On Nov. 28, professor of history Michael Oberg presented a lecture titled “What New York Students Should Learn, But Aren’t Taught, About the Iroquois.”
Oberg discussed Geneseo’s Native American studies program, saying, “We offer these courses not just as bait but because, in my view, the place of [American] Indians in New York state and the U.S. are major issues of public policy and governance. They are issues of law, justice and sovereignty.”
Initially, Oberg said there’s a fallacy that Iroquois history “is especially difficult to unearth.”
According to Oberg, “[The Iroquois] appear everywhere from colonial period up to present day” and evidence of this can be seen through papers of presidents, governors, missionaries, priests and within state documents.
Oberg outlined the ways in which the Iroquois were important in history.
“One need not rely on facile and discredited ideas, the Iroquois influenced the American constitution,” he said.
Oberg said there is evidence of English and French settlers who wrote about Iroquois culture and society. While the settlers overstated the strength of the natives, “the [European] empires in [America], in their view couldn’t succeed without Indian alliances,” he said.
“People who have an interest in Native American history often embrace the story of decline and disappearance, the vanishing American,” Oberg said, while speaking about current perceptions of the Iroquois.
According to Oberg, many believe that the Iroquois were influential, but their influence was short-lived because they were quickly colonized and “made subjects to their colonial overlords.”
Oberg said that, although the Iroquois were effectively colonized by 1720, “There was no sign in archeological record of decline.”
He said the Iroquois disposition was absolutely central to the rise of New York state. He said that, in the aftermath of the American Revolution, “New York state gobbled up lands in a large number of transactions, all of which violated laws of the U.S.” The transactions were “demonstrably fraudulent” because the Iroquois agreed to lease their land, but the treaty would often reflect that they sold their lands instead.
“These are not stories New York should be proud of, but that we should be aware of,” Oberg said. O
berg concluded his lecture by discussing Iroquois education in schools.
“Sixth graders learn that the Iroquois had longhouses,” he said. He added that there is “the notion that somehow [American] Indians are part of the past, that they are no longer around.”
“I did not know much about the Native Americans. I enjoyed it because it changed the way I think about traditional education,” sophomore Theodore Tetrault said.
Jerome Majewski, a member of the Turtle Clan of Oneida, spoke highly of the lecture.
“I thought it was very good and informative. I think [Oberg] has a great balance of knowledge, presentation and finesse,” he said.