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225th anniversary of Canandaigua Treaty celebrated on Veterans Day

Canandaigua celebrates a historic day, despite the snow 

– By Gabriel Pietrorazio

As the City of Canandaigua was cloaked in snowfall, the Haudenosaunee and their non-Indigenous allies convened in celebration and observance of the 225th year anniversary signing of the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794.

With members present from the Six Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy, leaders of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora and Mohawk led a coordinated march along the city’s streets who were followed by members of their fellow nations and then the general public.

Departing from the Canandaigua Primary School on West Gibson, they marched along slushy asphalt and into sleeting snow, reclaiming the streets until reaching the Ontario County Courthouse.

In the open air and fresh snowfall, the tribal nations and public stood together in solidarity during this collective moment in history, which dates back to their ancestors.

Signed 225 years ago on November 11, 1794, the Treaty of Canandaigua was a document that placed trust in flourishing peace and friendship between the United States of America and Haudenosaunee.

With representatives from both sides, Colonel Timothy Pickering was hand-selected by then President George Washington to conduct the negotiations as his official agent, who was accompanied by General Isarael Chapin on behalf of the United States while the famed orator and clan-leader Red Jacket of the Seneca Nation alongside the Grand Council of the Six Nations served as consul for the Haudenosaunee.

This historic document affirmed the Haudenosaunee’s land rights, restored the custody of ceded lands from the Fort Stanwix Treaty to the Six Nations as well as formally recognized their rights to self-govern and set laws as separate tribal nations through the bestowment of sovereignty.

Although violations of the treaty have historically transpired, the Treaty of Canandaigua has never been broken and remains intact between the Haudenosaunee and United States federal government.

While this treaty may seem out-of-date or simply obsolete to some, this text is the living and breathing promise: a pact between two sovereigns, and this ceremonial observance signifies their continued commitment to the Treaty of Canandaigua 225-years later.

Peter Jemison of the Seneca Nation and Ganondagan State historic site manager emceed the commemoration ceremony and recited the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address in his native language.

Jemison who organized the celebration also invited distinguished guests in two descendants of Colonel Pickering: Timothy Pickering and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a distinguished fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, who has served as a diplomat for the United States for more than four decades.

Members of the Quaker faith were also present at the observance, signifying their ancestors’ role as the neutral-party mediators between the Haudenosaunee and United States who witnessed the original signing.

Following the Thanksgiving Address, Jemison recited the preceding history that premised the treaty agreement’s ratification.

New York State Assemblyman Brian M. Kolb [R-131] was present and read a proclamation from the state assembly that he issued on this historic day for the Haudenosaunee despite chilling outdoor temperatures.

“I know what you’re thinking: make this quick Kolb! Well I think this is an important day,” he stated.

On behalf of his district, Kolb shared his “respect, praise and sincere gratitude in honor of the Canandaigua Treaty of Peace.”

Douglas A. Fisher then recounted the treaty’s preamble and mentioned that any decision made by the Haudenosaunee was weighed seriously on how its consequences would tax the next seven generations, which served as “an excellent yardstick to measure the worthiness of any decision.”

“Ambassador Thomas Pickering was the seventh-generation descendant of Timothy Pickering; and what Timothy Pickering was able to bring about resonates today, seven generations later,” Fisher continued.

Soon after, Jemison invited Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni to offer brief remarks at the celebration.

After an unsuccessful reelection bid for mayor against Republican challenger Councilmember Bob Palumbo where she lost by a difference of 83 votes, this shall be Polimeni’s last time attending this event as the city’s mayor.

“She told me last night, 28-years as the mayor of this fine city and throughout that time period she has made it truly possible for us to have our commemoration here,” Jemison stated.

While Polimeni has attended the event each year while in-office, she also admits to participating in the march and communal celebration long before she ever became mayor of Canandaigua.

“I find it very humbling for us in this community to be able to say that we have the honor of having been the site of a historic treaty,” Polimeni stated.

Polimeni professes that treaties promote the tenets of goodwill and friendship; and she sees that these sentiments espoused within the Treaty of Canandaigua have remained among its people as the ratifying host community.

In her closing remarks, Polimeni expressed her gratitude toward Jemison for his contributions in coordinating this annual event for Canandaigua and its community.

The ceremonial observance culminated when Jemison expressed that his ancestors from the Six Nations were “very impressed” with Colonel Pickering and his sincere intentions when it came to the treaty-making process.

“Timothy Pickering was not trying to get land. That was not his goal; his goal was to try and find a peaceful way to resolve the differences and the difficulties that persisted even after the end of the Revolutionary War, leading up to the negotiations for the Canandaigua Treaty; and so they began to trust him for that very reason that there was not another ulterior motive to the work that he was doing,” Jemison concluded.

Throughout the afternoon, the Ontario County Historical Society displayed the Six Nations’ authentic copy of the Canandaigua Treaty for the public.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, FL1 News connected with Jemison to reflect upon the 225th anniversary of the Canandaigua Treaty signing and this historic day, not only for the Haudenosaunee but all Indigenous peoples.

– By Gabriel Pietrorazio

An undergraduate student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pietrorazio has written for the Town Times of Watertown, Connecticut and Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York. He’s currently a reporter for FL1 News, and can be reached at [email protected].