Long before European settlers set foot on this land, five thousand years before New York was New York, Indian nations had built thriving civilizations here. The culture and customs of these first inhabitants helped shape New York and 200,000 Native Americans living throughout the state remain a vital force today.
Their legacy can be seen through art, artifacts and recreated historical structures like longhouses at museums, cultural centers and other historic sites.
Below are ideas to help you get started on your Native American Path Through History!
- The National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian, is located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan and explores the diversity of the Native people of the Americas with programs like music, dance, films and symposia, as well as permanent and temporary exhibitions that draw upon 700 artifacts and works of art, like headdresses, instruments, baskets and clothing.
The History Museum, part of the Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park in Bear Mountain (trailsidezoo.org), looks at local Native American and early settler culture with exhibits and programs.
- The ongoing Native Peoples of New York exhibit at the New York State Museum in Albany includes realistic dioramas, scale models, artifacts and a life-size longhouse, brought to life by new computer stations presenting the museum's latest research.
- Long before serving as one of the largest British fortifications in North America, Rogers Island was home to Native Americans who began hunting and fishing there as long ago as 4000 BC. Guests to the Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward can see artifacts discovered through the Little Wood Creek Archaeological site - from stone tools to prehistoric pottery - as well as other exhibits detailing later Native American occupation and the colonial history of the area.
- The Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave is housed in a modern building designed to evoke the Great Longhouses of the Iroquois and represents the world's most comprehensive exhibition of Modern Iroquois arts. The grounds serve as a 45-acre nature park featuring trails and two 19th century log homes moved from the Six Nations Reserve.
- In Fultonville, on the site of the Mohawk village of Ossernenon, the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs established in 1885 honors the martyrdom of three Jesuit missionaries and is the birthplace of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks. It features five chapels, two museums, a visitor center and more among 400 acres of flowered landscapes and tree-studded slopes and lawns.
- The blessed Kateri lived her teenage years in the 17th century on this site of the National Kateri Tekakawith Shrine & Mohawk Caughnawaga Indian Museum in Fonda. It is the only completely excavated Iroquois Indian village in the country, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. It includes a rustic chapel in an 18th-century Dutch barn and displays of artifacts.
- A spectacular American Indian Wing houses the renowned Eugene and Clare Thaw Gallery of American Indian Art at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown. The collection, comprised of more than 800 art objects representing a broad geographic range of North American Indian cultures, can be seen in changing displays and in the museum's Study Center open study space.
Eugene and Clare Thaw Gallery of American Indian Art at the Fenimore Art Museum
Iroquois Indian Museum
National Kateri Tekakawith Shrine & Mohawk Caughnawaga Indian Museum
Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs
Find other exciting attractions in the Central New York region and Thousand Islands-Seaway region.
- Dedicated to education, research and preservation of the region's Native American archaeological, cultural and historical assets, the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center of Native American Studies in Waverly is packed with thousands of locally found artifacts from pottery to tools to pipes - the largest such collection in the region.
- Sainte Marie among the Iroquois Living History Center in Liverpool is the only museum facility in Onondaga County that explores the culture of the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois people, as well as the French Jesuits who built this mission at their invitation in the 1565. The site features a modern, 10,000 square foot museum and visitor's center, and a reconstruction of the fortified mission that illustrates French colonial activity within New York during the pre-British colonial era.
- A self-guided tour of the Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn allows visitors to walk through what is regarded as one of the best preserved fortified villages of the ancient Cayuga Indians. In addition to seeing Logan's monument, a 56-foot tall obelisk memorializing the celebrated Chief of the Cayugas, visitors can see the gravesite of famous figures from New York history like Harriet Tubman, leader of the Underground Railroad, and William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State.
- The Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor stands at the location of what was one of the 17th century's largest and most vital Seneca towns. The Seneca refer to Ganondagan as the Town of Peace and revere and protect the burial site of the Mother of Nations here. Visitors can tour a full-size replica of a Seneca Bark Longhouse and walk miles of self-guided trails.
Fort Hill Cemetery
Ganondagan State Historic Site
Iroquois Living History Center
Susquehanna River Archaeological Center of Native American Studies
Find other exciting attractions in the Finger Lakes region.
- The William Pryor Letchworth Museum in Castile tells the story of Letchworth State Park and its benefactor, William Pryor Letchworth, and houses his personal collections which include Native American and pioneer artifacts.
- The Seneca Nation of Indians were the original inhabitants of this part of New York State, and the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca helps to keep their culture alive with exhibits exploring life in a longhouse as well as cultural art like beadwork, pottery, basketry and carvings.