SALAMANCA - The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum serves its purpose well. Founded to showcase the history, culture and arts of the Seneca and other Iroquois tribes a little more than 30 years ago, it continues to provide this in a sensible location - in traditional Iroquois territory.
The museum houses a variety of permanent exhibits ranging from full-scale models to photographs documenting the life of the Iroquois.
LONGHOUSE: A TRIP TO CENTURIES AGO
The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum houses a variety of permanent exhibits ranging from full-scale models to photographs documenting the life of the Iroquois. The first exhibit in the museum, the longhouse, is seen above.
The first exhibit in the museum is also its finest. A mockup of a longhouse takes up nearly the entire length and width of the room adjacent to the main entrance.
The replica's roof and walls are covered in elm bark, the material the Iroquois would have used to side their buildings.
Two stone motors and pestles sit outside the longhouse, and a wall is left unfinished to reveal the interior of the longhouse. Inside, bunks stretch across the entire length of the longhouse. Brown and black animal skins lie on the bunks. Iroquois would sleep on the bottom bunk and store goods on the top, explained Sue Grey, museum publicity director.
Seneca-Iroquois National Museum
814 Broad St., Salamanca, N.Y.
Hours: Thursday through Monday, 9 to 5 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, closed
Cost: $5, adults; $3.50, children 7 and up; free, children 7 and under
For more information, call 945-1738.
* 32.3 miles from downtown
"It gives you a different perspective on things and an appreciation, too," said Grey standing next to the cut-away wall.
Iroquois tribes built these structures, which could measure as long as a football field and about 18 to 25 feet wide, to house familial clans. Each longhouse could accommodate up to 100 families. The replica would be similar to one built in the 1600s, Grey said.
WAMPUM: CURRENCY THEN, PRICELESS TODAY
Inside a glass display sit several wampum belts of various sizes, emblazoned with a purple and white beads. The product of honing quahog seashells, these belts today are the museum's most coveted exhibit.
"There's no price you could put on these wampum belts because if anything ever happened to them you couldn't replace them," Grey said.
Iroquois would trade for the quahog seashells, which are native to the Atlantic coast, with Native Americans who lived closer to the shells' source. After the trade, the shells would be cut using a flint drill, strung by the thousands and made into the belts. It took hours to craft one bead.
"They broke easily, so you'd have to start back at square one frequently," Grey said.
The Iroquois used the belts for ceremonial and trade purposes. One of the belts on display is a nomination belt, which a newly minted chieftain would receive when he came to rule. The belts also served as a form of currency used in a barter system.
A SHORT WALK TO THE PAST
The museum titled its newest exhibit, "This is Where We Walked," and it features a pictorial exploration of the Seneca's life before the Kinzua Dam's construction in the early 1960s.
Black-and-white photographs ring the wall of the exhibit, shots of daily life: a barn, a family standing outside their house, a few Seneca dressed in traditional clothes.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first wanted to survey the area where the dam would eventually go, it requested to survey Native land. The Seneca refused. The Corps took the matter to court.
The court ruled in the Corps' favor, the Seneca and its families lost both land and homes.
"What people are upset about is that where their homes were it never flooded," Grey said. "Even though we fought with the federal government, and we had different people try to help us out, too," the Corps still built the Kinzua Dam.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Grey said the museum hopes to add more interactive exhibits, which would help to attract more visitors.
Grey also hopes that the museum will be able to expand. Eventually, she said the museum would like to combine all the Seneca Nation's exhibits into one museum.
While the museum receives about $300,000 in funding, Grey said the museum will need increased funds for much-needed renovation. The museum needs a new building to house its expanding exhibits since it still exists in the structure built more than 30 years ago.