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Indians in the News: Recognize, Erase, Heal, Liberate

Orin Langelle w/ Anne Petermann – GJEP

The many facets of the relationships between Indians and Americans were on full display recently here in New York except for actual violence. The events below occurring within a short period of time highlight the pitfalls, challenges, hopes, and fears facing our peoples. The story is on ongoing one with an unknown end. Indeed, part of the story is to remember what has happened. In some sense the story will never end as long as there are people alive to remember and continue the journey our peoples have taken together in our intertwined pasts.


The June newsletter of the New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) and the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC) contains an item on the Montaukett Indian Nation Recognition Bill. Allison McGovern (who spoke online to our AIA Westchester Society last year) reported that Bill S6889 supporting state recognition of the Montaukett Indian Nation in eastern Long Island had passed the NY Assembly and Senate. The bill also has been sent to the Governor’s Office for signing. To track the actions on the bill click here:

McGovern noted that the Montaukett recognition bill has passed the Assembly and Senate several times before, and that it was vetoed every time by Governor Cuomo. This situation reflects the anomaly that Indian nations need to be recognized legally by the state or country in order to receive certain functions and access certain funding.


The effort to erase Indians from the American culture continues in full force. The latest example is with the mascot change in the Odessa-Montour and Watkins School Glen districts in New York. The topic was a big feature in the Sunday Journal News downstate (7/31/22). The “Welcome to Seneca Nation” prominently displayed in the gymnasium at Watkins Glen has been painted over. In addition, an arrow painted on the basketball court will be removed when the costs permit it given the effort required to sand the wood and repaint the floor with the appropriate lines. As everyone knows the arrow is a uniquely Indian symbol.

The genesis for the erasure was an interview with Seneca Nation of Indians spokesperson Joe Stahlman in 2020. According to the article, Stahlman denounced such mascots and logos but said the use of the Senecas nickname at Watkins Glen was acceptable. The reaction of the community seem receptive to the logo change and the continuation of the Seneca’s school nickname. The effort then became one of removing Seneca Nation of Indians imagery within the constraints of the schools’ budgets. Roughly 25 murals have been painted over or replaced so far by Odessa-Montour.. One sign in front of the school will be retained for historic purposes. It will be part of lessons imparted to students as to why the name was changed was “Indians” to “Grizzlies.’ So the students will learn about the logo change but what if anything will they learn about the Seneca Nation of the Indians itself?

Will they learn about the ongoing sovereignty struggle between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York dating back to colonial times before New York even became a state?

Will they learn about the Seneca Nation of Indians siding with the British in the American Revolution including the bloody battle at Oriskany fought against the Oneida Indian Nation?

If students continue to know about the nearby Seneca Lake but are not taught about the Seneca Nation of Indians, will they think of them as Americans or as a foreign people who legally live in America but who do not want to?


The anniversary of the aforementioned Battle of Oriskany showdown between the Seneca Nation of Indians and their British allies and the Oneida Indian Nation and their American allies was August 6. As part of the recent Sense of Place blog on the American Revolution 250th, I wrote about the Fort Plains Museum conference. The bus trip the day prior to the presentations included visits to the key sites of the battle. The Oriskany battlefield is owned by the New York State’s Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation agency (NYSOPRHP) but operated by the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS also operates the Fort Stanwix site in Rome. All these military maneuverings involving these sites were part of the larger Battle of Saratoga campaign in 1777. As also just mentioned in the same blog, Saratoga County has launched its funded 250th Commission precisely on the theme of the battle being the turning point in the war.

On Saturday, August 6th, the Oneida Indian Nation, in partnership with Fort Stanwix and the Rome Historical Society (RHS), held a day of local history education events centered on the battle. The program consisted of:

  • A presentation by the RHS and the Oneida about the battle
  • A “Solemn Commemoration” at the battle site in recognition of those who fought there including a re-enactment of the militia march, a musket salute in memory of the fallen, presentation of wreaths and ceremonial offerings, along with guest speakers. There is no indication of whether British and /or Seneca are included in the ceremony.
  • Film showing of the award-winning animated film “My Home: An Oneida Legend,” and the documentary, “The People of the Standing Stone: The Oneida Indian Nation, the War for Independence, and the Making of America.”

