Site History: From Sainte Marie de Gannentaha to the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center
In the mid seventeenth century, the French sent an expedition down from Canada to the shores of Onondaga Lake to establish a mission. This group of men included soldiers, workmen, and Jesuit priests. They built their fortified mission on the northeast shore of the lake and called it “Sainte Marie de Gannentaha.” However, the mission lasted less than two years before peace with the local indigenous group, the Haudenosaunee, became too tenuous and necessitated its abandonment.
A reproduction of the mission was built in 1933 as part of a massive public works program. In 1975, Onondaga County Parks and Recreation started a Living History program at the site. With growing popularity, locals dubbed it “The French Fort.” The facility was completely renovated in 1990 due to the efforts of different groups and individuals to make the site more historically accurate and to help better orient patrons in a brand new visitor center. In the renamed “Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois,” visitors could trace the route the French took to North America and learn what happened when they encountered the indigenous people, the Haudenosaunee. They then took a journey back in time to visit the re-created mission and learn about daily life in the seventeenth century with the help of costumed interpreters.
Unfortunately, just over ten years after this magnificent renovation, Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois began to suffer from budget cuts. It was on the verge of being closed when The Friends of Historic Onondaga Lake stepped in and offered to run the site with volunteers, which they did for almost a decade.
Today, the Skä•noñh – Great Law of Peace Center is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Heritage Center focused on telling the story of the native peoples of central New York. The history is told through the lens of the Onondaga Nation and covers topics such as Creation, European Contact, The Great Law of Peace, and more. The Onondagas, or People of the Hills, are the keepers of the Central Fire and are the spiritual and political center of the Haudenosaune.