This past Friday and Saturday, Binghamton University hosted the Haudenosaunee Festival, a two-day celebration, on its campus for the first time.
With the Haudenosaunee flag flying over campus — which will remain permanently — the events featured Indigenous speakers, dancers, vendors and more. The program was in the spirit of the Two Row Wampum — Gä•sweñta’ or The Silver Covenant Chain of Friendship — the treaty signed by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Dutch colonists in 1613 to establish a relationship between the two nations. Hosted in collaboration with the Vestal Museum, it was the seventh year that the festival was held.
BrieAnna Langlie, an associate professor of anthropology, an affiliate of Latin American & Caribbean Studies and environmental studies and the director of the Laboratory of Ancient Food and Farming, described the process of creating the partnership with the University.
“[University] President [Harvey] Stenger was approached by a community member, Bob Carpenter — who has been involved in previous festivals at the Museum — about moving the festival to campus,” Langlie wrote in an email. “Due to our garden being such a successful collaboration, Stenger contacted myself and Barrett Brenton from [the Center for Civic Engagement] and suggested we would be campus partners on this. It took Stenger no less than [5 minutes] to agree to moving the festival to campus. And we have had unwavering support from the President’s Office on the festival ever since.”
The festivities began at the Three Sisters Garden on Friday morning, where volunteers and community partners harvested the corn, beans and squash grown in the traditional manner of the Haudenosaunee Nation, after a blessing of thanksgiving by Tony Gonyea, a Wampum belt maker and a faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation.
Hailey Faurot, a sophomore majoring in environmental science, said that she felt fortunate to witness the event.
“I think it’s really awesome to have a partnership with Native Americans and these newer established college campuses,” Faurot said. “Being thankful and giving thanks is something that transcends all cultures, and it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
In the afternoon, the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation hosted their Witness to Injustice Historical Program. Adapted from a similar program developed by KAIROS Canada, it engaged students, faculty and community members to foster truth, understanding and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The color of the ribbons given to participants represented the different Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, North America and the Caribbean. Attendees stood on blankets, which were slowly taken away, pushing participants together as some sat down — representing the loss of land, life and culture that Indigenous peoples have faced over the last 500 years. Quotes from Indigenous people throughout history were read, showcasing a different perspective of history.
Cindy Squillace, one of the founders of the Witness to Injustice Historical Program, said that she hopes that the participants and observers will continue to educate themselves about the stories both, past and present, of Indigenous peoples through avenues, such as the Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center in Liverpool, New York.
The second day of the festival was on the Peace Quad from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., featuring numerous booths with goods made by Indigenous craftspeople and samples of traditional foods made from the harvest of the Three Sisters Garden. It also highlighted several organizations, including the Roberson Museum and the Public Archaeology Facility.
Mia Cucci, a second-year graduate student studying biomedical anthropology, volunteered at the event. Cucci spoke about the interest of students and community members for the festival.
“The students seem to be really enjoying it,” Cucci said. “They’ve asked a lot of questions, and I’m always excited to answer them. I love to see the curiosity. It’s not even just the students. There’s a lot of young kids here as well that seem very engaged with the culture and interested in learning about it. I feel like it came out really well. I love to be a part of it.”
T. Gonyea and Wendy Gonyea, a clan mother, also spoke about their work to repatriate the remains of Haudenosaunee people found in museums and private collections all over the world.
“They’re our ancestors, and we have to take care of them,” Gonyea said.
Chris Thomas and the Smoke Dancers performed several celebratory social dances accompanied by Thomas’s instrumentation and vocals. The women’s shuffle dance, the alligator dance, the smoke dance and more were performed before those in the crowd were invited to join.
The festival concluded with words of giving thanks from Chief Samuel George of the Bear Clan. The family structure of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is based on the clan system, with families starting from a common female ancestor and all members of the clan in a nation traditionally living in her long house.
Festivities took place in conjunction with an increase in collaboration between University faculty and regional Indigenous peoples. Langlie said that through the garden and the festival, the University’s network with Indigenous people has grown exponentially.
“The impact these folks are having on the [campus] community is growing,” Langlie wrote. “Faculty are collaborating with a few from [the] Haudenosaunee on research and grants. Faculty and students have helped out at the farm. The respect for one another and the intercultural and education exchange is enormous.”
Many organizers see the opportunity to increase collaboration between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the University. Carpenter hopes to organize a game between the Haudenosaunee Nationals, who won bronze at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships, and the BU men’s lacrosse team for next year’s festival. Langlie would like for the festival to drive interest in classes and curriculum on Indigenous peoples and continue to foster the relationship between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and BU.
“We hope this is just the beginning of collaborations, partnerships and friendships,” Langlie wrote. “We hope the festival honors the Haudenosaunee through a celebration of their culture and through educational experiences at both the Witness to Injustice event and the garden harvest. We hope that the festival creates a groundswell of interest and attention to Native American and Indigenous history and culture. We hope the festival provides a foundation for the formation of Native American and Indigenous Studies, research, curriculum, collaboration, scholarship and even faculty hiring initiatives.”