NEW YORK – It’s always been important for young indigenous children and youth to learn from their elders.
Haudenosaunee people have long been passing knowledge through oral tradition, and just last week, a set of grandparents took their grandchildren to Letchworth State Park, in New York to share their knowledge on the history that involved their people.
Dao:joh, of the Seneca Territory of the Cattaraugus, and his wife brought their grandchildren to the park last Saturday.
“We want to share with them the history of this place,” he said. “It’s always been important to our people to do that.”
The grandchildren — Gahoanon:h, Hode’sae’ and Ja’da:wad, looked like there were having a great time despite the chilly fall weather; the park is renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and is one of the most scenically magnificent areas in the eastern U.S.
The Genesee River roars through the gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs — as high as 600 feet in some places — surrounded by lush forests. Hikers can choose among 66 miles of hiking trails. Trails are also available for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The state park offers nature, history and performing arts programs, guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series, whitewater rafting, kayaking, a pool for swimming and hot air ballooning.
An article titled A Short History of Letchworth Park, by Tom Breslin and Tom Cook, states that the park was created by New York State Governor Charles Evans Hughes in 1907. It was an addition to the fledgling state park system, the gift of a retired businessman and philanthropist, William Pryor Letchworth.
“The new park consisted of the thousand acre estate called the “Glen Iris” which Letchworth had lovingly developed over half a century. The Park was a treasure chest full of natural splendor and history, awaiting those who were willing to come and explore it. And for almost a century, they have come,” reads the article.
The Seneca called the place Sehgahunda, the Vale of Three Falls. They were descendants of the Old Ones, the native people who had lived in the valley for countless generations. The Senecas hunted, fished, and built their villages within the lands that would become Letchworth Park.
Despite the parks natural beauty; as in many cases of colonialism — the true history of the park and its connection with the Seneca people is not as glamorous as it is often presented. There is a sad and gruesome history involving some of New York’s early settlers and how they treated Seneca women and children.
“The true story says that hundreds of our women and children were brought to the edge of the cliff and thrown over,” said Dao:joh’s wife. “It’s not pretty, but it’s a story that can’t be forgotten — which is why we brought our grandchildren here today.”
If any of our reader’s have more information on the history of the Seneca nations and Letchworth State Park, let us know and we’d love to talk with you.