As part of the observance and ceremonial activities taking place for the 2013 National Sacred Places Prayer Days, several members of the Iroquois community and the public will celebrate in a “Gahnonyoh” or Thanksgiving prayer at the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, New York, at the Great White Pine Tree of Peace June 21 at 11:45 a.m. (Related story: “National Sacred Places Prayer Days Starts Tomorrow”)
G. Peter Jemison, the Seneca caretaker of the site, said Ganondagan is sacred to his people because nearby are the remains of Jikonhsaseh, the Mother of Nations. Jikonhsaseh was the first person to accept the message of peace brought by the Peacemaker, who united the Haudenosaunee or Five Nations: Seneca Nation, Cayuga Nation, Onondaga Nation, Oneida Nation and Mohawk Nation. The Tuscarora later joined the Haudenosaunee to make it six nations.
Ganondagan is also the site of the 17th century town, once the capitol of the Seneca Nation, which was destroyed by the French in 1687. Louis XIV, frustrated that Indians would not grant a monopoly of the fur trade to the French and were still trading with the English and Dutch sent an army to destroy the Ganondagan town site as well as three others.
In 1987, an Iroquoian advisory committee created the official Ganondagan State Historic Site, in an attempt to thwart any further archaeological destruction while creating awareness of how sacred the area is.
Jemison and others planted a white pine tree at the base of the main exploratory trail to commemorate the history of the Iroquois peoples.
“We decided to dedicate this site and plant a white pine tree of peace in the summer 300 years from when it was originally attacked and destroyed by the French. We decided to bring it back to life and restore its meaning for us,” Jemison said. “The Peacemaker chose the white pine because the needles grow in clusters of five just like our five original nations.
“Picture in your mind a time when our people were constantly engaged in warfare and people were living in fear because there was constant killing and blood feuds that were taking place. Our Creator took pity on us and decided to send us a messenger with a message of peace.”
Jemison explained that the great Peacemaker came to the Iroquois people and impressed upon them to choose peace. As a gesture to continue this practice, the Peacemaker asked them to bury all of their weapons under a white pine tree.
“The tree is evergreen and will continue to grow even in harsh winter months and there are roots that grow in the four directions. They dug a hole beneath the tree and there they cast the weapons of war. They allowed the underground streams to carry away the weapons of war,” Jemison said.
He also described how the Great White Tree of Peace is symbolized on the Iroquoian wampum belt and how anyone can embrace the message of peace while honoring sacred sites. He said this is the message he will share June 21.
“I will say why we are meeting at the Great White Tree of Peace and about the protection of sacred sites which is the purpose of this annual gathering. People across the country in their communities will be going to a sacred site and drawing attention to that particular sacred site,” he said.
“We are reminding people that this site is sacred to us because of its association with the mother of nations and also because our people lived and died here and some of them are buried here. We want to continue to protect this site from people who would not respect that,” he said.
Spiritual leaders and the general public are invited to gather before noon near the Great White Pine at the head of the Trail of Peace. Photography is not permitted.