Today I visited the Skä·noñh Great Law of Peace Center, formerly known as Sainte Marie among the Iroquois, for a brief presentation given by directors Dr. Philip Arnold and Sandy Big Tree. Dr. Arnold and Ms. Big Tree, together with the Onondaga Historical Association and a host of other sponsors, began re-purposing the formerly Jesuit-focused historical site into one that properly conveys the history of the Haudenosaunee. Today, specifically, Dr. Arnold and Ms. Big Tree presented to a group of Chinese cyclists known as the Chines Friendship Cross Country Bicycle Tour Group. I had the pleasure to sit in and visit the unfinished center.
The first thing you notice about the Skä·noñh Center is its location along the eastern bank of Onondaga Lake, a central point within the Haudenosaunee history. In Haudenosaunee tradition, Onondaga Lake served as the location of “the coming together of the Peacemaker, Hiawatha and the Tadodaho thousands of years ago” (Skä·noñh Center 2013). Apart from bringing three central figures of early Haudenosaunee tradition together, Onondaga Lake and the Onondaga Nation is home to the “Great Tree of Peace” whose roots, spreading in each cardinal direction and made of white pine, symbolize “peace and charity” (North American Indian Travelling College 1984). The veneration of this site then is important for two distinct reasons in Dr. Arnold and Ms. Big Tree’s presentation: 1) Sainte Marier among the Iroquois perpetuated misinformation about the Haudenosaunee tradition through the lens of Jesuit missionary work and 2) Onondaga Lake’s pollution and Onondaga land rights activism. While Dr. Arnold and Ms. Big Tree focused on remedying the former and recounting briefly Haudenosaunee history to the cyclists, other local groups have taken interest in the latter.
The work that the Onondaga Historical Association and the volunteers of the Skä·noñh Great Law of Peace Center is an important forward step for Haudenosaunee historiography; it is a concerted effort away from Euro-centrism. And it is here we see my research steps in sync with the modern historical movements of the Six Nations. To keep on subject, though, I will list some of the features the Skä·noñh Center will exhibit.
After removing the previous artwork and exhibits, which carried heavily symbolism of Native termination and bad omens, the artists contracted by OHA will begin moving their pieces into the Center. Some of the permanent exhibitions will feature the Haudenosaunee Confederacy creation narrative, the Thanksgiving Address, contributions of Haudenosaunee culture to the larger American culture (including democracy, feminism, and sports), and treaty making traditions. Without abandoning the initial Sainte Marie among the Iroquois and French missionary fort, the Center will also feature a replica of the fort and a small exhibit on Jesuit missionary work among the Haudenosaunee. For more information about Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center, visit them at their website here. Exhibit renderings can be found specifically on their site at this URL.
The Center is set to open towards the end of 2015. I hope many of you can make the trip out.
All the best,
North American Indian Travelling College. Traditional Teachings. Cornwall Island: North American Indian Travelling College, 1984.
Skä·noñh- Great Law of Peace Center. “About Skä·noñh”. Skä·noñh- Great Law of Peace Center. Last modified in 2013. Accessed June 11, 2015. http://www.skanonhcenter.org/about-ska%E2%80%A2nonh/