In the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, the Seneca, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy, once thrived. Thankfully, due to their ancestors’ grit, fortitude, and determination to keep their culture alive, the Seneca that still live here remain connected to their roots and are happy to share their cultural wealth.
At Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, New York, visitors can take a step back in time to when the Seneca were stewards of the land here and lived in a manner where every member had a place in society and democratic ideals (some that influenced the U.S. constitution) of government flourished.
The only state park in New York dedicated only to Native Americans, Ganondagan State Historic Site highlights a history that goes back 2000 years. The Seneca Bark Longhouse is a fascinating look into life way back when. Made of elm wood and elm bark, the longhouse is a replica of one that would have been used in the 17th century. Several families would have lived in a similar structure but all would have been from the same clan.
Along with highlighting day to day life of the thousands of Native Americans who lived in this region, the longhouse tells a story of trade and cross-cultural interactions between the Seneca, Europeans and the colonists. The architectural features of the building are aesthetically pleasing and functional.. The top tiers of the bunks that line each long side of the building are used for storage while the bottom bunks are where families would have slept and hung out.
Openings in the ceiling allow for shafts of light to come in and smoke to go out, and also act as a reminder that winters is such a building could be harsh with cold air finding an easy passage.
Although the longhouse is the centerpiece of the park, its important to take in the signage as well. Along the path leading to the longhouse, interpretive signs tell about the use of the plants that grow here. Some, such as white corn, the Seneca’s major sustenance, was cultivated, and others were picked wild from the fields and the forest.
In October, Ganondagan’s major addition, the Seneca Art and Cultural Center will be open. The center which will highlight the scope of Seneca heritage that spans 2000 years, will include gallery space for current artists as well as displays that teach about the Seneca’s past.
If you go, take time for a quick trip to the Iroquois White Corn Project. Located a few miles from the longhouse, the Iroquois White Corn Project is an agricultural initiative to cultivate white corn similar to how the Seneca cultivated this corn for centuries before the corn fields were wiped out by the French in the 17th century. The purpose of the project is, in essence, to showcase the Iroquois cultural heritage and determination, provide an income generating business, and produce a food that has high nutritional value.
Ganondagan State Historic Site: 1488 State Route 444, Victor, New York 14564; (585) 924-5848
White Corn Project: 7191 County Road 41, Victor, New York 14564; (585) 742-1361
Post and Photos Courtesy of Jamie Rhein