SALAMANCA — An artifact that belonged to Seneca Chief Cornplanter has been transferred back to the ownership of the Seneca Nation. The pipe had been missing for nearly 150 years.
The official repatriation ceremony of the pipe took place last Thursday at the Onohsagwe:de’ Cultural Center’s Distinct Community Room. This brought Kawenni:io/Gaweniyo Elementary and High School students to venture out to see the historic event, with staff saying “finally.”
The school allowed 13 students to from gr. 7 to gr. 12 to attend the ceremony, where the family and oldest descendant of Cornplanter also attended.
“All of the students were pretty interested and pretty happy to go,” said Alisha Thomas, a teacher at the school. “You could just see the intensity on the students faces watching, and you could tell they were fully engaged in the ceremony.”
“It was just a really good experience for the kids to actually be there and welcome back a part of their history,” she said.
Known as Kaiiontwa’kon or Gaiänt’wakê in the Seneca language and called Cornplanter to Europeans, he was a Seneca war chief and diplomat of the Wolf clan that lived from 1732 to 1836.
Cornplanter was born in the village of Conewaugus on the Genesee River in New York, and was a son to a Seneca woman and a Dutch trader named John Abeel (O’Bail). He later became a feared chief warrior, Cornplanter fought in the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War.
The pipe tomahawk was a symbol of peace given as a gift to Cornplanter by George Washington. But the peace pipe tomahawk had been missing from the New York State Museum in Albany for the past 70 years.
A discussion came out of a history lesson from Jock Hill about the exact reason as to why Washington gave the pipe to Cornplanter. The staff explained that Hill talked about when Washington was a warrior.
“He said that Cornplanter had the opportunity to kill George Washington, but he didn’t,” said Kari Miller, an instructor at the K/G high school. “The first president of the United States, he let him go.”
Thus, Washington was set free.
“Cornplanter was more or less like ‘we don’t want war, we want peace, just leave us alone,’” said Thomas. “And that’s why Washington kind of always had a soft spot for the Senecas.”
“Cornplanter, in comparison, was to the Senecas what Joseph Brant was for the Mohawks,” added Miller.
Historians say the pipe stayed in Cornplanter’s family for generations before it was stolen.
Since then the artifact was in the hands of private collectors.
The pipe was returned to the New York State Museum two years ago by an anonymous donor.
Prior to the official transfer of ownership, the pipe was on loan to the Seneca Iroquois National Museum from March of last year. Now guests and members of the Nation can see it at the Seneca Museum as often as they would like.
The K/G students then stayed the night in Tonawanda to attend a Great Law meeting the next day.
“At the meeting the coordinators want to get youth on board and streamline what everyones learning in regards to the Great Law, because there’s so many versions. So that streamlining is one of the things our school wants to get on board with, like helping with transcribing and translating different parts of it,” said Thomas.
This is to be done to ensure that all of the Haudenosaunee reserves have the same information. The staff also included that the Great Law will be incorporated into the curriculum once it is finalized.
The students were also taken to see the rows and rows of ceremonial masks that were returned to the people as well.
As for the pipe, the museum plans to display the piece at the centre of a new exhibit that will honour Cornplanter.