Iroquois Indian Museum
Who is considered Haudenosaunee/Iroquois? Who gets to decide who belongs and who does not? These questions are at the heart of an exhibition called Identity/Identify at the Iroquois Indian Museum. Learn more about these complex issues with producer Matt Rogowicz
- I'm here at the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave,
New York to speak with their director and curator,
and learn more about their exhibit Identity/Identify.
- Our mission is to try to teach our visitors
about who the Iroquois people are today.
Iroquois are still here.
They're a very vibrant culture.
They're a very enduring culture.
And their traditions have maintained
through all these thousands of years.
The building is designed to look like
a traditional Iroquois longhouse.
So it's very long and it's high.
And it evokes the feeling of the bark longhouses
that Iroquois lived in in the past.
Well, I will say Iroquois, actually the proper term
for the group that were the original New York peoples
is the Haudenosaunee.
And that is the name that they prefer to be called by.
It means people of the longhouse.
But we often learn in school and we hear Iroquois a lot.
And that was a name that was given to the group
by the French and the Algonquins,
which is not a very complimentary name,
but it's one that most of us recognize.
So I will maybe go back and forth
in terms of Iroquois and Haudenosaunee.
But they were the original inhabitants of New York state.
Their ancestors trace back to 10,000 years ago.
So they've been here a long, long time.
And if you speak to many Iroquois people,
they believe that they came from New York state.
And so their creation story is that they began here.
- This is Identity/Identify.
And the idea behind this exhibition was to look at
who is Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois?
Who is not considered Haudenosaunee?
And who gets to decide?
Those things impact an individual's day-to-day life.
Everything from where you live, to your job opportunities,
to participation in ceremonies, and your national identity.
- The Iroquois are a matrilineal society.
So they go by your mother.
So if your mother is non-native and your father is native,
you often are not considered native.
- This idea of who is Haudenosaunee is really complex.
The Canadian government passed
something called the Indian Act, in 1876.
They took what was a matrilineal system with,
through the women's lines,
and imposed a European system on it,
which was that they recognized,
Canada recognized the men in native communities.
And heritage being passed through the men's lines,
which totally disrupted the traditional system.
If a Mohawk man married a non-native,
according to that Canadian system,
his new wife who was non-native became Mohawk.
By having married a Mohawk man.
Mohawk women, on the other hand,
who have always carried the lineage,
when they married a non-native,
they had to leave the reservation.
And they were then stripped of their Mohawk ethnicity.
So they were no longer on the tribal rolls.
Their children, consequently, were not Mohawks.
And so this entire system became totally disrupted.
100 years later, it was changed
because it was seen as gender biased.
And many of these Mohawk women
wanted to return to their communities.
But there's a lot of resistance to that
within the communities,
because these are individuals who have been
apart from their communities for a long time.
Their children don't know the traditional ways.
The people in the communities don't really recognize them.
So you have that happening.
The American government decided to have,
in 1934 I believe it is,
imposed something called blood quantum.
And it sounds very scientific.
And basically blood quantum gave
the United States government said,
we'll decide who's native and who's not.
And they based it on a system
that went back to tracing lineage,
ethnicity through individual's position
to an ancestor who was on the tribal rolls.
- [Stephanie] So it was all those issues,
looking at how the artists reflect those kinds of issues,
and what they're creating,
and what they're saying about that.
- The issue of enrollment and blood quantum
is a good conversation.
One that is taking place more
and more within our native communities.
And I started as an enrolled person,
I felt it was necessary to sorta speak out
on behalf of the descendants,
because oftentimes they don't get the same benefits
as us enrolled members.
- Hayden Haynes is a very accomplished antler carver.
and he is from Cattaraugus reservation,
which is a Seneca reservation in Western New York.
Basically these two elements represent
two groups of people within his community.
Those who are enrolled, represented by the fat cat.
He calls that element, the dependents.
And those who are unenrolled, who are the descendants.
And so he's chosen to portray
the unenrolled folks in his community
as those who are constantly scavenging for whatever is left,
and getting the bits and pieces that are left behind.
Versus the dependents, which are the enrolled Seneca's,
who have in his, according to Hayden,
they've had so much handed to them
that they've simply become entitled,
and expectant, and lazy as a result of it.
- You know, there's a lot of times
when our descendant brothers and sisters will get sort of
shunned in a ways when it comes to certain things,
by our own people, by saying, well, they're not enrolled,
so they don't have the right to say this.
Or they're not enrolled,
so we're not including them in this.
And, you know, we should be open-minded
to what we can do for our descendant sisters and brothers.
- We're talking about the Iroquois, but there are many,
many other cultures who this, a similar thing occurs.
And so one of the things that we have in the exhibit
is a blackboard where people can write,
how do you feel like you are accepted.
And the responses we're getting are great.
So it's not just one targeted audience.
It's how do people feel about,
how do they identify, in various ways.