At one time an estimated 4,500 Haudenosaunee lived at Ganondagan, near Victor, New York, southeast of Rochester. It is now a state historic site. The Senecas were the “Keeper of the Western Door.” There is a small display of artifacts in the Visitor Center but one of the most interesting displays is the full-size replica of the 17th century Seneca longhouse. Inside there are many items that would have been typically found in a longhouse – corn husk mats, tools, pots, and other necessary items for everyday life. There may have been 20 or so people living in the longhouse – all related through the female side of the family. There are long benches the length of the longhouse that were used for sleeping and storage. Food had to be gathered during the growing season and stored for the winter. In the center there were fires that were used for cooking above which were air holes to let out the smoke.
The name “Ganondagan” means “Town of Peace,” and they believed that the “Mother of Nations” is buried there. What seems like an idyllic life in harmony with nature was often broken by periods of violence. In 1687, the French destroy the village during a campaign aimed at eliminating the Seneca Nation. In Montreal the French assembled an army of 1,000 Canadian militia, 832 French regulars, and a contingent of Mohawk and Algonquin launched their attack from Kingston. The army of 3000 was double the number of the Seneca warriors. There is a reason the Haudenosaunee villages were surrounded by wooden palisades – for protection. Besides the wars there were times when nature must have seemed like the enemy with freezing temperatures in the winter, not enough rain for their crops, and storms.
Nature is and was the center of their existence. In front of the Visitor Center is the Three Sisters Garden – corn, beans and squash. And near the long house is The Creator’s Garden with a signboard that explains the Creation Story according to the Senecas. There are trails complete with interpretive signboards. One trail is the Earth is our Mother Trail that explains the ethnobotanical plant world from the Seneca perspective. Another trail with red borders deals with the importance of the women in Seneca life. It was a matrilineal society.
Americans everywhere owe a debt to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy their democratic ideals served as an inspiration for the U.S. Constitution including the governmental concept of Balance of Power. The Seneca’s matrilineal Society helped inspire the woman’s rights movement. Their diet of natural foods is popular today as are many of the natural medicines they used to treat illnesses. In October 2015 they will be opening the state-of-the-art Seneca Art and Culture Center that will have a film explaining the Creation Story and galleries filled with unique artifacts, contemporary artwork, and a town model