Cornplanter’s pipe tomahawk officially repatriated to Seneca Nation by New York State Museum

Pictured (L to R): Mark Schaming, Director, New York State Museum ; New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo); and Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr.(Photo: Seneca Nation of Indians)

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Gift from George Washington will forever remain in Seneca Nation ownership

News Release

Seneca Nation of Indians

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 January 9, 2020 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 Onöhsagwe: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.”

Pictured: Historic tomahawk, a gift from George Washington to Complanter, repatriated to the Seneca Nation.
(Photo: Seneca Nation of Indians)

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.

“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 Onöhsagwe: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 716-945-1760 or visit https://www.senecamuseum.org.

Remarks by President Rickey Armstrong, Sr., Cornplanter Tomohawk Repatriation, January 9, 2020

Today is truly an important, historic, and meaningful day for all Seneca people everywhere, and especially meaningful for me as our Nation’s President.

In Seneca history, Cornplanter stands among our greatest and most respected leaders. In the time after the American Revolution, Cornplanter stood for and defended our sovereignty while forging a diplomatic bond with the new United States government.

That bond took shape in the Treaty of Canandaigua, in which the United States pledged to respect, honor, and defend our rights to our land. George Washington was so impressed with Cornplanter that he gave him this tomahawk as a gift of respect and friendship.

In the 200 years since, generations of Seneca leaders have struggled to defend our sovereignty, and we have seen our agreements broken – but never our will to live as a sovereign people.

Even as Cornplanter himself had his final resting place moved in the egregious betrayal that was the Kinzua Removal, the Seneca people resolved that what was promised to us, and what was rightfully ours – our recognition as a sovereign people – would never be stripped away from us.

It is that recognition which is reflected in this important artifact. It is more than a tomahawk – it is an enduring lesson for all Seneca people, for our friends, neighbors, and visitors, that we are Onondowagah and that this is our home, our place granted by The Creator, and forever recognized as such.

Last year, for the first time in more than 150 years, Cornplanter’s tomahawk returned to Seneca Territory. It was originally supposed to be on loan to us.

How can you loan to someone a piece of who they are? How can a reminder of one’s central identity be given to them temporarily, as if they were borrowing a tool from a neighbor or taking out a book from the library?

Thankfully, others saw and understood the greater meaning and importance of Cornplanter’s tomahawk. People who quickly understood that there was only one true home for this piece of Seneca history.

It is through their understanding and with their cooperation that some piece of our great leader’s remarkable legacy can finally – and for all time – remain on Seneca land where it belongs.

On behalf of the Seneca people, I want to thank Mark Schaming from the New York State Museum, members of the Western New York delegation, including Assemblyman Sean Ryan, and many others who saw something that was wrong and worked with the Seneca Nation to correct it.

We are grateful for your cooperation in returning this important artifact to Nation ownership.

In doing so, 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, we hope that Cornplanter’s tomahawk will shine as an example of those same ideals; as a lesson in diplomacy; and as a permanent reminder to all generations of Seneca people of our collective responsibility to always protect our identity, our sovereignty and our home.

Nya:weh. 

Seneca Nation of Indians - seal, logo small
(Photo: Seneca Nation of Indians)
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