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The First Lady's Treasures Tour - Ganondagan State Historic Site

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The First Lady will then travel to Victor, New York, site of the Ganondagan State Historic Site, which preserves the remains of a large seventeenth-century Seneca village and fortified granary destroyed by the French in 1687. The site is cherished as the home and burial place of one of the most important figures in Iroquois history, Jikohnsaseh, the Mother of Nations, and is associated with a culture which reaches back thousands of years. The Seneca remember the invasion, yet the site is revered as a place of peace. This is consistent with the Iroquois and their tradition, that the places they choose to commemorate are not battlegrounds, but are those of peace.

The State Historic Site consists of two parcels: 245 acres, Broughton Hill, the site of the Seneca town and associated burial grounds, and 33 acres, encompassing Fort Hill, the site of the fortified granary. Trails with interpretive signs throughout both parcels guide visitors throughout both parcels; a very small visitors center with some meeting and exhibit space and gift shop; and late-19th century building that is now the residence of the site manager. Broughton Hill is a National Historic Landmark (1964); Fort Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1966).

Historical Significance: The history of this site can be traced to as long as 900 years ago, when Jikohnsaseh worked with the revered historic figure The Peacemaker, a Huron man who arrived among the Mohawks speaking of peace and an ordered society. Jikonsaseh accepted The Peacemakers message that rivalries could be settled through negotiation instead of war, and aided him in the work of bringing five warring nations under one Great Law of Peace, the constitution of the Haudenosaunee, or the Confederated Iroquois. The Mohawk, Oneida, and Cayuga pledged to join his proposed confederation. Following a dramatic interlude, the Seneca also agreed. The discussion about how to bring in the Onondaga found its way into the house of Jikonsaseh. She proposed that the Onondagas would be the central fire of the confederacy. They would have more chiefs than any other nation and an Onondaga would be made the head man. Jikonsaseh is known as the Mother of Nations.

The Peacemaker established the Gayanesshagowa, or Great Law of Peace, as the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee. The foundation of the law centered around the idea that thinking and negotiations could replace violence and warfare as a means of settling disputes. The nations of the Confederacy have held fast to that law since the time of The Peacemaker.

Somewhere between 1650 and the 1670s, a major Haudenosaunee (Hoe-dee-nee-sow-nee), or Iroquois, community developed which rivaled any European settlement in North America at the time in population, commerce, production, trade, manufacture, social organization and military might. It is estimated that over 100 longhouses existed here, a number which approached the accounts of contemporary observers who counted as many as 150 dwellings. The nine-acre oval of the town area has been plotted through a test-pit survey conducted by the Rochester Museum and Science Center in 1977. This confirmed the size, location and configuration of the site which had been known to antiquarians, archeologists, and pot hunters for a century. This site was the principal town or capital of the Senecas in the 17th century and the largest 17th century Seneca town known to exist. The town included houses, stores, fields, crops and livestock. With its vast granaries and extensive fields of corn, Ganondagan was the breadbasket of the League of the Iroquois, and illustrates the organic interdependence of all the communities which constituted the League.

On July 13, 1687, the Ganondagan community was destroyed during an attack by forces under the Marquis Denonville. These forces included French army regulars, Canadian militiamen, and Mohawk and Algonquin warriors and the attack on Ganondagan was part of the plan to destroy the villages of the Seneca in an attempt to annihilate them as a people, and, therefore, as competitors in the lucrative international fur trade. The battle between the Seneca youths and the French took place within view of Ganondagans longhouses on Boughton Hill.

After the War for Independence, the site was used for agricultural purposes. In the 1930s, Tonawanda Seneca Chief Freeman Johnson began work to protect the site from the theft of sacred Indian artifacts and against development that threatened its historical remains. J. Sheldon Fisher, an amateur archeologist and founder and President of the Gannagaro (sic) Association has also worked to preserve and promote the site as a National Historic Landmark. It became a State Historic Site (NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation) in 1987.

Current programs at the site include working with inner city Rochester youth (650 annually) to bring them to the site for Elders Gatherings where youth are taught to listen and learn from elders and respect them. Theyve also started the Young Spirit Dancers and the Spirit Dancers. There are special seasonal events. A major population served by Ganondagan is families, school children and educators, including over 130 schools. Vistitation in 1997 was over 31,000. Further, Ganondagan is the only entity bringing on-going cultural and educational family programming to non-reservation Native families and youth in the Greater Monroe region: a dispersed community, some fighting the effects of alcoholism, isolation, and poverty that erodes family well-being. For them, Ganondagan creates a sense of belonging, pride in their heritage, and restores family and community relationships amongst Native participants.

Preservation Needs The most critical need of the historic site is an adequate year-round interpretive center to orient and educate the public to the history and culture of this site. This center would display artifacts and hold interpretive programs critical to an archeological site such as this, where no standing structure for the public to view and experience exists. In addition, the center can display artifacts of the Ganondagan, which provides evidence of their social order, spiritual values and history.

The present center is only open 6 months a year, can only display a portion of their artifacts, and only seats 25, limiting the effectiveness of the site to large school groups who visit the site. The sites Native American artifacts, including a recently-acquired private collection associated with the Ganondagan, is being temporarily stored at the Rochester Museum & Science Center until an adequate, on-site interpretive center and museum can be constructed.

Another critical need is protecting the agrarian viewshed from Fort Hill, the site of the Seneca communitys fortified granary. The sites surrounding natural and agricultural landscape is experiencing increasing development pressure as the town of Victor grows from a sparsely developed farming community to a desirable suburb within easy community distance of the city of Rochester. If the viewshed is not protected, the sites agricultural and natural setting, which is so important to its interpretation, will be significantly impacted and eventually lost.

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