State Museum Transfers Ownership of Cornplanter's Pipe Tomahawk to Seneca Nation of Indians

Release Date: 
Thursday, January 9, 2020
Contact Information: 
Contact: Office of Communications Phone: (518) 474-1201

The New York State Museum and the Seneca Nation today announced that a pipe tomahawk originally given to the respected Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter by President George Washington has been officially returned to the Seneca Nation. The announcement took place at the Nation’s Onöhsagwe:de’ Cultural Center, where the pipe tomahawk has been on loan since March 2019.

The 18th-century pipe tomahawk was gifted to Cornplanter by President Washington at one of several meetings between United States and Iroquois Confederacy leaders in the years 1792 – 1794. The Cornplanter pipe tomahawk entered the New York State Museum’s collection in 1851 from Seneca diplomat Ely Parker. Sometime between 1947 and 1950 the object went missing from the Museum and for nearly 70 years was in the hands of private collectors. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the pipe tomahawk was returned to the State Museum in June 2018. The pipe tomahawk was on display at the New York State Museum from July through December 2018.

“In Seneca history, Cornplanter stands among our greatest and most respected leaders,” said Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr. “George Washington originally presented this pipe tomahawk to Cornplanter as a sign of respect, friendship and recognition of our sovereignty. Now, this piece of our great leader’s remarkable legacy can finally – and forever – remain on Seneca land where it belongs.”

“It is our humble honor to return this iconic object to the people of the Seneca Nation,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “We are pleased to know that Cornplanter’s pipe tomahawk will continue to be displayed publicly at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum.”

“The return of Cornplanter’s pipe tomahawk signifies a new chapter of strong collaboration between the New York State Museum and the Seneca Nation,” said Interim State Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe. “We’re proud to return this incredible object to the Seneca Nation and know it will continue to be an educational opportunity for people of all ages and background to research and learn from."

“Cornplanter’s pipe tomahawk is an extraordinarily important object that speaks of Native American, New York, and American history and culture,” said Mark Schaming, Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and Director of the State Museum. “It is due to this shared history that it is our great honor to return the tomahawk to the people of the Seneca Nation. We make this return in representation of mutual trust, partnership and fruitful years ahead, as was intended by our forebears.”

The tomahawk will be on permanent display at the Onöhsagwe:de’ Cultural Center, which opened in 2018 on the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory. Measuring 33,000 square feet, the center is inspired by Native oral history and designed to guide and immerse visitors throughout with a variety of exhibits, collections, artifacts, educational programs and special events. The center is open seven days a week. For information, call 716-945-1760 or visit

The New York State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located at 222 Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the Museum website.