The media contact for the program is a member of the Oneida Indian Nation. There is nothing to suggest that the Seneca Nation of Indians participated in the event.

The Oneida Indian Nation consider themselves the first ally of the United States and are closely connected with the Marquis de Lafayette both during the American Revolution and his return in 1824-1825. Being an ally of a country is not the same as being part of a country. The question which can be asked of both Indian Nations is do they want to be part of the United States and New York State.


The headline in The New York Times (7/31/22) was “For Indigenous Athletes, Lacrosse Is Much More Than a Game.” The people involved were Haudenosaunee. The team name Haudenosaunee Nationals Lacrosse changed last spring from the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team. According to the team website:

The name “Iroquois” is a French variant on a term for “snake” given to us by the Huron. It is actually a derogatory term. As many of our people lost our language through forced assimilation via government policies and residential boarding schools, the English name “Iroquois” stuck. Many researchers over the years have used the term “Iroquois” when writing about us. So when we formed a National Lacrosse Team back in 1983, we used the name “Iroquois Nationals” since that is what most people knew us by. For 39 years we have referred to our team as the “Iroquois Nationals.”

 However, as our people have begun to revitalize our languages and culture, we felt it was time to change our name to what we collectively call ourselves: “Haudenosaunee” (ho-dee-no-show-nee) which translates to “People of the Longhouse.” This name change is one of a series of actions we are taking as our people continue to regain what has been lost through colonialism.

 Thus, we are now called the Haudenosaunee Nationals and have begun the process of changing all touchpoints affected by our name change, including our website, social media accounts, jerseys, business cards, etc. There are a number of places, items, and products that are affected by this and it will take time to get all of them changed. In the meantime, we say “nya:weh” for your patience and support through this effort!

So the term “Iroquois” ultimately derives from a slur by one Indian nation, the Huron, against the other, the Haudenosaunee, that was adopted by the French who were allies of the Huron against the British and Haudenosaunee. Left unsaid is why the Americans adopted the French term for the Haudenosaunee.

According to the website of the Iroquois Museum located in the Mohawk Valley (where I used to go with the teachers on the IHARE Teacherhostels/Historyhostels):

We acknowledge that the Iroquois Museum is located on the ancestral lands of the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk people).  We honor all Haudenosaunee through our educational exhibitions, events and activities. We value their connection to this valley and offer our respect to all Haudenosaunee people of the past and present.

Presumably at some point the Iroquois Museum will have to change its name as well and all museums and textbooks with the word Iroquois will have to change too.

In any event, the now-named Haudenosaunee National teams consists of people from the six nations – Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, and Tuscarora. According to the article, the Haudenosaunee carry their own passports but are not members of the United Nations or the International Olympic Committee. Note the presence of the word “nation” in the title of both of those organizations.

To join the I.O.C., the Haudenosaunee would have to form a National Olympic Committee. That way they could compete independent from the United States as Puerto Rico does (and in the World Baseball Classic as well). The article notes that the purple Haudenosaunee flag flies at lacrosse arenas during the matches.

The game that you see out there, the long-stick game, is our game. It’s taken our team around the world. And it’s given an opportunity for people to understand that the Indian nations are still here (Oren Lyons, Haudenosaunee team founder).

The article concludes with the words of Kason Tarbell, a member of the team:

Western society keeps trying to push us back down and erase us from history books, but with our flag showing with every other country, we still here and we’re still fighting.

Here we witness an example of Indian nations expressing their independence from the United States.


This was the headline in a Syracuse newspaper (7/12/22) about the actions of the Shinnecock Indian Nation across the state on eastern Long Island the previous day.

The Shinnecock Nation in Southampton, Long Island, held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a forthcoming cannabis dispensary – a new venture for the nation.

“This means a lot, what we’re going to do today,” said Chenae Bullock, managing director for Little Beach Harvest. “What we’re doing with this sacred plant is going to heal not only the Shinnecock community, but people around the world.” “We’re giving this plant a voice again,” Bullock said.

