The land on which my home was constructed in 1910, on Oschawa Avenue off Indian Church Road at the southeastern edge of the City of Buffalo, is historically part of the Seneca Nation’s Buffalo Creek reservation. My parcel is just a few hundred feet southeast of ancient burial grounds near what is now the corner of Buffum (formerly, Buffam) Street and Fields Avenue. A 1.6-acre portion of the burial site is now called Seneca Indian Park by the City of Buffalo, and was designated a local landmark in 2011 by the City Common Council.
A primary reason for the landmark designation is the site’s affiliation with a Seneca named Otetiani (“Always Ready,” or more commonly known as Red Jacket). Here is an excerpt from the Seneca Indian Park landmark submission papers to justify the creation of the landmark:
Red Jacket was among the most important and influential Seneca leaders of the late 1700s – early 1800s. The village at Buffam Street had two important foci: the prehistoric village site and Red Jacket’s cabin. He lived middle and later years of his life in this village, walking along Buffalo and Cazenovia Creeks, conducting business at the council house a short walk away, even receiving the occasional white visitor. Red Jacket was adamant that he never wanted to leave the village – not even upon his death. He was buried accordingly, beneath a large walnut tree at the West end of the current Seneca Indian Park. Red Jacket’s former burial site is thus far more significant because it is more closely associated with his life and final wishes – indeed his cultural beliefs – than his current resting place in Forest Lawn Cemetery or any other site in Western New York. Buffam Street is significant because it was Red Jacket’s chosen and original burial location. This simple choice articulates the site’s significance even though Red Jacket’s body is no longer buried there. Red Jacket is a person of outstanding importance in Seneca history, the most ardent and recognizable protector of Seneca culture during his lifetime… [Emphasis added.]
(Red Jacket memorial in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY, photo by Art Giacalone circa 1980)
The landmark submission document also includes the following description of Otetiani/Red Jacket:
… Red Jacket, a prominent and well-spoken Seneca diplomat who lived in Buffalo Creek during the middle and later years of his life, was among the most ardent of Seneca traditionalists. His conservatism showed in his skepticism of Christian missionaries and land sales to speculators… He was involved in most of the land deals during the 1790s, as well as the delicate negotiations with U.S. emissaries interested in securing the Seneca’s neutrality at a time when Indian parties were ravaging American settlers in the Ohio Valley. Red Jacket’s peace advocacy earned him a medal from president George Washington in 1792, and the Seneca remained neutral during the settlement of Western New York.
As you most likely know, on May 17, 2021, the Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center, in Salamanca, New York , hosted a joyous celebration to honor the return to the Seneca Nation of the Red Jacket Peace Medal. I had the honor of sitting outdoors in the sun as part of the crowd attending the “repatriation” ceremony. It was with great pride and respect that the Seneca people welcomed home a truly significant cultural artifact. While I’ll talk a bit about May 17 below, that momentous event is not the focal point of this posting.
(Red Jacket Peace Medal, photo courtesy of Seneca Nation)
The information at the beginning of this piece, regarding the significance to Red Jacket and the Seneca Nation of the Buffum Street area, was provided for a reason. Just four blocks or so from the site of the Seneca Indian Park – at the corner of Cazenovia and Seneca Streets – stands a (larger than?) life-size statue of a Native American. Although the person represented by the wooden sculpture is not identified, he is conspicuously wearing a prominent oval-shape medal around his neck, and, most certainly, is Otetiani or Red Jacket.
There is one major problem, as reflected in the following photos. Over the years, the statue has been vandalized and is significantly damaged:
I am unable to identify the sculptor, and am unaware of when or how the statue’s location was chosen. But it stands next to Cazenovia Street in the City of Buffalo’s right-of-way. Officials at the city’s Parks department were cooperative earlier this year when they learned that metal detectorists and artifact-hunters had been digging at the Buffum Street sacred burial site. They responded by putting up a “No Digging” sign.
I have no reason to believe that Buffalo South District Council Member Christopher P. Scanlon and Commissioner of Public Works, Parks & Streets, Michael J. Finn, would not be equally willing to see the statue of Red Jacket returned to its original glory once the sculpture’s current condition is brought to their attention. I urge anyone interested in seeing this restoration project commenced and expeditiously brought to fruition to reach out to these public officials:
Hon. Christopher P. Scanlon, 65 Niagara Square, Room 1401, Buffalo, NY 14202; (716) 851-5169; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hon. Michael J. Finn, 65 Niagara Square, Room 502, Buffalo, NY 14202; (716) 851-5636; email@example.com.
Now let’s get back to the May 17, 2021 celebration.
Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels, and Cultural Center Director Joe Stahlman, can certainly do a much better job than I explaining the importance to the Seneca people of the “repatriation” of the Red Jacket Peace Medal. So here’s the Seneca Nation’s news release. But I do want to share two quotes that I feel capture the spirit of the day:
“This medal represents what lives inside each and every Seneca — the heart of a sovereign people and our rightful recognition as such,” said Seneca Nation President Matthew B. Pagels. “This is our identity as a Nation. It cannot be owned, bought or sold. It belongs to all of us and is passed from generation to generation so it can live forever.”
“I like to remind the United States that the Haudenosaunee — especially the Seneca – play an important role in your early survival; that is what I see when I look upon the medal,” said Dr. Joe Stahlman, director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. “We need to have moments of reconciliation. There are things from the past that still matter to many of us of here today and we need to talk about them. We need to all heal and find peace.”
I also want to mention a few of the dignitaries in attendance at the repatriation ceremony (frankly, I prefer the term “reMatriation”) who played central roles – alongside Dr. Stahlman and President Pagels – in making the return happen: Melissa Brown, Executive Director, Buffalo History Museum; State Senator Sean Ryan; Robert Jones, Seneca Nation Councilor; and, Walter Mayer, Buffalo History Museum’s Senior Director of Collections.
Lastly, I’ll end this post with images of the rarely-seen reverse side of the Peace Medal (the side closest to Otetiani’s heart) gifted by George Washington to Red Jacket in 1792 (and, reflecting the sky on 05/17/2021); the most significant piece of the cake crafted for the celebration; and, importantly, some of the folk in attendance.
(Peace Medal’s reverse side, photo by Art Giacalone 05/17/2021)
(Photo by Art Giacalone, 05/17/2021)
With All Due Respect to Otetiani and the Seneca,