The 1794 Canandaigua Treaty bears universal message of peace and friendship for all people

On Sunday, crowds gathered at the Ontario County Court House to commemorate the 224th anniversary of The Canandaigua Treaty. The treaty of peace and friendship between the federal government and the Six Nations Confederacy is celebrated each year in Canandaigua where it was signed Nov. 11, 1794.

The treaty's timeless message of peace and respect continues to inspire people like Kathy Gill. A trail guide and docent for Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, the original site of a 17th century Seneca town, Gill has participated some 20 years in the annual commemoration. She never gets tired of hearing the words marking the historic pact between the United States and the Six Nations. Gill said she finds the treaty message of “peace and friendship forever” more timely than ever.

“We can do this, we can embody that,” said Gill, adding she is not giving up on those values of kindness and respect guiding the actions of all people.

The Canandaigua Treaty signified peace between the U.S. government and the Six Nations Confederacy (also known as the Haudenosaunee) comprised of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora people. The treaty recognized the sovereignty of both parties as distinct nations to govern and set their own laws. Signers were Col. Timothy Pickering — official agent of President George Washington — and sachems from the Six Nations Grand Council.

While the chain of friendship that embodies the treaty has been strained and there have been violations, the treaty remains valid and active. In 2016, Haudenosaunee leaders met with U.S. officials at the White House to commemorate and formally acknowledge the Canandaigua Treaty.

“It is an important reminder to the U.S. that the treaty continues to be valid and in effect,” said Peter Jemison, manager of Ganondagan State Historic Site. “As treaties are the supreme law of the land, the Canandaigua Treaty also provides an accepted protocol when conflicts arise.”

Neal Powless, a traditional member of the Onondaga Nation and Eel Clan, who attended treaty events, said it’s important to know the history surrounding the treaty. Powless is a Ph.D. student at Syracuse University and with his wife, Michelle, works on a number of projects involving Native American ideals and culture.

Commemorative events Sunday began with a march from the Canandaigua Primary School on West Gibson Street to the Ontario County Courthouse on North Main. Jemison introduced the ceremony with the traditional Thanksgiving address. Participating in the event were several Haudenosaunee leaders and other officials, plus Quaker representatives whose ancestors — as people of peace — witnessed the original signing to ensure fair negotiations. The Ontario County Historical Society was open for viewing one of only two original copies of the treaty, plus pertinent letters. Events also included Native American vendors at the primary school and a presentation by Jamie Jacobs (Tonawanda Seneca), “Great Law of Peace and Treaty Making.”