Native Seneca Dance

Last Sunday I had friends in from out of town.  One of these friends had grown-up in the area but wasn’t familiar with the Seneca presence in Victor.  The Native American dance and music Festival was going on at Ganondagan, so we decided to stop over and have a look at what was going on.

I think most people in Victor are familiar with the Ganondagan State Historic Site that sits up on top of Boughton Hill south of town.  You may have noticed that they are building a museum on the grounds of the site.  This is slated to open October 3 of this year.  In an interview with the Victor Post, Peter Jemison indicated that the construction is complete and that the displays are being finalized for installation in September.  If you are a member of the friends Ganondagan, admission to the museum is free, I would highly recommend becoming a member.

When we arrived, we entered the grounds and noticed that there was something going on in the main event tent.  We made our way over and joined the crowd that were watching the native dancers.  The dancers were outfitted in native dress with feathered headdresses and beaded smocks.  We arrived in time for the dancers to be introduced.  We got to meet several generations from a two-year-old to a great-grandfather.  After the introductions the dancers began to weave through the crowd in the friendship dance.  All were invited to join in.


Longhouse InteriorAfter the dancing, my friend and I wandered up to the longhouse and joined a group of people that were looking at the inside.  The longhouse is a reproduction of those used by the Senecas.  The inside contains a group of artifacts and traditional objects that were used back in the 1600s.

There are upper and lower bunks running across both walls.  Traditionally, the upper bunk was used for storage and the lower bunk for sleeping.  Down the center of the longhouse are three hearths that were used for cooking and keeping the dwelling warm.  I noticed that the orientation of the longhouse was from East to West and while there, with the doors open, a nice breeze kept the inside cool.  This was pleasant as the outside temperature was in the 90s.

There are only two doors in the longhouse, one at either end.  Just inside the door at both ends is a small vestibule.  It appears that this was used for storage to keep wood dry and as a place to clean and prepare the herbs that were headed for the cookpot.  I suspect that the vestibules also provide a place to buffer the cold in the winter.  We see this sort of thing in current architecture as well, with an airlock as people come in the door to a business.

The longhouse is well worth seeing.  It transports you back to a simpler time where life was a full-time struggle.  Today it seems like a peaceful place to step back in history for just a moment.

When we were finished viewing the longhouse we stepped out the back and noticed that there was a tent set up and the presenter talking about flutes.  We stopped for a few minutes to listen.  I found it fascinating that he was discussing several things related to how to play a flute, how to create a flute, and how to tune a flute.

Flute LessonAs he was demonstrating the various techniques, he showed us how he must vary the breath that he produces to create the notes.  As the notes are lower, he must add additional breath to maintain the volume produced by the flute.  As the notes get higher, he must reduce his breath to keep from overdriving the note and producing a squeak.

He then discussed briefly, how to manufacture a flute, the different woods that he uses and the different techniques used to produce various flutes.  I had no idea so much was involved in creating a wooden flute.

Overall, the Ganondagan Native Dance and Music Festival was an event well worth attending.  We had a wonderful time and were pleased that the timing was such that my friend could join us from out of town.  If you have never attended this festival, it is well worth putting on your list of things to do while in Victor.