sarah kohl seneca nation flag

If you’re not aware, today is world heritage day. It’s clearly not one of the better holidays for selling cards, chocolate, or other gifts so I won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. World Heritage day was created to raise awareness of global cultural diversity. The International Council for Monuments and Sites, yes such a thing exists, suggest that people go visit monuments today. (They would suggest that wouldn’t they!) Instead, I would like to share a bit that I’ve learned about my own culture and heritage.

My great-grandmother was a Seneca Native American, (I’m not considered one since it was my grandfather’s mother and the Seneca’s are a matrilineal society), and while a large number of places in New York are named after nations in the Iroquois Confederacy, a shamefully limited history and understanding is taught about them. They actually played a significant role in the creation of North America as we see it today. They traded with the French and the Dutch, but shifted their loyalties to the British after the French attempted to wipe them out. Just think, you might be reading this in French had that allegiance stood longer!

One of the better elective classes I took at college was about the culture of the Seneca Nation. It was taught by a Seneca National, and offered an unexpected amount of insight. I generally dislike when people concern themselves with the polite way to say things, and try to focus more on what’s being said. So while I may at times use the word, “tribe,” when I really should say, “nation,” there was one mental correction that I did make thanks to this class. The religion of the Seneca Nation is usually framed as mythology and folklore by history. When our instructor first pointed this out I scoffed. It seemed crazy to me, who would believe their savior would show up in an iron canoe?

When our professor started to describe the insanity believed by other religions it started to make more sense. Iron ships are much more real than water turning into wine, but our society depicts Native Americans as irrelevant, historic, and primitive. That didn’t happen by accident either!

The more I read and learned about the Seneca Nation the more impressed I was by them. I love their religious allegories, but even their present-day culture is fascinating. Their society still exists despite numerous hardships and obstacles. And while the Seneca Nation has it’s problems, they are one of the few nations that owns their land instead of leasing it from the US Government. They have some insightful leaders to thank for that!

So my advice for those looking to celebrate World Heritage day, would be to do some reading about the Native Americans who helped shape this country and got nothing in return. The Seneca Nation keeps an informative website, and there’s always wikipedia.

I suppose if you still want to go to some monuments, you should. The International Council for Monuments and Sites would certainly approve!