Seneca Heritage Creation Story

The Skywoman Iroquois Dance Theater presented the premiere of “The Iroquois Creation Story” in the outdoor amphitheater during the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum’s annual Heritage Day. The cast is shown performing together. (From left): Gaehnew Printup, Sky Holder; Regis Cook, Flint; Hilton Johnny-John, Turtleman; Jayden Harris, She Who Leads; Jocelyn Jones, Sky Woman; and Stevie Bucktooth, medicine woman.

SALAMANCA — On a sunny Saturday with temps topping out at 80 degrees, June 8 was a perfect day to celebrate Native American arts and music and learn about the Iroquois heritage at the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center.

Visitors enjoyed a full-day of live performances, singing, vendors, food, stories, children’s activities, 50/50 drawings and traditional sport demonstrations. They had the opportunity to join in on the fun and try their skill at atlatl, a traditional form of hunting that uses a stick to propel a spear, and the Corn Dance.

Renowned artist Robert Griffing, who has been bringing his paintings to the event for years, had a gallery of his Giclée prints on display. He was on hand to discuss his art, and he donated one of his signed prints that was raffled off.

Griffing grew up in Linesville, Pa., near Pymatuning Lake. His paintings that are shown worldwide focus on the Native Americans of the Great Lakes and Eastern Woodlands of the 18th century.

There were also informational booths from Allegany State Park, the Seneca Nation of Indians Economic Development Company (SNIEDC), the “Remember the Removal” group on site. People could also learn about “brain tanning,” which is an old process of softening animal hides.

The highlight of the event came when the museum’s Skywoman Iroquois Dance Theater presented the premiere of “The Iroquois Creation Story” in the outdoor amphitheater. Six cast members played the characters in the Creation story: Stevie Bucktooth, medicine woman; Regis Cook, Flint; Hilton Johnny-John, Turtleman; Gaehnew Printup, Sky Holder; Jocelyn Jones, Sky Woman; and Jayden Harris, She Who Leads.

Produced and directed by Bill Crouse, an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation, the performance is more like a theater production with a cast and music made specifically for this show to tell the story of the Iroquois creation.

Crouse also leads a Seneca dance group called the Allegany River Indian Dancers who have traveled and performed extensively throughout North America and Europe. He said about half of the dancers in the Creation production are members of the Allegany River dance group.

Crouse said he dances on occasion, but doesn’t plan to be a cast member unless he gets stuck and needs another dancer. If that happens, he will dance.

With all its precision and pageantry, spectators would think this presentation has involved months of practice but Crouse, who also choreographed the show, said the cast actually started rehearsing two weeks ago.

“We put a lot into it but, as far as the dancing goes, everybody knows the dances,” he said. “That’s one thing I banked on — every Iroquois dancer knows these basic dances, and most of them started these dances at a very young age.

“I went with those dances so it would be easy for the performers to jump into,” he continued. “The trick was choreographing the performance and teaching them when to go off and on the stage.”

According to Crouse, the Smoke Dance performed by the men and women at the end of the presentation is their Iroquois contest-style dance. He said these performers are all champion contest dancers, so he knows exactly who to pick to have the best dancers.

Crouse said he had a soundtrack made specifically for this production, so it could be a traveling show. That way, they will not wind up requiring a live singer and live narrator for every show.

“It also gives the performance a more theatrical flavor,” he said. “It’s nice because now, with this company and presentation, we have enough cast members to man at least two shows at once. If we get booked in two places on the same day, we can have two shows going on.”