Seneca Nation of Indians
The Seneca Nation of Indians has a long-standing relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), located in western North Carolina, dating back to ancient times. That relationship will be strengthened on Sunday, August 4 – the first anniversary of the opening of the Seneca Nation’s Onöhsagwende’ Cultural Center, which houses both the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum and the Seneca Nation’s Archives Department - through a special nation-to-nation repatriation of two Cherokee Booger masks.
Seneca-Iroquois National Museum staff came across two ceremonial masks in their collection that were suspected to have come from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They were determined to be Booger masks, as confirmed by Bo Taylor, former Director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. These masks, which are only to be touched by men, are used during the Green Corn Ceremony that commonly takes place in mid-August. The Booger Dance is performed during this season of harvest to ward off bad spirits and to let go of any negative thoughts or feelings from the previous year, ensuring a new year with a fresh start.
Tribal elder Bernice Bottchenbaugh expressed her delight in the exchange relaying, “I am so pleased that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will be receiving these traditional masks. This ceremony is not just something our ancestors practiced, but a living tradition practiced by my family and others within the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. This is a special occasion for our tribe, and I am so humbled to be involved in this exchange.”
Seneca-Iroquois National Museum Director Joe Stahlman, highlighting the significance of this moment, states, “Repatriation from Native nation to Native nation is uncommon. It typically occurs between university, state, federal, or any institution receiving federal funds and the Native nation where the cultural items originated. We are very pleased to be able to host a delegation from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and offer this as part of our cultural center’s anniversary celebration.”
Leadership of both nations will be present at the event.
“As Native nations, we share a bond and a deep-rooted understanding and appreciation for one another and for each other's history and culture,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. “Being able to welcome our Eastern Cherokee friends to Seneca Territory so that we may return these important cultural artifacts to them is a true honor.”
“I appreciate the willingness of the Seneca Nation of Indians to return these masks to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I am honored the Seneca Nation of Indians considered this exchange and I am delighted our two tribes are able to come together for this special event,” says Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indians, the official repository of historical and cultural Cherokee artifacts, has agreed to house the masks in their archives. Plans regarding long-term storage and display will be coordinated with Museum staff and Cherokee cultural leaders and elders.
“The Museum of the Cherokee Indians is honored to be able to house these important cultural artifacts on behalf of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Protecting and preserving relics such as this is the main mission of the Museum of the Cherokee Indians,” says Museum of the Cherokee Indians Acting Director Dawn Arneach.
The stunning new Onöhsagwe:de’ Cultural Center opened last year on the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory. Measuring 33,000 square feet, the museum is inspired by Native oral history and designed to guide and immerse visitors throughout. Educational programs, including lectures, cultural presentations, plays for children, concerts and other events can be held in the auditorium, which can accommodate up to 400 people.
The museum is open seven days a week. For information, call 716-945-1760 or visit https://www.senecamuseum.org.