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Tompkins County is located in the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ (Cayuga Nation). The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ  (Guy-uh-KO-no) "People from the Swampy Land", are one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (sometimes referred to as the Iroquois Confederacy). Tompkins County was also home to the native nations adopted by the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ ; the Saponi and the Tutelo (Deyodi:ho:nǫˀ), who fled to this region in the mid 1700's, escaping colonization by European immigrants farther South. The History Center and all our programs occur on land that has been cared for and called home by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for over 1,000 years, and the Indigenous cultures ancestral to the Confederacy for time immemorial.  

The State of New York declared a "American Indian Day" of recognition in 1916, and as part of the 1976 bicentennial celebrations President Gerald Ford proclaimed October 10th-16th Native American Awareness Week. In 1986 President Reagan proclaimed November 23rd-30th "American Indian Week." This week of recognition of the Indigenous nations of North America was celebrated in September in 1988, and in December 1989.

In 1990 President George H. Bush signed joint resolution G.J.Res.577 designating the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Although it is more commonly referred to as Native American Heritage Month or American Indian Heritage Month. In 2008 commemorative language was amended to include Alaskan Natives.

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick with Brandon Lazore (Onondaga) and Lazore's design for the Two Row Renewal Mural located on Green Street in downtown Ithaca. 2013.

Detail of 'The Two Row wampum (Gä•sweñta’). The Two Row is the first recorded treaty between the Haudenosaunee and European settlers, created after a series of meetings in 1613 between the Mohawk and Dutch immigrants'. Belt woven by Rich Hamel, and included in the 'Art of Wampum' 2021 exhibit.  

Two and a half miles north of Robert H. Treman State Park, is the Town of Ithaca’s Tutelo Park, which honors the nearby 18th century town of Coreorgonel (Translation: Where We Keep the Pipe of Peace). Coreorgonel was settled in the mid 1700's by the Tutelos who had fled British Euro-colonial intrusion in their homelands of modern-day Virginia. The Tutelos were subsequently adopted by the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ. In 1779 the scorched earth Sullivan-Clinton Campaign ordered by General George Washington destroyed twenty five or more Tutelo houses, and extensive croplands at their town of Coreorgonel. American soldiers diaries do not record loss of life at the burning of Coreorgonel. It is assumed that the Tutelos and Saponinis who had lived in the community escaped and joined other Haudenosaunee refugees fleeing the genocidal campaign that burned more than forty villages across New York State displacing tens of thousands of Haudenosaunee from their homelands. 

From 1993-1996, Cornell landscape Architecture professor Sherene Baugher and local city planner George Frantz conducted an archaeological study of Inlet Valley to identify and preserve Native American sites, although the exact location of the Tutelos village site was not found.

On September 23rd, 2007, Tutelo Park was established in Inlet Valley. The opening ceremony, attended by surviving Tutelo elders, included a memorial to the Tutelos, storytelling, performances from the Haudenosaunee singers and dancers, and other Native American crafts, workshops, activities, and food. The celebration was an expansion on the annual relighting of the sacred Tutelo Council Fire, which represents a symbolic return of the Tutelo to the Inlet Valley.


For pronunciation of the names of the original inhabitants of the Ithaca area, Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ is approximately Guy-yo-KO-no and Haudenosaunee is approximately Ho-di-no-SO-ni*. Cayuga or Kayuga is considered an anglicization (English-derived) of  Please listen to Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ language teacher Stephen Henhawk’s pronunciation in this video  associated the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ language course he taught at Cornell. Saponi is pronounced "Sah-PO-nee", and Tutelo is "Too-tuh-low".

The History Center uses the spellings and terms for the Indigenous peoples of this region currently most in use by the traditional leadership of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ *. The previous common-place name used to represent the Six Nations, "Iroquois", is believed to be a gallicized (French-derived) word from a Huron/Algonquian word which translates to "Black Snakes" or "real adders". It is interpreted by some as a derogatory term used during a period when the Huron and Haudenosaunee were warring, and was not a term originating in a Haudenosaunee language. Haudenosaunee translates to "People building an extended house" or "People of the Longhouse" and describes both the traditional structures the Six Nations lived in, and a representation of the original agreement of their Confederacy (Hiawatha Belt); learn more about the use of Haudenosaunee vs. Iroquois in this video from New York State Museum. There are still multiple treaties, political agreements, community groups, and institutions that use the moniker "Iroquois" but it is falling out of favor in preference to Haudenosaunee.

*Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ and Haudenosaunee are both words originating in the Iroquoian family linguistic group and may have subtle differences in pronunciation in different dialects. They may also be presented with a variety of spellings in the Roman alphabet. Here are some examples: 

  • Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ - also: Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ, Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ', Gayogohó:nǫ˺, Gayogohó:nǫ7, Gayógweo:nö’, Guyohkohnyoh, Goiaconyo, Goiacono, Kwĕñio’ gwĕn
  • Haudenosaunee - also: Hodinǫ̱hsǫ́:nih, Hodinöhsö:ni’, Hodinoshoni, Hodenosaunee, Hodenushonnees
  • Iroquois - see also: Irekwa, Ieroquois, Irokois, Irkwah

The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ People in the Cayuga Lake Region: A Brief History


DONATE a copy to Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Lanugage Students

Published by the Tompkins County Historical Commission in 2022

Professor Kurt Jordan's history of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ brings forward a part of the history of the Cayuga Lake region that had been formerly romanticized or forgotten altogether. It begins at the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago, and traces the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ people up to the reoccupation of their traditional territory in 2003, and through current events through 2021. Jordan’s short (80-page) book is constructed as a Western-style history that relies mainly on the written record, archaeological evidence, and some community-based oral histories that Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ people shared with him. Readers will think differently about ancient history, recent events, and the landscape of the region after reading this book. Kurt Jordan is Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian and Indigenous Studies at Cornell University. He currently directs Cornell's American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP). Jordan has studied the archaeology and history of Indigenous peoples in the Finger Lakes region in conjunction with members of the Hodinǫ̱hsǫ́:nih Nations since 1999.

Who are the Cayuga/Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫɁ ?

The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ are members of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy which consists of 6 Nations: The Ganyę́gehó:nǫˀ (Mohawk) Nation, the Onę́yotga:ˀ (Oneida) Nation, the Onǫdagehó:nǫˀ (Onondaga) Nation, the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ (Cayuga) Nation, the Onǫdawáˀga:ˀ (Seneca) Nation, and the Dahsgaó:węˀ (Tuscarora). Within the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee the Chiefs or Sachems are dived into Elder Brothers and Younger Brokers with the MOhawks, Onondagas and Senecas making up the Elder Brothers, and the Cayugas and Oneidas are the Younger Brothers.

Before European-Colonial contact the Cayuga lived in longhouses as did all the nations of the Haudenosaunee. This is why the Haudenosaunee are known as the “People of the Longhouse”. Longhouses are structures that are held up by logs and were originally shingled with the bark of elm trees. Several families would live in one long structure, and each family would have their own fire within the building. 

Within each of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee there are a number of matrilineal clans. In the case of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ there are five clans. There is the Heron (sganyaˀdí:ga:ˀ) clan, the Turtle (ganyáhdę:) clan, the Bear (hnyágwaiˀ) clan, the Wolf (otahyǫ́:ni:) clan, and the Snipe (du:wisdu:wi:ˀ) clan. 

Clans are represented by birds and animals and those are divided into three elements. There is the land group of which the bear, wolf, and dear clans belong. Next there is the air group of which the snipe, hawk, and heron clans belong. Finally there is the water group of which the eel, beaver, and turtle clans belong. Each of the Haudenosaunee Nations are broken up into several clans ranging from three to eight. Not all tribes have the same clans.  

Art, sports, games, music, and storytelling were used as entertainment, but also as a way to continue to share the culture with new generations. The Cayuga also observed various ceremonies which were held at various points throughout the year, often occurring after seasonal changes. Ceremonies each have an opening and closing prayer and include song and dance. 

Some annual ceremonies recognized are:
    • Midwinter (2nd week in January, goes on for about 8 days)

    • Maple Ceremony (second week in february, one day)

    • Thunder Dance (first week in April)

    • Sun and Moon Dance (Beginning of May to give thanks to the sun, second week in May to give thanks to the moon in the morning and evening) 

    • Seed Ceremony (Middle of May, 1 day)

    • Planting Ceremony (End of May)

    • Strawberry Ceremony (Middle of May, 1 day)
    • Green Corn (Middle of August)
    • Harvest (Middle of October, 4 days)
    • Thunder (November)

Following the signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua, and the illegal claiming of Indigenous lands by the U.S. government, the Cayuga and Oneida Nations of today are the only Haudenosaunee nations that do not govern a reservation within their traditional territories. Many Cayuga's continue to fight for treaty rights and the return of the ancestral lands. Modern Cayuga's live across the United States with larger communities living in New York, and Canada. Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ is considered a critically endangered language, with less than 20 native speakers still alive in 2024. Modern collaborations like the Gayogo̱hó:nǫˀ Learning Project headquartered in Ithaca are working to preserve, teach, and revitalize the Gayogo̱hó:nǫˀ language.

Who are the Cayuga living in Oklahoma?

During the conflicts of the 1700's groups of Cayuga pushed to the far reaches of Haudenosaunee territory to escape encroachment from arriving Europeans. Many of these descendants of the Six Nations created their own governing systems as they moved farther from the reach of the Six Nations Grand Council still headquartered in present-day Central New York. A community of Seneca and Cayuga living in the region of present-day Ohio during the late 1700s became known as the "Mingoes". In 1831 the Mingoes living in Ohio accepted a reservation plot in the Cherokee Nation in then-called Indian Territory (today Oklahoma) as all the native nations living in the Ohio-region were again being forced out as Europeans arrived. Other communities of Seneca, Cayuga, and Shawnee living in the Ohio-region were forced to relocate to Indian Territory throughout the 1800s. Nations forced onto "Indian Territory" created new communities, and political structures as they tried to preserve their varied cultures when forced away from their traditional homelands and cultural touchstones. Some of those communities became the Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma, which was chartered as a Federal Corporation on June 26th, 1936, per pressure from the U.S. government for the tribes living in Oklahoma to restructure their governments away from their traditional structures. 

