Seneca Heritage Day at museum

The public is invited to Heritage Day at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 8. The annual event celebrates Native American arts and music and the Iroquois heritage. The Skywoman Iroquois Dance Theater will present the premiere of “The Iroquois Creation Story” in the outdoor amphitheater at 4:15 p.m.

SALAMANCA — The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum welcomes the public to its third annual Heritage Day this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Celebrate Native American arts and music and learn about the Iroquois heritage at the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center with a full day of live performances, singing, vendors, food, stories, children’s activities, 50/50 drawings and traditional sports demonstrations.

Hayden Haynes, business operations manager at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum, said renowned artist Robert Griffing will be in attendance selling his Giclée prints and talking to people about his art. He has donated one of his signed prints to be raffled off.

According to Paramount Press, 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.

Haynes said the art and craft vendors are Iroquois. He said some are local and some are coming all the way from Akwesasne, which is a Mohawk Indian reservation along the St. Lawrence River, at the very top of New York state.

“We have basket makers coming. The ones from Akwesasne are very well-known and really great basket makers,” he said. “We’ll have a little bit of everything, as far as Native American arts and crafts.”

In addition to art and craft vendors and food vendors, there will be informational booths with naturalists from Allegany State Park and the Seneca Nation of Indians Economic Development Company (SNIEDC). Members of the “Remember the Removal” group will also be on site.

People who are not squeamish will get to experience a demonstration in “brain tanning” which, Haynes said, is an old process of softening animal hides. He said it’s usually done through the use of chemicals today.

“The original method was through ‘brain tanning.’ A mixture of the animal’s brains was boiled down and mixed up with water, which was used to soften the leather,” he said. “What’s interesting is every single fur-bearing animal has enough brain matter to tan their own hide. The chemicals in the brain soften the hide naturally.”

Haynes said the participants in the Smoke Dance competition usually come from the Cattaraugus and Allegany territories. The event takes place from noon to 3 p.m., with some social dancing thrown in when the public can participate.

Visitors can watch an “atlatl” (pronounced atul-atul or aht-LAH-tul) demonstration from 10 to 11:30 a.m., then the atlatl competition will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. giving the public a chance to show their skill. Haynes said atlatl was a traditional form of hunting, but now it’s done more for sport. According to National Geographic, it’s a stick used to propel a spear or dart and it predates the bow and arrow.

“We’ll have a little competition for the public to try it. Our staff has done this for a couple of years now, so they are pretty familiar with how to throw and how to teach the skill,” he said. “It looks easy, but it’s very hard. I tried it myself and threw it probably no more than five feet.”

The last event of the day begins at 4:15 p.m. when the Skywoman Iroquois Dance Theater will present the premiere of “The Iroquois Creation Story” in the outdoor amphitheater. Haynes said this is the first time the performance has been done in this particular production.

Produced by Bill Crouse, the performance is more like a theater production with an actual cast and music made specifically for this show to tell the story of the Iroquois creation. Admission to the performance will cost an additional $5, and tickets will be available for purchase during Heritage Day while supplies last and weather permitting.

General admission tickets are adults $10, children $5 and children 6 and under, free. An additional $5 admission fee will be charged to watch the premiere of the “Iroquois Creation Story” at the Iroquois Skywoman Dance Theater.

Heritage Day will be held rain or shine, but if it rains some of the activities will be canceled.

The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum is located at 82 West Hetzel St. For more details call 945-1760 or visit online at and Facebook.

Schedule of events:

  • 10 a.m.: Iroquois Market and Festival opens
  • 10-11:30 a.m.: Atlatl Demonstration
  • 10 a.m. - noon: Registration for Smoke Dance competitions
  • 11 a.m. - noon: Registration for Atlatl Competition
  • Noon-3 p.m.: Smoke Dance Competition and Social Dancing
  • 1-3 p.m.: Atlatl Competition
  • 3:30: Announcement of winners for Smoke Dance and Atlatl competitions
  • 4 p.m.: Announcement of basket winners (via Facebook Live)
  • 4 p.m.: Announcement of 50/50 winners
  • 4 p.m. Announcement of signed Giclee print by Robert Griffing (via Facebook Live)
  • 4:15 p.m.: The premiere of the “Iroquois Creation Story,” presented by the Skywoman Iroquois Dance Theater in the outdoor amphitheater (additional $5)