Long, long ago, there was no land, only water. Powerful beings lived in a place called the Sky World. One day, a woman who was expecting a baby fell through a hole in the sky at the base of the Tree of Life. She grabbed a handful of seeds at the tree’s roots as she fell. A flock of geese saw this Skywoman falling. They caught her and placed her on the back of a giant turtle. With the handful of soil and seeds, she danced the earth into being.
How Turtle Island, or North America, came to be is the creation story of the peoples who settled the region surrounding Colgate more than 10,000 years ago: the Iroquois*, or as they call themselves today, the Haudenosaunee (“People of the Longhouse”).
*The name Iroquois originated with French colonists who transliterated a pejorative Algonquin term.
SENECA: Onöndowágah, “People of the Great Hill”
CAYUGA: Gayogoho:no, “People of the Great Swamp”
ONONDAGA: Onöñda’gega’, “People of the Hills”
ONEIDA: Onyota'a:ka, “People of the Standing Stone”
MOHAWK: Kanienkehaka, “People of the Flint”
TUSCARORA: Ka'te'nu'a'ka', “People of the Submerged Pine-tree”
The “People of the Longhouse” not only refers to their traditional bark-and-log dwellings, but is also a metaphor for their confederacy, with the eastern door guarded by the Mohawk, the Senecas watching to the west, and the Onondagas keeping the central fire. In the mid-1400s, five previously warring nations formed the Haudenosaunee union. Their system of self-rule was guided by moral principles, holding in view the present and future generations. (The Tuscarora Nation joined them in 1722.)
Benjamin Franklin was inspired by the Iroquois’ model of unity through one law in proposing the colonies of the United States. In 1988, on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, the U.S. Congress acknowledged the historical debt owed to the Iroquois confederacy “for their demonstration of enlightened, democratic principles of government and their example of a free association of independent Indian Nations.”
Art & Craft
Many Haudenosaunee items can be found among the more than 10,000 Native American pieces in Colgate’s Longyear Museum of Anthropology’s collection of art and artifacts.
Thanks to its extensive holdings, “We are an important resource for
other institutions,” said the museum’s curator, Carol Ann Lorenz.
“The Longyear has, I would say, the best and most comprehensive collection of Iroquois materials, especially Oneida, in the region. It has been a tremendous resource not just for the community, but also for Colgate students. Every course I teach includes some aspect of that collection.” — Jordan Kerber, professor of anthropology and Native American studies
this year, items from the Longyear are on loan to three institutions:
beadwork for shows at the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, N.Y.,
and the Corning Museum of Glass, as well as a modern sculpture by
acclaimed Onondaga artist Peter B. Jones that is traveling
internationally in a major exhibition organized by the Museum of Arts
and Design in New York.
fall, students in Lorenz’s Native Art of North America course curated an
exhibition of ancient and modern Haudenosaunee art and craft drawn from
the collection. The show, which opened Family Weekend, was set up in an
Alumni Hall classroom, where other related courses could benefit from
the project. Professor Michael Taylor brought his Core: Iroquois class
there for a lecture about the shifting definitions and distinctions
between art and craft. “We’ve been studying Iroquois material culture at
a historical level. With this exhibition, I could show them modern
pieces produced in much the same way as they would have been hundreds of
years ago, so there is that connection between tradition and
Hands-on, in person
Archaeology is not just about digging up priceless statues and ancient tools. Sometimes, you have to pay attention to the refuse.
Professor Jordan Kerber’s students have been learning that lesson since 1991, while excavating sites in the homelands of the Oneidas for his Field Methods and Interpretation in Archaeology course.
“We aren’t making earth-shattering discoveries,” said Kerber. “This course is all about giving students an opportunity to do archaeology at an authentic site, and to get a realistic sense of what it’s like to do archaeology. They start by formulating questions and doing background research, and continue right through lab work, analysis, interpretation, and results. They end up writing a paper that becomes a permanent record about the research.”
Many of his classes’ finds — stone chip debris, projectile points, scrapers and knives, fish and animal bone, pipe stems, pottery sherds, and more — have ended up in Colgate’s archaeology lab collection.
Other students get to handle those artifacts in courses like Amy Groleau’s Intro to Archaeology. “When I say, ‘These are 4,000 years old and they’re from right down the road,’ their eyes get big and they see the landscape in a little bit different way,” she said. “Their understanding of this place changes as they think about deep time.”
Objects can only show so much on their own; with decomposition of wood and sinew, artifacts are often incomplete. So, in teaching about stone tools and methods for knowing about them, for example, there’s nothing better than bringing in an expert.
Perched on the edge of the glacial terrace forming the front lawn of Merrill House, Mike Tarbell sets a wooden, arrow-like spear into the cupped end of a j-shaped handle. He plants his feet and deftly launches the spear across the descending hillside.
“Who wants to try it?” asks Tarbell, of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan. Groleau invited him to give a demonstration of native tools for her archaeology students and Michael Taylor’s Core: Iroquois class. A professor at SUNY Cobleskill and recently retired educator at the Iroquois Indian Museum, Tarbell has dedicated his life to studying the material culture of pre-contact Iroquois people. Along the way, he became an expert in traditional flintknapping and toolmaking, replicating bows, arrows, knives, war clubs, and other items such as the spear thrower, which predates the bow and arrow and was used in group hunting on terrain just like the Merrill House lawn.
“I couldn’t imagine what it was like until I tried it myself. I had pictured the dart going a lot faster,” said Alex Jurado ’15, “but it’s more of a lob up toward a certain point and then it falls.”
