A French Fort in the Salt City: Revisioning Sainte Marie among the Iroquois

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Mario R. Perez


Collaboration, Museums, Native American, oral history, public history, public memory

Subject Categories




This study examines the role museums play in constructing knowledge and public memory through a historical analysis of Sainte Marie de Gannentaha, a twentieth-century historic site commemorating a seventeenth-century Jesuit mission located on the shores of Onondaga Lake in Liverpool, New York. Liverpool is a suburb of Syracuse located in Onondaga County, the ancestral land of Onondagas, one of the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Onondaga Lake has been deeply sacred to the Haudenosaunee for more than a thousand years.

Sainte Marie de Gannentaha opened in 1933, and was renamed Sainte Marie among the Iroquois Living History Museum in 1992. The county-owned facility closed in 2011 and was re-purposed as a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) educational center known as Skä•noñh—The Great Law of Peace, which opened in 2015. A radical re-vision of the historical narrative occurred, shifting emphasis away from a colonial perspective to one that privileges Haudenosaunee oral history. The new story was a dynamic, theme-based narrative of Onondaga values and culture, past and present. The Onondaga people are at the heart of the new educational center, making this a unique international collaboration with Onondaga County. The message of the Skä•noñh Center reveals an urgency on behalf of the Onondaga Nation to raise awareness about Haudenosaunee cultural knowledge and values that benefit the global community, including contributions to American democracy, environmental protections, respect for natural resources, and civil rights.

The purpose of this study is to trace Sainte Marie’s trajectory from a colonial historic site to its transition into a Haudenosaunee educational center. This is the first comprehensive study of Sainte Marie and the first academic study to discuss the Skä·noñh Center and the educational collaborative that created it. Grounded in critical museum theory, this study is supported by archival research, decolonizing methods, and oral history. My guiding research questions are: How has public memory shaped the past, and how does it challenge the Skä·noñh Center’s efforts to shift the narrative to a Haudenosaunee perspective? How does Skä·noñh’s educational model fit into the national/international discussion on representation, collaboration, and public memory in Indigenous museums? By firmly shifting education to the center, this study contributes a fresh perspective on museums as significant sites of informal learning, an area often overlooked in the education literature where studies of American public schools dominate the discourse.


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