In 2015, College of Arts and Sciences art history Professor Romita Ray organized the University’s first public Diwali celebration on campus. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Hindu festival held each October or November in India where…
First Phase Complete of New Onondaga Art Installation on the Quad
Those strolling through the Kenneth A. Shaw Quadrangle may notice a new addition to the landscape this week, as the first phase of a new Onondaga Art Installation—led by the Indigenous Students at Syracuse (ISAS), Native Student Program, Ongwehonwe Alumni Association and Haudenosaunee/Indigenous alumni representatives—is complete and fencing around the installation has been removed.
The Onondaga Art Installation, which was first requested by Indigenous students, will serve as a permanent acknowledgement of the relationship between Syracuse University and the Onondaga Nation and the University’s presence on ancestral land.
This initial phase of the project establishes the footprint and landscape for the art installation on the southeast corner of the Quad, outside of Bowne Hall and across from the Orange Grove. The planting of a white pine tree within five granite pillars seeks to represent the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which was made of five nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca (Tuscarora would join in the 18th century).
Natural and durable elements meant to withstand Central New York weather conditions were selected to articulate a connection to the natural world and ensure the installation’s status as a permanent part of the campus landscape. In the middle of a circular sidewalk, surrounded by granite boulders and affixed to two white pine posts, is a temporary sign explaining the project’s current status.
Later this year, the temporary sign will be replaced with commissioned artwork by Onondaga artist Brandon Lazore and additional text will be included to draw attention to the Land Acknowledgment read prior to all official University events. Once the commissioned artwork is installed, a formal dedication and unveiling event will be held, anticipated in early 2022.
Lazore says his artwork is nearly complete and is a representation of the forming of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy; how the different nations of the confederacy opted to live amongst one another in peace and harmony rather than engage in civil war; and the influence that Indigenous peoples had on the founding of democracy within the United States of America, and then later on the women’s rights movement.
“I am excited and honored to be involved in this project,” Lazore says. “This is something that will be good for the community and for Indigenous people as a whole, not only in Syracuse but throughout the U.S. and Canada. It makes a huge statement that the University is invested in us—they have put in the effort to work with Indigenous people and to let us tell our story through our own words and highlight things in history that aren’t typically spoken about.”
“We are grateful for Syracuse University’s commitment to dedicating permanent space on campus to educate through this incredible Onondaga artwork by Brandon Lazore. The rich history of the Onondaga Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, these lands and our peoples will be shared with all that visit this exceptional campus,” says Tadodaho Sidney Hill. “The collaboration between the University and the Onondaga Nation continues to be strengthened by the mutual demonstration of peace, friendship and respect.”
Alumna and activist Danielle Smith ’19, G’20 says she is relieved to see the art installation on campus come to fruition. “As an Onondaga woman who is Hawk clan, I am grateful to all of the Indigenous students and staff who helped to make this happen,” she says. “By representing Onondaga Nation stories on campus, I hope it urges more faculty, departments and students to find out the true history of Haudenosaunee people and educates people who are new to campus that we, Indigenous people, are still here.”
Maris Jacobs ’19, from the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory near Montreal, Quebec, became involved in the art installation during her senior year as a member of ISAS and feels strongly about seeing it through to completion. “This installation is important because so often, we [Indigenous students] are not visually represented in the classroom,” she says. “Students can go their whole time at Syracuse University without ever truly understanding what they are doing by listening to or saying the land acknowledgment.”
Ionah M. Elaine Scully (Cree-Métis, Michel First Nation), a Ph.D. candidate in cultural foundations of education in the School of Education, says that as an Indigenous guest on Onondaga lands, they are honored to support the work of making the art installation on campus happen. “It is my responsibility to uplift and support Onondaga experiences and sovereignty,” Scully says. “As the art is created by an Onondaga artist, the project stewarded by Onondaga and other Haudenosaunee peoples and the space around the installation a space for Indigenous knowledges to be centered, it almost feels as if this project is a tiny moment of reclamation of our space as Indigenous people.”
“The Onondaga Art Installation will serve many functions, not only as a display of Indigenous art but also as a gathering place, a teaching place, a safe and brave place that sparks and sustains both conversations and actions,” says the Rev. Brian Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel, who has been helping to facilitate the project. “I am grateful for the tremendous efforts of our students in making this all possible, and I look forward to our continued collaboration.”
“I hope people take the opportunity to appreciate not only the artwork, but the space and the land acknowledgment as well,” Jacobs says. “I think a strong understanding and awareness of the lands you occupy and study on should be part of the Syracuse University experience and carried with you long after you leave.”