The fact that people like Tarbell who can “bring technology like this to life” are so close to Colgate is a rare opportunity, said Groleau.
“What I found really interesting was that they used compound spears with a main fixed shaft and a dart at the end so that when you stab the animal and then pull back, the dart would stay in the animal and then you can reload; it really showed how advanced this culture was.” — Alex Jurado ’15
In recent years, excavation by Kerber’s field methods classes has taken place at the Brunk site, an ancient Oneida village in northern Madison County. The site was occupied by Native Americans for 15 to 20 years between the late 1400s and mid-1500s. The landowners run a farm/agritourism destination with an educational bent called Wolf Oak Acres; they plan to add an exhibit of the artifacts unearthed by Kerber’s students to their programming.
In keeping with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, institutions receiving federal funding must publish an inventory of its Native American holdings so that federally recognized tribes with an affiliation to specific objects — for example, funerary and sacred objects — may request repatriation. Colgate has repatriated several objects to their affiliated tribes, and in other cases, the tribes have allowed the university to retain the objects, as long as they are not displayed.
Back at the lab, Scott Brayden ’13 and his classmates sort and catalogue items they found at the Brunk site. “In their reports, they interpret the results in an attempt to reconstruct the activities that may have occurred at the site,” said Professor Kerber. “In the final part of their paper, they compare what we know from this site with what we know of at least one other Oneida site to look at similarities and differences.”
“When I say, ‘These are 4,000 years old and they’re from right down the road,’ their eyes get big and they see the landscape in a little bit different way. Their understanding of this place changes as they think about deep time.” — Amy Groleau, visiting assistant professor of sociology and anthropology
Michael Newberg ’11 made a documentary, Rising from the Subsoil, about the high-level amateur archaeologists of the Chenango Chapter of the NYS Archaeological Association who are responsible for some of the most important and meaningful archaeological research in the region. One member, Monte Bennett, an Earlville resident who has amassed an enormous collection of American Indian artifacts over 50 years of digging, adds a rich dimension to Professor Jordan Kerber’s Field Methods course. Over the years, Bennett has flagged several productive sites for Kerber, often visits the class digs, and occasionally helps interpret findings.
“The expertise of an avocational archaeologist is that, if you have spent many years excavating a certain time period, you get very professional at what you are doing,” said Bennett. At the end of the semester, the students give a presentation of their findings at the chapter meeting, bringing the sharing full circle.
From ancient to contemporary
When the Hamilton Historical Commission asked Professor Jordan Kerber last spring if Colgate could organize an exhibition of local American Indian objects for the Hamilton Public Library, he turned the project over to the capable hands of two students. Lily Jones ’13 and Gillian Weaver ’14 both have museum experience working for Carol Ann Lorenz, curator of the Longyear Museum of Anthropology.
The project, which became a semester-long independent study, required Jones and Weaver to sort through thousands of artifacts in the Longyear collection.
“We have things that go from 10,000 BC to the present,” said Jones, a double major in sociology/anthropology and Native American studies, of the resulting exhibition, Local Legacies: A Look at the Material Culture of Indigenous Peoples in the Hamilton, N.Y., Area, which inspired the title of this article.
The objects chosen by the pair revealed a local history of Native Americans from long before European contact, with early stone tools, to contemporary Haudenosaunee art.
Jones, who is Seneca and grew up on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation near Buffalo, N.Y., has a special connection to at least one item in the exhibition. A statue titled Indian with Fan (shown at right) was made by her father, Peter B. Jones, an internationally acclaimed Onondaga artist. The statue is just one of several of his works in the Longyear Museum’s holdings. “With my dad being an artist, I’ve been interested in that idea of communicating through museums for a long time,” Jones said.
Weaver, who is from Milwaukee, Wis., said the exhibition was unique in that all of the objects are from Hamilton and surrounding townships. Assembling the exhibition gave Jones and Weaver an appreciation of the painstaking detail that is required for museum curatorial work.
“It’s not just finding objects, it’s writing text, figuring out how to hang things and display them, and making signage,” said Weaver.
The exhibition will remain open for viewing through the summer at 13 Broad Street, according to Joan Prindle, chair of the historical commission.
“It’s a perfect fit for the students, and it helps us out,” Prindle said.
— Daniel DeVries
Native Footsteps: Along the Path of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Marquette University Press)
Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) became the first Native American Catholic saint last year. Her canonization in October 2012 is celebrated through a compilation of documents, interviews, and illustrations (most of them color photographs), co-edited by Christopher Vecsey, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of the humanities, Native American studies, and religion.
Pictured to the left: Portrait by Father Claude Chauchetiére, late 1600s
Just 20 miles north of Colgate, the Shako:wi Cultural Center brings to life the history and culture of the Oneida Indian Nation. One of their own, Kandice Watson, who serves as the nation’s education outreach director, earned her master’s in teaching at Colgate in 2003. Now she’s taking her turn with the next generation of students.
Many of the center’s regional school visitors are fourth-graders, the year in the New York State curriculum when children learn about the Haudenosaunee. “They are so impressionable, you have to be clear with them,” said Watson. “I quit wearing my regalia when I do presentations. I used to wear it, but it made the kids think that is what we always dress like. I’ll be talking to them, and one will raise his hand and ask, ‘Are there any Indians left?’ We try to make sure they understand that we are here and how different all the tribes are.”
Ganondagan State Historical Site, Victor, N.Y.
Iroquois Indian Museum, Howes Cave, N.Y.
Longyear Museum of Anthropology, Alumni Hall, Colgate University
New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, N.Y.
New York State Museum, Albany, N.Y.
Shako:wi Cultural Center, Oneida, N.Y.