When I first moved back to the Finger Lakes region, I wondered why there was not more evidence of the Native People who lived here. It was not until working as Marketing Director for Ganondagan State Historic Site that I learned the truth behind the absence…the Seneca Nation was all but wiped out by a campaign to control the lucrative fur trade. The attack that took place in 1687 was staged by the Marquis de Denonville and destroyed the principle Seneca villages, as well as crop and grain supplies.
Fortunately, a remarkable historic site that pays tribute to the Iroquois people and their culture has been created on the original grounds inhabited by some 4500 Seneca People. (The Seneca Nation is one of six nations that compose the Iroquois Confederacy of New York State or Haudenosaunee, pronounced Ho-dee-no-SAW-nee, also Ho-dee-no-Shaw-nee in their language) that also includes the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Tuscarora Nations.
Ganondagan State Historic Site, located in Victor, NY, is the former site of Gannagaro, the main Seneca Village in Western New York. The Seneca people lived in an estimated 150 longhouses with several families of the same matriarchal clan residing together within the same dwelling.
Today, Gannagaro has been renamed Ganondagan, or “Town of Peace” (literally, “Town of White,” white meaning “Peace” in Seneca tradition). The State Historic Site rests on the crest of a hill, surrounded by 500+ acres of land across which three different trails wind. The Earth is Our Mother Trail introduces visitors to the plants central to Seneca culture. The Granary Trail takes visitors to the site of a fortified area that once held enough grain to carry the Iroquois Confederacy through many poor harvests. The Trail of Peace shares the history of the Seneca people. These trails are free to use and open year ’round from 8 a.m. to sunset, weather permitting. Guided trail tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays at Noon and 2 p.m. from May 1 through October 31.
A fascinating attraction on the site is the handcrafted replica of a 17th Century bark longhouse, showcasing authentic Seneca artifacts. A tour by one of Ganondagan’s expert site interpreters brings history to life for children and adults, because the interpreters explain how the items were used and what daily life was like in that time. Except during the various festivals held here, you will not see the Native interpreters dressed in traditional attire since they wish to convey how contemporary Seneca people live today.
In addition to the replica longhouse, the trails and the visitors’ center that houses Seneca artifacts and shows videos about the Seneca People, Ganondagan holds a variety of special events throughout the year:
- February – Native American Winter Games & Sports – An annual outdoor event that features dog sledding, show shoeing, demonstrations of traditional arts, longhouse tours, maple sugaring and throwing of the snow snake (Click to read Snow Snake, A Haudenosaunee Sport Steeped in Tradition)
- July- Native American Dance & Music Festival – This unique annual festival features indigenous dancers and singers, the Buffalo Creek and the Spirit Dancers, hands-on crafts and workshops, long house and trail tours, Exhibitors of traditional and contemporary Native crafts & arts, drum circle, Native cuisine (as well as standard fare for those who prefer more traditional American foods) and more.
- September – A Seneca Encounter with LaSalle Living History Event - featuring a re-enactment of the encounter between the Seneca People and the famed explorer, demonstrations, food and seldom-seen period arts, colonial games and longhouse and trail tours.
- November 11 – Canandaigua Treaty Day – a celebration of the signing of the 1794 treaty, still recognized and honored today, of peace and friendship between the Six Nations Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) and the United States. Features a parade and commemoration ceremony, traditional Native Arts & Crafts for sale and a potluck dinner.
In addition to these larger-scale special events, Ganondagan also holds a series of workshops, summer events and a lecture series that may include any topic from a beaded earring workshop, a seminar on making birdhouses out of gourds, a game of the traditional Seneca game of Long Ball, or discussions on topics related to the history of the Seneca Nation.
Today, Ganondagan is the only site in New York State, and the sole National Landmark east of the Mississippi dedicated to Native Americans. It was also designated as a national treasure during the “Save America’s Treasures” U.S. Presidential Tour.
Ganondagan State Historic Site and its Visitors Center will open Friday, May 1st, and tours are offered daily Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through September 30th. During October, it will be open Tuesday through Saturday.
Admission to site: $3.00 per adult, $2.00 per child for interpretation of the Visitor Center, Bark Longhouse, and trails. Free for Friends of Ganondagan Members. Additional charges apply for special events.
Ganondagan State Historic Site is located at 1488 State Route 444, Victor, NY.