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The Seneca Iroquois National Museum

Celebrate Culture

The largest of the six Native American nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI) has a proud and rich history in western New York with nearly 8,000 citizens today. “We are a unique and living culture,” said Joe Stahlman, Ph.D., Director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. “We are thriving, and our culture is not static. We continuously have new innovations, and we are making inroads into the future.”

One of the latest innovations is the brand new Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center, which houses the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, formerly located at 814 Broad Street in Salamanca. While the former museum’s artifacts can still be seen at the new location, Stahlman explained that there is really no comparison between the two buildings.

“Even if people went to the old museum and they haven’t been to the new one, they would not be seeing the same exhibits,” he said. “Within the new building, we have the museum, we have a tribal and historic preservation office, the Nation’s archives, and the cultural center. It’s comprehensive and state-of-the-art.”

The new cultural center, which opened last year, is located at 82 W. Hetzel Street in Salamanca, and it has become one of the top destinations in the region. “We’ve had record attendance this year,” Stahlman said. “We had 47,000 people come and visit us in just one year.”

Local residents, school groups from all over western New York, and tourists across the United States and Europe have enjoyed the museum’s collections and permanent exhibits that chronicle the history and legacy of the SNI. The museum begins with a walk through the Creation Story and cultural beliefs of the SNI, which leads to displays of traditionally crafted items, a walk through an authentic Seneca log cabin, and the story of lacrosse and its role in Seneca culture. Exhibits include the history of the Kinzua Dam, the role of women in Seneca culture, and a variety of artwork, beadwork, carvings and more.

The museum also features new rotating exhibits throughout the year. This fall, a new exhibit will highlight the traditional music of the Seneca and Iroquois peoples. “Iroquois people, over the last few centuries, were involved in bands,” Stahlman explained. “Certain churches and political parties would have their own band, so when they would have a rally or an event, their band would accompany them, and that would entice people to attend. It used to be a really common thing until radio. We have several instruments, including a clarinet and a tuba, as well as historical photographs.”

In November, two more exhibits will open that feature the work of Seneca women. “We are going to highlight Rosie Simas, who is a Seneca performing artist and mixed media artist,” Stahlman said. “She will be talking about family intimacy through historical photographs. The second exhibit features Christine Tome, a mixed media artist whose exhibit is highlighting missing and murdered indigenous women.”

Stahlman, who has served in his role for the past three months, is looking forward to featuring different exhibits throughout the year. “A lot of people don’t think the museum changes, and maybe that was true in the former building, but it’s not that way anymore,” he pointed out. “I just want the public to be aware that you can visit the museum any time during the year and it’s going to be different.”

This winter, Stahlman is excited to feature a Seneca winter sports exhibit. “Snow snakes is a spear-throwing game that was played by the Seneca to keep their hunting skills sharp,” he explained. “We’ll be highlighting other games that people don’t realize are native sports and activities, like snowshoeing.”

Stahlman noted that within the cultural center is the conservation area, which has drawn researchers from universities across the country. “As the nation grows with our collection of items, a lot of these items can be up to 10,000 years old, though most are 200 years old or younger,” he said. “We have a lot of fiber arts, baskets and beadwork that become damaged and aged over time and need to be repaired and conserved. The conservation area allows us to preserve those items.”

Although the construction of the cultural center is complete, the museum’s collections continue to grow. According to Stahlman, the new collection area in the basement houses over 10,000 Seneca items. “We hope to grow that collection,” he added. “Yesterday, I received a donation of a walnut bow from a Salamanca resident, which will be a part of our collection.”

Importantly, the new cultural center is not just a place for visitors to tour, but a resource for hands-on learning. “We’re creating even more community craft classes,” Stahlman explained. “By the end of October, we’re going to start making moccasins. Into the fall and winter, we’ll be making corn husk dolls.” Stahlman is also looking forward to having classes on herbal and natural remedies. All classes are open to the public and are free or have a small fee to cover the cost of materials.

Every Thursday in October and November (excluding Halloween and Thanksgiving), the museum hosts a speaker series from 6-7:30pm. “These nights are free and open to the public,” he said. “We’re having speakers on local crafting, filmmaking, archaeology, indigenous archaeology and more. On Oct. 24, we’ll have one of our elders, Steve Gordon, talking about how his family lost their home during the construction of the Kinzua Dam.” For more information about community craft classes and the speaker series, visit www.senecamuseum.org.

The museum gift shop has many unique and beautiful items available, with an online store launching the beginning of November. “Myself and our operations manager, Hayden Haynes, are developing our own clothing line, starting with t-shirts and hoping to move into beadwork. We’ve got two new shirts coming out this month, and these items and many more will be available through our online store soon.”

The Seneca-Iroquois Museum is open daily from 9am-5pm with extended hours until 8pm Tuesday through Thursday. Admission is $9.50 for adults, and discounted rates are available to seniors, students, veterans and children. To learn more, visit www.senecamuseum.org or call 716-945-1760.