Shinnecock Nation Chairman Bryan Polite noted that the dispensary opening will offer many opportunities for the community, like educating tribal members on the cannabis market and creating career paths both in and outside of the dispensary.

“This is bringing us back to our agricultural roots,” Polite said. “This is a magical, medicinal plant and there are so many ways to use it, and I’m thankful to be able to put a shovel in the ground and get this going.”


In a press release, Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack announced a ceremonial Peace Tree Planting and an historic Peace Treaty Renewal between Ulster County and the Ramapough Lenape Nation. The ceremony renews the 1665 Richard Nicolls Esopus Peace Treaty which is part of the Ulster County Clerk’s Archival Collection. The public renewal took take place at the Hudson River Maritime Museum on August 5.

The day of peace, healing, and good relations according to the press release began earlier in the day with the planting of a Tree of Peace at the former Kingston Visitors Center. The Esopus apple tree commemorates the death of two Ramapough Lenape Nation women who ate apples from a local tree. They thought they were eating the fruit of the land. A Dutch settler thought they were stealing from him and so shot them.

The Tree of Peace is a metaphor for how peace can grow if it is nurtured. Like a tall tree, peace can provide protection and comfort. Like a pine tree, peace spreads its protective branches to create a place of peace where we can gather and renew ourselves. Like the White Pine, peace also creates large white roots (tsyoktehækęætaˀkona) that rise out of the ground so people can trace their journey to the source. Kawisente, Chief of the Bear Clan of Kahnawake, Kanienkehaka was the ceremonial leader.

As these examples attest, the relations between the Indian Nations and the United States are in a state of flux. Almost one year ago on August 25, 2021, I asked in a blog What Are You Doing for the Indian Citizenship Act (1924) Centennial? The answer so far is nothing. Although the Indian Citizenship Act refers to individuals, I additionally addressed the status of Indian Nations. The Supreme Court decision under John Marshall declaring Indian Nations as “dependent” became the law of the law as an example of not “might makes right” but “might makes for what happens.” Consequently Indian Nations do not negotiate treaty issues with the President of the United States, Secretary of State, and Senate as in the recent decision to expand NATO include Finland and Sweden. Instead, they are relegated to a subordinate position with the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The questions we should be discussing now are:

Do Indian Nations want to be part of the United States?

For those who respond positively, what is legal format by which they would be with the negotiations between the President and the leaders of the various Indian Nations?

For those who respond negatively, how do we separate them from the United States so they are recognized as independent countries?

What do you think? Should the same questions be addressed to Confederates?

Columbus Day 1992: A Glance Back at the Culture War that Divides America Today

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (This logo was used without permission and does not signify an approval or endorsement of this blog by ECHS)

In some ways, Columbus Day is Ground Zero for the culture wars. Here is where the two white sides square off in the battle for power in America. Each white side claims right is on its side and as always the American Indians are caught in the middle. This blog is a continuation of a series on the white people conflict between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. For those who are keeping track, the previous related blogs are listed at the conclusion of this one.

In this post, I want to focus on the words of James Axtell who in 1992 was a history professor at the College of William and Mary and the chair of the American Historical Association’s Columbus Quincentenary Committee.  In that capacity, he authored an article “Columbian Encounters: Beyond 1992,” published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1992.

Axtell began the article optimistically. He expressed his hope that the Columbus Quincentenary would be more successful than the Bicentennial had been in realizing its educational potential. He identified various reasons why it would make a deeper public and pedagogical impact than the 1776 anniversary celebration had. Since then, of course, the intensity of the culture wars has grown.

In his analysis, Axtell introduces a critical term that unfortunately has never caught on. He recommends the word “Encounter” as the theme of the Quincentenary. He does so “although natives. Critics, and activists may not approve the idea, encounters are morally neutral: the term does not prejudge the nature of the contact or its outcome.” Naturally I was quite pleased to read about his use of this term since without being aware of this article and more familiar with the term from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I had used that very word in my own blog in 2017 appropriately entitled Columbus Day: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The bulk of the Axtell’s article recounts his impressive familiarity with all articles, books, conferences, exhibits, and manner of scholarship related to the Quincentenary. He is pleasantly surprised that the quality of Quincentenary scholarship is so high. Now what, he asks at the end? What should be done to keep the momentum going beyond 1992? He wrote:

My survey of the Columbian Encounter field suggests the following prescriptions:

(1) We should focus on Columbus as a man of extraordinary perseverance, skill, and luck but a man nonetheless – flawed like all men. Rather than caricaturing him as an oversized hero or villain we should see him in full perspective, pre- and post-1492, and measure him primarily against the men, ideas, and mores of his own time.

