Skip to main content

Hiawatha Belt Returns to Onondaga Lake

The Hiawatha Belt, created to symbolize unity among the five nations, recently returned to Onondaga Lake, birthplace of the Haudenosaunee.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

Before European contact on Turtle Island the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy was born on the shores of Onondaga Lake in what is now central New York State. The Hiawatha belt was created to symbolize the unity between the five nations. The Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk comprised the original union, before adding the Tuscarora later on.

New York State was in possession of the belt from 1900 until 1989 when the Hiawatha Belt was returned to the Onondaga Nation after efforts to reclaim it by Nation leaders. Since its return the belt has never been back on the shores of the birthplace of the Haudenosaunee until October 14, 2016.

Photo by Alex Hamer

The Hiawatha belt with the Onondaga Nation, the Fire Keepers represented in the middle. To the right are the Oneida and Mohawk, to the left are the Cayuga and Seneca. The lines continue out from the end to extend the rafters of the longhouse.

The historic return of the Hiawatha belt was filmed as a part of an upcoming PBS series slated for airing sometime in 2017. The four-hour series produced by Providence Pictures will feature a section on first democracies, which will include the Haudenosaunee contribution to the world.

Tadadaho, Sid Hill of the Onondaga Nation told the crowd gathered that: “We have to educate because there are still people here in Syracuse that don’t know we still exist.”

Photo by Alex Hamer

Tadadaho, Sid Hill of the Onondaga Nation speaks to the crowd of the importance of righting environmental wrongs.

Photo by Alex Hamer

Arielle Logan, Mohawk, stands on the shores of Onondaga Lake, which is so contaminated she cannot swim in it or eat from it safely.

Photo by Alex Hamer

Mohawk Elder Tom Porter gives his version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address on October 14.