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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

SU professor to direct Great Law of Peace Educational Center

Philip P. Arnold says new center will help tell Indigenous story of the Haudenosaunee

Nov. 21, 2012, by Rob Enslin

Philip P. Arnold
Philip P. Arnold
Philip P. Arnold, associate professor of religion and director of the Native Studies Program in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been appointed founding director of the Great Law of Peace Educational Center. The center will be located on the former site of the Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois museum, which commemorates the French-fortified mission that occupied Onondaga Lake from 1656-1658. 

The Great Law of Peace Educational Center will tell the Indigenous story of the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. Arnold hopes the center will educate and inspire primarily non-Haudenosaunee people about the importance of the Great Law Peace--the oral constitution that has governed the Haudenosaunee for over a thousand years--and how it has influenced the unique form of democracy that U.S. citizens cherish today.

The center will be overseen by the Onondaga Historical Association, in collaboration with the Onondaga Nation, Onondaga County, SU, and other neighboring educational institutions.

“We are extremely proud of Phil, whose expertise, experience, and professional connections will help turn this concept into a reality,” says James Watts, professor and chair of religion at SU. “The department and College support his appointment to show Syracuse University's commitment to serving as an anchor institution in the growth and development of our community.”

Arnold’s courses on the subject have grown increasingly popular, due to the rising number of students supported by the Haudenosaunee Promise Scholarship Program. He will be granted administrative leave during 2013 to plan the center, which is scheduled to open the following year.

The idea for the center gained impetus from a letter-to-the-editor that Arnold submitted to The Post-Standard earlier this year. In it, he discussed the importance of a new cultural educational center where people could learn that “being human and understanding peace [involved] a deep relationship with the land.”

By repurposing the Saint Marie museum on the northeastern shore of the lake, Arnold will demonstrate SU’s vision of Scholarship in Action by presenting programming that is affordable, accessible, and, most of all, congruent with the history of the area. 

“Onondaga Lake is one of the most important places for the Haudenosaunee, or ‘People of the Longhouse,’ because it’s where the Great Law of Peace was established,” says Arnold, adding that the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora, and Seneca nations make up the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. “Of these, the Onondaga, Tuscarora, and the Tonawanda Seneca [located in Western New York] have retained recognition throughout the world by continuing to use their ancient Longhouse form of government based on the clan system.” 

Much has been written about the Great Law of Peace—its influence on the development of democracy, women’s rights, and the United Nations—but Arnold says most people are still unaware of how significant it is. “It is profound that our American identity can be traced to a strong Indigenous culture that took root on the shores of Onondaga Lake,” he says. "Onondaga County bears their name, and is uniquely situated within Onondaga Nation territory.  It’s time for a dialogue to rectify this gap in American education.”

Instead of relying on the historically written approach, Arnold hopes to tell the Great Law of Peace story through the Haudenosaunee themselves—sparking a kind of oral history project. To make it happen, he is drawing on creative collaborations among the leadership of Onondaga County, the Onondaga Nation, and various colleges and universities.

Arnold also plans to tap into the talents of college-educated Haudenosaunee, trained in such areas as art, literature, music, design, science, and engineering. “They could make vital contributions to the development of the center," says Arnold, who has designed many courses, as well as written and lectured extensively about local history and Indigenous religions for nearly three decades.

He teaches in The College of Arts and Sciences, which prepares students for the global workplace and for study in post-graduate and professional programs by providing a contemporary liberal arts curriculum that emphasizes interdisciplinary learning, research, service, and enterprise.