(2) We should pay more attention to Europe on the eve of colonization as the locus of experience, goals, and methods for the American incursions.

(3) We should pay much more attention to precontact America: its complexity, variety, demography, and deep reservoirs of human experience. We should make greater efforts to really hear native voices from the past and in the present, not only for Clio’s sake but to advance our own necessary and liberating education in otherness.

(4) In our writing and teaching of colonial history, we should rescue the sixteenth century from undeserved neglect. Without it, we have no hope of making sense of its more familiar sequel.

(5) We must learn to do justice to Hispanic America, first by ridding ourselves of the Black Legend and then by pursuing its history beyond the short conquest phase into the less sanguinary settlement period of city building, imperial bureaucracy, sugar plantations, cattle ranches, and widespread acculturation. We should also do a better job of integrating the Spanish borderlands with the histories of North America and the United States.

(6) By the same token, we should incorporate the history of the Caribbean, where Europe often fought its intercolonial wars before landing on North American soil, because the sugar islands were so valuable to the mother countries.

(7) We should continue to pay attention to the role of disease and biological imperialism in the conquest and depopulation of the Americas. But we should refine our estimates of mortality to accord with the best available evidence and with common sense.

(8) While well-publicized historical anniversaries occasions for them, we should curb the temptation worse, predetermined moral judgments on the enough after we have done our homework thoroughly.

(9) Whenever possible, we should resort to the insights and viewpoints of other disciplines, such as anthropology, archaeology, ethnohistory, cartography, historical geography, and colonial discourse. Even the historical fiction of Latin American novelists such Abel Posse, Alejo Carpentier, and Antonio Benitez-Rojo stretches the imaginative limits of our understanding of the Spanish and Indian heritages of that first, vast, other America.

(10) On a similar tack, we should employ whenever possible a comparative perspective on the American Encounter-comparing French, Spanish, English, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, and Russian efforts with each other and American efforts with colonial efforts in other parts of the world-in order to separate the unique from the typical.

(11) The well-modulated public and scholarly success of the Quincentenary should inspire us to design future historical anniversaries as opportunities less for celebration than for cerebration. We must also be very careful about who is included in, and who feels excluded from, “We the

People.” Ethnic, gender, and racial sensitivities are likely to grow; parity of treatment and attention-and, perhaps as important, the appearance of parity-must be extended to all citizens, past and present. We can start by rethinking our historical vocabulary: Old and New World, discoverer, discovery, Indian, Amerindian, America, American, Latin American, and the West are factually, morally, or culturally problematic.

 (12) Finally, we should all study to become better citizens of the “global village” we now inhabit, the foundations of which Columbus laid in I492. If we do not learn to protect, respect, and sustain its people and to conserve and renew its resources, it will be much poorer when the Columbian sexcentenary occurs. Perhaps some of the lessons we draw from our study of the first Encounter will prevent such a fate.

I make no judgement as to what has happened in the academic arena. I leave that to the scholars in the field. In the public arena, the story is more telling. With the passage of time, Columbus has become even more of a villain to politically-corrected white people. We are quicker to pass judgement now and more vehement and vicious in so doing. The interest now in pre-contact American Indians has more to do with the superiority their way of life to that of white people with all white peoples of all nations being lumped together. Instead of the Encounters leading to a better understanding of all the people and peoples involved, two-dimensional clichés trump all other concerns.

Can we do better? Consider this example from Lewiston, New York, on what one community is doing better and that there is more to be done. From the Historical Association of Lewiston newsletter which is sent to me:


Please support scholarship fund

       Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to celebrate and honor Native Americans and to commemorate their shared history and culture.  The Village and Town of Lewiston celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day simultaneously.