The Seneca-Cayuga Nation has maintained their original clan structures to the present day, and rebuilt their governing structure in the model of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee. They have a tribal jurisdictional area in the northeast corner of Oklahoma and are headquartered in the town of Grove.

    Who are the Saponi & Tutelo?

    Both the Tutelo and the Saponi were originally Indigenous nations living in the in the Mid-Atlantic region of North American. Before joining with the Cayuga in Upstate New York in the 1700's they resided primarily in Virgina and were known to be part of the Eastern Siouan tribes. Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ and all of the Haudenosaunee languages are grouped as part of the Iroquoian-Siouan linguistic group and are believed to have historic cultural and linguistic relationships across centuries. Due to ongoing conflict with the Haudenosaunee and their allies, the Tutelo and Saponi were forced to move further south to the Carolinas where they ran into the Tuscarora. Some then joined the Tuscarora. However, ultimately the Tuscarora joined the Haudenosaunee in 1722, as would the remaining Saponi and Tutelo in the next few decades. 

    Some Saponi and Tutelo worked alongside other native tribes in Virgina to make deals with then governor Alexander Spotswood that would provide them with protection from the Haudenosaunee as well as government support, allowing them to stay in Virgina. Fort Christanna was established circa 1714 and a treaty was signed as a result of these dealing, and for a time this worked well. The treaty also combined the Saponi, Tutelo, Occaneechee, and Eno (Stuckanox) nations, as well as a few other related ones, into one big tribe that became known collectively as the Saponis. 

    Their relationship with the Virginia state government began to sour as increasing number of European colonists settled in their traditional territories during the 1700s, and as a result the collective Saponis tribes began to separate again. This led some of the Saponi to travel to New York. They gave in and joined the Haudenosaunee despite their tumultuous history, getting adopted into the Cayuga nation in 1740. The Tutelo eventually travelled north as well, and were formally adopted by the Cayuga nation in 1753. 

    Recognizing this diaspora and history of forced relocation there are now modern Saponi descendant communities located in Ohio and North Carolina. On September 23rd, 2007, Tutelo Park was established in Inlet Valley just outside the City of Ithaca to recognize the loss of the village of Coreorgonel, burned on September 23rd by the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. The opening ceremony for the park was attended by Tutelo elders.




    We encourage educators at all levels teaching in Tompkins County to include Haudenosaunee perspectives in your lesson plans and teaching. A number of Haudenosaunee-created learning materials are shared with permission and available for download on our Educator-Resources History at Home web page. 

    Group of Six, a collective of Indigenous youth artists from the Six Nations of the Grand River reservation created a 70 page coloring book highlighting Mohawk and Cayuga words and customs. 

    The Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma has also made their Ceremonial Calendar Coloring Book available for public use.


    Download the Speak Cayuga app for free from the App Store and learn how to speak Cayuga, the native language of the Gayogohó:nǫˀ.


    Learn about the Haudenosaunee from these Indigenous Led Institutions & Organizations

    Visit Ganondagan State Historic Site and Seneca Art & Culture Center in Victor NYGanondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY is a National Historic Landmark, the only New York State Historic Site dedicated to a Native American theme (1987), and the only Seneca town developed and interpreted in the United States. Spanning 569 acres, Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan) is the original site of a 17th century Seneca town, that existed there peacefully more than 350 years ago. The culture, art, agriculture, and government of the Seneca people influenced our modern understanding of equality, democratic government, women’s rights, ecology and natural foods.

    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 Haudenosaunee.

    Skä•noñh, is an Onondaga welcoming greeting meaning “Peace and Wellness.”

    Seneca-Iroquois Museum in Salamanca NY proudly houses an extensive collection of Hodinöhsö:ni’ historical and traditionally designed decorative and every-day-use items and archaeological artifacts. SINM, along with the Seneca Nation Archives Department, are the safe keepers of historical documents, including articles, special publications, historical and family photographs and various multi-media productions regarding the Onöndowa’ga:’ and Hodinöhsö:ni’.

    Virtual Tours and Educational videos – Seneca Iroquois National Museum

    Gayogohó:nǫˀ Learning Project is a partnership of indigenous and non-indigenous people working to promote awareness and practice of Gayogo̱hó:nǫˀ (Cayuga) language in its ancestral homeland and beyond. We hope to carry the idea of sgę́:nǫˀ gó:wah into our work, cultivating peace and cooperation through education and community outreach.

    Connect with Modern Cayuga/Gayogohó:nǫˀ & Saponi  Communities in North America

    Groups or political affiliations with Tutelo descendants are encouraged to reach out to us to be featured here.

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    Ithaca NY, 14850 USA

    Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Territory


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