds overhead. Still, people tolerated the heat to witness the momentous event.

From the amphitheater's chairs, each grouped in socially distanced pairs, Onöhsagwë:de' Cultural Center looked to be hugged by the mountains. There were two tables, with a podium in between, for the ceremony's speakers. Elders were offered seats in the front, giving them a clear view of the proceedings and keeping them from having to walk up the stairs.

The event opened with Ganö:nyök, performed by Hilton Johnny-John. In explaining his address, Johnny-John said that the Ganö:nyök, a Seneca Thanksgiving address, includes people all over the Earth, the grasses, the sky and the Creator.

Though he explained the address in English, he preformed it in Seneca and asked press and audience members not to record. Johnny-John closed the event with another performance of Ganö:nyök.

The repatriation of Red Jacket's Medal marks the second time in recent history that the Seneca Nation has gotten back an important cultural artifact. The New York State Museum returned Seneca Chief Cornplanter's Peace Pipe-Tomahawk to the Nation on March 14, 2019.

"This tomahawk is not symbolic. It is not here just for show. Cornplanter's tomahawk is proof that our relationship with the U.S. and outside government is rooted in recognition of our sovereignty," the Democrat and Chronicle reported Seneca Nation's then-President Rickey Armstrong as having said at the time.

The unveiling of Red Jacket's Medal and its repatriation to the Seneca Nation affirmed to attendees both Seneca sovereignty and the surviving peace between the United States and the Seneca Nation.

Treaties and broken promises

To commemorate discussions that led to the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794, one of the earliest treaties between the fledgling United States and an indigenous American nation, Washington awarded the medal to Chief Red Jacket.

The medal was meant to indicate peace, friendship and "enduring relationships among the United States and the Six Nations," the New York Almanack said.

The Treaty of Canandaigua, signed between Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, confederacy and Washington has seven major parts:

Article One promises "perpetual peace and friendship" between the United States and the Haudenosaunee.

Article Two and Article Three work together. The former acknowledges land belonging to the Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga and Cayuga. The latter legally outlines Seneca territories.

Article Four declares that the United States cannot "claim or disturb" lands belonging to the Haudenosaunee.

Article Five acknowledges the road from "Fort Schlosser to Lake Erie, as far south as Buffalo Creek" as belonging to the Seneca Nation. Within that, it was stipulated that the Nation must "forever allow to the people of the United States, a free passage through their lands, and the free use of the harbors and rivers adjoining and within their respective tracts of land, for the passing and securing of vessels and boats, and liberty to land their cargoes, where necessary, for their safety."

Article Six promises that the United States will give the Haudenosaunee a specified sum of money "which shall be expended yearly, forever, in purchasing clothing, domestic animals, implements of husbandry, and other utensils, suited to their circumstances, and in compensating useful artificers, who shall reside with or near them, and be employed for their benefit."

Article Seven reaffirms the "perpetual peace and friendship" between the Haudenosaunee and the United States, but declares that if that peace were to be disturbed, both sides would make great efforts for reconciliation.

The treaty remains in place, but its promises have been broken.

The state of New York purchased treaty lands and encouraged the Oneida people to move west. A century ago, the Oneida Nation retained only 32 acres of treaty land. Prior to the American Revolution, they held 6 million acres.

Red Jacket's Peace Medal is, in a way, the physical manifestation and acknowledgement of this treaty that, despite being violated by the United States, has lasted 227 years.

In signing the treaty, the early Haudenosaunee chiefs were ensuring protection from the United States for themselves and for their descendants — protections which last to this day.

During the medal repatriation ceremony in May, Seneca Nation Councilor Robert "Bobby" Jones, of the Wolf clan, said that he advocated for the construction of the museum because he saw it as a way to get Seneca artifacts back.

Jones connected himself and his lineage directly to Red Jacket and to the Peace Medal being returned. Jones' ancestor Horatio Jones was Red Jacket's interpreter.

In this way, Jones and others argued during the ceremony, Red Jacket's life and legacy live on.

Repatriating the medal

In March of 2019, State Sen. Sean Ryan was present at the repatriation of Cornplanter's Pipe.

After the ceremony, Ryan said, he was talking to Joe Stahlman, executive director of the Cultural Center, and to Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels who told him about Red Jacket's Peace Medal.

The medal wasn't across the state like Cornplanter's Pipe had been; it was right up the road in Buffalo.

From there, Ryan facilitated conversations between the Seneca Nation and the Buffalo Museum, led by its executive director, Melissa Brown, who spoke during the repatriation ceremony.

"Reassessment is not enough, action is imperative to ensure that any artifacts of cultural (importance) are returned — in this instance Red Jacket's revered medal — to the collective stewardship of the Seneca Nation," Brown said. "Our relationship, the museum's relationship, with the Seneca Nation does not end here. In fact this is a new beginning. Much like what the Peace Medal represents, this is a sign of friendship and connection between us and the Seneca Nation. … We are honored for this opportunity, really. Sorry that it's taken this long."

The objects returned to indigenous Americans are symbolic of the work that remains to be done, said Stahlman.

"We need to have moments of reconciliation," he said. "If the past didn't matter, I don't think this opportunity would be full right now. … If we're going to talk about reconciliation and decolonialization, we need to have those conversations, and they're not easy to have."

After talks and meetings, the Seneca Nation made a formal request for the return of the medal.

Though the medal had been out of the Seneca Nation's possession since 1895, Stahlman said that "it has always remained in an invaluable place in their cultural memory."

President Pagels said the medal for the Seneca Nation is "more than a physical artifact from our shared history."

"This medal — it represents what lives inside each and every Seneca person: the heart of a sovereign and our rightful recognition as such. This is our identity as a Nation," Pagels said. "It cannot be owned, bought or sold. It belongs to all of us and is passed from generation to generation so it can live forever."

It was with Red Jacket's help that the fledging U.S. managed to gain and protect various lands, Stahlman said.

"In many narrative describing the impending war in the Ohio country during the late 1780s, Red Jacket is said to have played a crucial role in outmaneuvering Mohawk leader Joseph Brandt in raising up a Native army to overthrow the United States west of the Alleghany Mountains," he said.

"As always, I like to remind the United States that the Haudenosaunee, especially the Seneca, played an important role."

Red Jacket's Peace Medal is on view at the Onöhsagwë:de' Cultural Center in the Seneca Nation — where it will stay.

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