     At the Historical Association of Lewiston, we decided to honor our Tuscarora neighbors, by awarding a scholarship to a deserving Tuscarora student. It is our hope to make this an annual award given out every year on Indigenous Peoples day in front of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument on Center Street in the Village of Lewiston.

     As a non-profit organization, the Historical Association is soliciting public donations to help sponsor the scholarship.  We hope you will find it worthy of your generosity and urge you to support this cause.  Your donations can be made to the Historical Association of Lewiston, P.O. Box 43, Lewiston, NY 14092.  Make a note that you want your donation to go to the Tuscarora Scholarship fund.  We can provide you with a receipt for tax purposes if requested. Thank you!

The good news is that the community is recognizing the Tuscarora. The shortcoming is that the Tuscarora are not included in the title of the holiday. With Columbus, there is a proper noun and no confusion as to who is being celebrated. With Indigenous, the people honored could be anywhere in the world: indigenous Canadians, indigenous Australians, indigenous Latin Americans (see Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America). If Lewiston has a Tuscarora Heroes Monument then it should have Tuscarora Day as well and it should be on a day most relevant to the Tuscarora.

Here is another example, this time from the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY).

Native American Heritage Day

Sunday, October 13, 11am–12pm

 Celebrate the vast history and contemporary voices of Native American New Yorkers who come from Tribal Nations across the country. Enjoy storytelling, songs, and dances performed by the renowned Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. See Lenape objects in New York at Its Core and contemporary art by Native American New Yorkers in Urban Indian: Native New York Now, and create art to take home.

Notice the dichotomy. The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers call themselves American Indians while the MCNY quickly switches to its preferred politically correct term. But it does call the Lenape by their name and does use the term “Indian” in the exhibit name.

At the recent James Fenimore Cooper & Susan Cooper Conference: “E Pluribus Unum: Cooper, Cosmopolis, and American Identity” (SUNY Oneonta, September 25-25, 2019), there was a Commanche presenter. She always referred to herself as a Commanche or to American Indians in general. It was the white people who used the term “Native Americans.”

In the New York Times on October 13, 2019, just after October 12 and before the Monday holiday, in an article entitled “Sharp Cuts in Immigration Threaten U.S. Economy, Austan Goolsbee wrote about the positive impact immigrants have:

…the evidence increasingly says having immigrants here makes workers born in the United States more successful.

            That’s partly because immigrants start companies at twice the rate of native Americans.

How the New York Times let this reporter get away with such politically incorrect language is a mystery. And if you read the sentence aloud, how could you distinguish between “native Americans” and “Native Americans” anyway?

To make matters worse, the Sunday Review section of the New York Times on the very same October 13 day, had a big front page picture and article by Brent Staples entitled “How Italians Became White,” another part of the Columbus Day story that deserves to be remembered (for the Italians see Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America).

The Encounter theme proposed by Axtell back in 1992 is the way out of this morass if we want a “win-win” resolution rather than a “zero-sum” war. It applies not only to Columbus Day but to the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution which is now gearing up (we have a meeting tonight on this event).

In New York, where I live I can consider three excellent places where to have encounters, perhaps annual rotating conferences).

National Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian – this location in lower Manhattan is the area where Hudson and the Lenape made contact leading to the creation of New Amsterdam and then New York.

The William Johnson state and private historic sites in the Mohawk Valley – Irish Johnson was the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs whose career involved him with numerous Indian tribes and nations and European nationalities.

Battle of Oriskany in the Mohawk Valley – This prelude to the Battle of Saratoga revealed that not only was the American Revolution a civil war among European peoples, it was a civil war among Indian peoples where two members of the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee confederation, the Seneca and the Oneida fought on opposite sides against each other.

One could add Cooperstown of Leatherstocking fame, Thanksgiving, Lewis and Clark, Little Big Horn, and a slew of western sites as places of encounters. As things stand now, slice and dice trumps We the People but I prefer to believe that there will come a time when American Indians are recognized as being part of the American experience and Columbus is an individual human being.

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part III- The Meaning of “Indigenous”

If You Are a Native New Yorker, Are You a Native American?: The Weaponization of “Native” and the Culture Wars