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Arts & Culture

Stolen 200-year-old treaty tomahawk returned to Senecas

Seneca Nation
Gwendolyn Saul, curator of ethnography and ethnology at the New York State Museum (left), and David George-Shongo Jr., director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, show off the tomahawk..

The Seneca Nation has welcomed back a piece of history for the first time in more than 150 years. A pipe tomahawk given to the legendary Seneca leader Cornplanter by George Washington in 1792 was unveiled at the Onohsagwe:de’ Cultural Center in Salamanca.

"A war chief, Cornplanter knew and lived the importance of defending our sovereignty as native people. He also believed in the need for a positive diplomatic relationship with the United States," said Seneca President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. "That is why he met with George Washington to discuss and negotiate the Treaty of Canandaigua. It was during those discussions that this tomahawk was given to Cornplanter by George Washington."

Signed in 1794, Armstrong said the Treaty of Canandaigua confirmed the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee with the United States, pledging to honor the land rights of the Haudenosaunee people.

The tomahawk was stolen from the New York State Museum sometime between 1947 and 1950, before being returned by an anonymous donor last year. It includes Cornplanter’s traditional name, Gyantwaka, engraved on one side of the blade.

The artifact will be on display at the cultural center for at least six months. This is the first time the tomahawk has been on Seneca Territory since 1850, when Seneca diplomat Ely Parker donated it to the state museum.

"The tomahawk is more than just a tie to Cornplanter, one of our great Seneca leaders. It is a reminder for everyone that the agreements made between our ancestors and the founders of the United States live on," said Armstrong. "Even though our treaties have been broken throughout history, they live on and remain, just as our sovereignty remains, today and forever."

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