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Seventh Generation honored the Haudenosaunee (the Iroquois’ preferred name for themselves) for the gift of our name by helping out at Ganondagan’s 15th Annual Native American Dance & Music Festival and donating some dollars as a corporate sponsor. Lee and her family, Brian, Luke, and Alex, and Carl and Laurie represented Seventh Generation, with Bec and Gregor each donating their time to make our sponsorship happen.
The festival was held on July 29–30 at the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, NY. (See www.ganondagan.org.) Ganondagan sits atop a hillside outside of Rochester, NY, surrounded by acres of cleared field and woodlands. It is the site of a very important Seneca village and one can easily see the strategic advantage of its hillside perch and the abundant yield that supported a large Seneca community. The Seneca were one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois Confederacy.
The fair was spread out across a good part of the hilltop and at its busiest never felt crowded. There were tents keeping kids involved with interesting projects; docents touring groups around to permanently installed teaching plaques; displays detailing the site’s history and future; golf carts moving around the less able; a pretty continuous stream of people visiting the huge authentic Bark Longhouse reproduced from 17th Century Seneca life, There were about 32 arts-and-crafts, politics, charity and food vendor booths. Participating was a wonderful and life-enhancing experience for us Seventh Geners and families. Here's an album of photos from the event.
The day was wicked hot but thankfully there was a continuous, trickster breeze that saved us from melting, but it commanded our attention as we reset displays again and again, knocked down by Northwest Wind.
Peter Jemison (above), a Seneca elder and the site manager of Ganondagan, began the day by reciting the Thanksgiving Address, invoking and thanking the Great Spirit, the Earth Mother and all of her inhabitants. This theme continued throughout the day as people demonstrated their respect and reverence for the Earth and her inhabitants. People threw their trash in the cans and volunteers scanned for trash on the ground all day. It was very clear that you do not desecrate the Ground of your Being. As we all hurried to our cars to beat the rain at the end of Saturday, the grounds were pretty much spotless.
This was community at its very best, people joined together by blood, nation, clan, kinship, and friendship, celebrating with joy and reverence their shared heritage and very present culture. Throughout the day, people reunited with hugs, delighted to see each other, oohing and ahhing as they passed around and blessed new babies or admired little ones who had sprouted up since last visits. They paid deep respect and talked with elders, some of whom were pushed or self-navigated in wheelchairs, and they greeted newlyweds with hearty welcomes to the family. The circle of life was very real and very rich and we were enriched by our experiences.
Here’s Walter (on the left) and Darwin N. John of Lawton, NY. They were both in the movie The War That Made America.
The performances were wonderful and quite varied, from a Bolivian dance troupe radiating the music of indigenous South American people, to Arvel Bird and John Lone Eagle who taught us about how the fiddle became part of several Native American traditions. At four o'clock as we all were wilting in the heat, out came Corn Bred, an incredibly tight blues group, fronted by an excellent harp player, and our tiredness vanished. Many of the performers, together with Peter Jemison with his wife Jeanette Miller, Program Director of Ganondagan and our primary contact, taught the audiences about the traditions — the reasons and the ethics — behind the dances and music.
The raffle, this its first year, earned about $475 on Saturday and as we write this on the sunny next day, we hope it’s doing as well or better, along with the new silent auction on the next table. Jeanette complemented our many donated products with buckets, sponges, scrubbers, laundry baskets, and so forth, which Lee delighted in assembling as special raffle offerings. Seventh Gen also supported having sign language interpreters for the performances, and for the family drum jam down the hill.
Throughout the day, we listened to people's stories. From an older woman who told us about being continually thrown out of her local grocery story because she is Native American, to a young man who works with alcohal prevention and fetal alcohal syndrome, to a psychologist who works with Native American youth, embedding them in their traditions to experience the pride of their people. We were enriched by our participation and are grateful to all at Ganondagan.
At one point in the afternoon, a Native American gentleman approached the raffle table and asked if Seventh Generation was a company run by Native Americans (Carl later recognized him as Darwin John from the photo above). I indicated that we were not but that we wanted to honor the gift of our name by building a relationship with and supporting the Haudenosaunee. He commented that few people knew that a company called Scott was originally begun by Native Americans and then he shrugged, commenting that this company had forgotten where it came from. He asked me if we were going to forget where our name came from. I answered that we did not want to forget and showed him some of the information on our packaging, indicating that it served to remind us. He nodded as he considered this evidence and then said, “Good, this is good, but if you do not want to forget, then keep coming so we can remind you of what we are and why you must carry the name with honor.”