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Haudenosaunee heritage center to become 'place of ideas'

Ellen Abbott
A display from the former Sainte Marie among the Iroquois museum.

The transformation of the former Sainte Marie among the Iroquois museum on Onondaga Lake into a Haudenosaunee heritage center continues. Museum experts are in the midst of reprogramming the focus of the museum and are looking for help from the public.

Rick Hill is a guest curator working on the interpretive script for the new Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center. He says it’s going to be a different kind of museum.

“This is going to be a place of ideas, not so much a standard museum or interpretation center," Hill said. "It’s coming here to explore the dimensions of these ideas, these concepts. What does peace mean, what did it mean, what can it mean? What do treaties mean? So it’s more of a contemplative place.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
The site of the Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center.

The museum will tell the story of the Great Law of Peace that was established on the shores of Onondaga Lake a thousand years ago, from the Haudenosaunee point of view. In the past it has been an interpretive museum chronicling the connection between the Native Americans and French Jesuits who tried to settle there.

Hill adds that the museum's focus on the Great Law adds to its educational value.

“The issues we’re talking about, the relationship to earth and the relationship to people; these are core human values," Hill said "So we’re trying to create a space that brings the values to the forefront, so hopefully when you walk in this space, you’ll get a sense of what Skä•noñh, of what peace, really means.”

That will be a big change from what central New Yorkers had come to know about what was later called Sainte Marie among the Iroquois; a living interpretative museum that explored the relationships between French missionaries and the natives they encountered while trying to settle on the shores of Onondaga Lake in the 1650s. Center Director Philip Arnold believes the transformation can meld those two ideas.

"The fort has a big place in people's imagination here in Syracuse," Arnold said. "And what we intend to do is sort of make it a little different space. What does a fort mean in the great law of peace, and the message of the Haudenosaunee."

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
A display from the former Sainte Marie of the Iroquois museum.

The Onondaga Historical Association, which has taken over management of the museum property from Onondaga County, is in the midst of holding public meetings to get a sense of what people want to see at the Center. Hill says it will be a change.

“It’s difficult to take an existing facility that had such a strong identification with it’s historical place, and kind of reprogram it and look at maybe the untold story," Hill said. "The story was still here, it wasn’t receiving it’s highlight.”

The planning is being funded through a state grant and Arnold says they will apply for another grant to pay for renovations to the structure, which has been empty for two years. The museum is expected to reopen in October of next year.

The meeting on May 7 will take place at the Skä·noñh Center (6680 Onondaga Lake Parkway, Liverpool, New York) from 7-9 p.m. Another public meeting will take place May 13 at the Onondaga Nation Arena, Tsha'Hon'nonyen'dakhwa' (400 Route 11 Nedrow, New York) from 7-9 p.m.

Everyone is also encouraged to take the Skä·noñh Center Survey by clicking here.

For more information on the Skä·noñh - Great Law of Peace Center, click here.