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Seneca-Iroquois National Museum Celebrates Anniversary
By SHARON TURANO
Seneca Indians perform during the 30th anniversary of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum on Tuesday. P-J photo by Sharon Turano
8/8/2007 - SALAMANCA — Richard West, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, wants to support community efforts to preserve the history that is featured at the national museum over which he presides.
Perhaps that is why he visited the 30th anniversary of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum on Tuesday.
West said the national museum is ‘‘an international institution of living culture,’’ but, he said, preserving that culture where it began has to also be a strong effort.
Beginning the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum was the effort of people like Cal Lay, the Seneca Nation president, when an idea for a museum began.
He came Tuesday to celebrate, too, as did current Seneca President Maurice A. John Sr.
John was part of the Tribal Council when the museum idea began, sponsoring one of the resolutions to begin the museum’s formation. John said he sponsored that resolution so a museum could help people remember the Nation’s history.
It was the dream of Seneca elders, he said, to preserve the past after some Seneca land was lost due to the construction of the Kinzua Dam, not long before the museum took shape.
‘‘Our lives were forever changed,’’ said John about the dam’s construction and how it affected Senecas, some of whose homes were burned to make room for flooding the dam would cause. Preserving the lifestyle he said was lost was a museum goal, he said. Today, the museum boasts one of the largest collections of artifacts in the country, officials said.
‘‘It’s a gathering place for artifacts,’’ said John.
It is more than that, however, said Barry White, museum board of directors chairman.
‘‘We wanted a place our children could learn our way of life,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ve come a long way, baby.’’
The Senecas’ journey is not one soon over, however, said West.
‘‘It’s an effort to affirm ... history and continuance into the future,’’ he said.
The museum’s future, said John, may include a new building to house parts of the Seneca past, as the museum continues to grow.