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‘The Spirit Of Respect’

Historic Cornplanter Tomahawk Returned To Seneca Nation

Pictured are Mark Schaming, director of the New York State Museum; state Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo; and Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong Sr. with a tomahawk recently returned to the Seneca Nation. Submitted photo

SALAMANCA — A meaningful piece of history has been officially restored to the Seneca Nation’s ownership.

Nation leaders welcomed officials from the New York State Museum to Salamanca on Thursday afternoon to announce that a pipe tomahawk originally given to the respected Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter by George Washington has been officially repatriated to the Nation.

The announcement took place at the Nation’s Onohsagwe:de’ Cultural Center, where the pipe tomahawk has been on loan to the Nation since March.

“In Seneca history, Cornplanter stands among our greatest and most respected leaders,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr. “George Washington originally presented this pipe tomahawk to Cornplanter as a sign of respect, friendship and recognition of our sovereignty. Now, this piece of our great leader’s remarkable legacy can finally — and forever — remain on Seneca land where it belongs.”

Washington gave the pipe tomahawk to Cornplanter in 1792 as a gift during discussions for the Treaty of Canandaigua. Signed in 1794, the Treaty of Canandaigua confirmed the sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee, with the United States pledging to honor the land rights of the Haudenosaunee people.

Seneca diplomat Ely Parker donated the pipe tomahawk to the New York State Museum in 1851. Sometime between 1947 and 1950 the piece went missing from the museum and for nearly 70 years was in the hands of private collectors.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the pipe tomahawk was returned to the State Museum in June 2018. The museum loaned the tomahawk to the Nation for display last year, before officially restoring the Nation’s ownership of the artifact today.

“Cornplanter’s tomahawk is an incredibly important object that speaks of Native American, New York, and American history and culture,” said Mark Schaming, Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and Director of the State Museum. “It is due to this shared history that it is our great honor to return the tomahawk to the people of the Seneca Nation. We make this return in representation of mutual trust, partnership and fruitful years ahead, as was intended by our forebearers.”

“Cornplanter’s descendants are very glad that his prized tomahawk pipe has been returned to his Seneca family,” added Odie Porter, Cornplanter Descendants Association co-chair. “We will work with the Seneca Nation to ensure that Cornplanter’s legacy of protecting Native rights will continue by educating the public about this pipe and what it symbolizes.”

On one side of the tomahawk’s blade is Cornplanter’s name, Gy-ant-waka, and on the other side of the blade is the name “John Andrus,” possibly the manufacturer. When Parker purchased the tomahawk, the original handle, or haft, was gone. He replaced the haft with one made of curly maple wood and silver inlay to reflect what the original haft may have looked like. Parker also added a brass plate engraved with his name on the bore end of the tomahawk.

“We are incredibly grateful to all those who understood the greater meaning and importance of Cornplanter’s tomahawk, and who understood that there was only one true home for this piece of our shared history,” President Armstrong said. “In restoring the Nation’s ownership of the tomahawk, you have shown the spirit of respect for our Nation, our people, and our sovereignty in which President Washington first presented this gift to Cornplanter. Now that it is home for good, it can forever shine as an example of those same ideals for all generations of Seneca people, as well as for our friends and neighbors.”

The tomahawk will be on permanent display at the Onohsagwe:de’ Cultural Center, which opened in 2018 on the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory. Measuring 33,000 square feet, the center is inspired by Native oral history and designed to guide and immerse visitors throughout with a variety of exhibits, collections, artifacts, educational programs and special events. The center is open seven days a week. For information, call 945-1760 or visit www.senecamuseum.org.

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