SALAMANCA — The annual Heritage Day festival hosted by the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum returns Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In its fourth year, the event gives visitors a chance to learn about the Iroquois heritage at the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center with children’s activities, traditional sport demonstrations, artist demonstrations, competitions, vendors and food.
Hayden Haynes, business operations manager at the museum, said Heritage Day is usually a paid event, but they decided to do the event for free this year.
“Due to the pandemic, we were unable to have Heritage Day last year,” he said. “It’s been a rough year for all of us, so we felt that everybody should come together for this special event.”
This year’s theme will be “Native boarding school awareness.” There will be an in-person Chinese auction throughout the day of the festival, with proceeds benefiting the Thomas Indian School Alumni. To show their awareness and support, visitors are asked to wear orange shirts.
“In light of all the attention in Canada with the discovery of mass graves of Native American children, we are kind of shifting our focus to the Thomas Indian School that was a state-run boarding school on our Cattaraugus Territory in Irving,” he said.
Haynes said the auction is a community event where everybody is trying to help a little bit. He said the vendors usually have to pay to set up, but they waived that fee this year to make it easier on the vendors. In exchange, the craft vendors have been asked to contribute by submitting an item valued at $25 or more for the auction.
In memory of Native children who attended boarding schools, there will be smoke dance competitions for youth only. The categories are Tiny Tots, ages 4 years old and under; girls and boys age 5-12; and teen girls and boys, 13-17 years old. Registration closes at noon with the contests starting immediately afterward.
Visitors are invited to learn how to throw a special spear and participate in an atlatl (pronounced atul-atul or aht-LAH-tul) competition to show their skill. There will be a prize for the winner. Haynes said atlatl was a traditional form of hunting, but now it’s done more for sport.
A new quilt exhibit called “Women of Influence: Each Block a Story” will be unveiled on Heritage Day. Museum Director Joe Stahlman said the project was initiated and sponsored by the Native Roots Artists Guild.
Stahlman said the quilt has the work of 47 women from six Native nations: Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Tuscarora and Metis and seven territories. He said each artist, ranging in age from their 20s to 80s, designed, sewed and beaded their block in honor of an influential Native woman in their lives.
Seneca Nation participants included Alyssa Franklin, Alyssa Schmidt, Anna Mae Printup, Darlene Miller, Debbie Hoag, Holly John, Janine Gates, Joanne Williams Johnna “Jonie” Crouse, Julie Marie Lay, Lesley Zurek, Lori Seneca, Marissa Manitowabi, Markie John, Mary Jacobs, Penelope Minner, Roberta Jones, Samantha Jacobs, Susanne Sanford, Terri John, Valerie Printup-Nosie and Wendy Bray.
“This quilt has been inspired by present-day elders and other Haudenosaunee women who have been inspired by other women,” Stahlman said. “They are trying to bring an awareness to the community that we all are inspired by someone.”
According to Stahlman, elder Norma Jacobs inspired the idea for the quilt with her words at the Tuscarora Reservation in 2017. He said she was talking about how art can actually heal and set the tone for the project as a way to spend time together beading and sharing stories on the resiliency of women in their communities.
In his SNI Official Newsletter, Stahlman said the quilt was completed in time for the Seneca National Fall Festival, in September 2018, where it was awarded Best in Show. He said it went on to be exhibited in January 2019 at the Mohawk Nation Akwesasne Territory, Six Nations of the Grand River territory and was also exhibited at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts.
In October 2019, the Iroquois Indian Museum exhibited the quilt, along with a kiosk that shared the stories of the participants, which was made possible by a Humanities of New York grant.
Stahlman said the quilt was supposed to be exhibited at the museum last year but, because of COVID and all the restrictions, they’re just getting it now. He said it will be on display until the end of the year, then they’re hoping to move it on to another museum.
The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum is located within the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center at 82 West Hetzel St. For more details call (716) 945-1760 or visit online at senecamuseum.org.