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Explore New York: National Native American Heritage Month

*Image Credit: Ganondagan State Historic Site, Photo courtesy of NYS Dept. of Economic Development/Photographer: Darren McGee

November marks National Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The now annual, month-long celebration – a time to commemorate and learn about the culture and history of the many Indigenous people in the United States — started as American Indian Day and has its roots in Upstate New York. 

In 1915, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian who later became the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y, commenced his proposal for a national American Indian Day. Now Native American Heritage Month, 30 days is not long enough to learn of the many cultures and rich histories of the Indigenous tribes of Upstate New York. Luckily, there are many cultural centers, museums, and community epicenters you can visit to expand your knowledge of Indigenous histories year-round.

Take a road trip to one (or all) of the five cultural centers highlighted here:

Iroquois Museum
324 Caverns Road
Howes Cave, NY 12092

Iroquois Museum
Photo Credit: Stephanie Shultes, Iroquois Museum

In Howes Cave, New York, between the towns of Schoharie and Cobleskill, and only 1.2 miles from Howe Caverns, you’ll find the Iroquois Museum. In fact, the museum’s architecture is in the style of the Iroquois Longhouse. Open Thursday through Sunday, there’s ample time to make a weekend trip to the museum and absorb the Iroquois art, history, and culture. The museum offers virtual field trips and tours, educational programs, online database, digitized collections, events, and more! There are plenty of opportunities to learn online if you can’t visit the Iroquois Museum in-person. 

Seneca-Iroquois National Museum
82 West Hetzel Street
Salamanca, NY 14779

Seneca Iroquois Museum
Photo Credit: Onöhsagwë:De’ Cultural Center

Open Monday – Friday, visitors will have to plan a weekday excursion to the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. Next to the Alleghany River and 20 mins from the Pennsylvania border, the museum is now housed in the newly constructed Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center. The Seneca-Iroquois National Museum features many artifacts and pieces from “the Six Hodinöhsö:ni’ Nations – Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Tuscarora- Or also known as the Iroquois.” Guests can learn the history of each nation, join in person events (such as finger weaving), or support local artists with a visit to the shop. With 11 exhibits and art collections including pottery, basketry, carvings and more, there is a lot of history to explore!

Ganondagan State Historic Site
7000 County Road 41
Victor, NY 14564

Ganondagan State Historic Site
Photo Credit: John Rozell, NYS OPRHP

A short 24 minute drive from the city of Rochester, Ganondagan is one-of-a kind for New York State, it’s the only Native American themed historic site. 569 acres marks the original site of a 17th Century Seneca town. Today, you’ll find a Seneca Bark Longhouse, the newly constructed Seneca Art & Culture Center, and hiking trails where you can go on self-guided tours. Ganondagan offers plenty of education outreach programs, community events, and group & guided tours so visitors can learn the history of “Seneca and Hodinöhsö:ni’ (Iroquois) culture and values, while learning about the important history of Ganondagan.” Open Wednesday – Saturday, a visit to the Ganondagan State Historic Site is a perfect weekend outing. The hiking trails are open to the public year-round, but the Bark Longhouse is closed as of October 31st.
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Akwesasne Cultural Center and Museum
321 State Route 37
Hogansburg, NY 13655

A mere six minutes from the Seaway International Bridge crossing into Cornwall, Canada, you’ll find the Akwesasne Cultural Center in Hogansburg, NY! The Cultural Center houses both a museum and a library offering visitors plenty of exhibits and displays to learn about the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation. Stop by the museum on the lower floor for a self-guided tour or call ahead for a guide. There you’ll see art, photography, and ethnographic pieces highlighting the Mohawk heritage. Go upstairs and visit the library which offers the community resources! The library’s specialty focuses on Mohawk and Iroquois history and culture, but you’ll also find materials on several Indigenous cultures. 

Shako:wi Cultural Center
5 Territory Rd
Oneida, NY 13421

Shakowi Cultural Center
Photo Credit: Oneida Indian Nation

Between Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY and International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, you’ll find the Oneida Nation’s Shako:wi Cultural Center. The center “explore[s] the depths of Oneida tradition and culture…[and] helps guests experience thousands of years of Oneida history.” Open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, visitors can learn about the history of lacrosse, take in the art exhibits, and see “Oneida Industries,” a panoramic display created by Dr. Arthur C. Parker! The Shako:wi Cultural Center also offers outreach programs to community schools and admission is free. Can’t stop by in person? The Oneida Indian Nation website linked above offers plenty of digital educational resources on lore, traditions, language, and more.