For 125 years, the Buffalo History Museum was the steward of the Red Jacket Peace Medal, which was awarded to Seneca Chief Red Jacket by president George Washington. It was Red Jacket’s peace talks, resulting in the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794, that earned the Seneca Chief the medal that is considered a symbol of peace and friendship. The medal also symbolizes the hope for a stable and fruitful relationship between the United States and the Six Nations. Red Jacket (Chief of the Wolf Clan) cherished the prized medallion and reportedly wore it proudly every day until his death in 1833, upon which time he was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo.
The museum came to be in possession of the medal in 1895, when the widow of Col. Ely Parker – a descendent of Red Jacket – sold it to the cultural institution. Since Parker’s widow was not authorized to sell the medal, in October of 2020 the Seneca Nation requested that the medal be returned to its rightful owner, the Seneca Nation as a collective, citing narrative within The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA.)
The formal request for the repatriation of the medal resulted in the treasured heirloom being returned to the Seneca Nation earlier this month, where it now resides at the Onohsagwë:dé Cultural Center in Salamanca.
“It is both fitting and gratifying to have the Red Jacket Peace Medal back with the Nation where it belongs,” said Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels. “An untold number of artifacts that are of cultural significance to our people – and all Indigenous communities across the U.S. – remain in the hands of private or public collections. The return of the Peace Medal underscores the need for more of these important objects to be returned to their rightful place.”
President Abraham Lincoln, reportedly held the medal the day before his assassination.
“Pursuant to NAGPRA, the Red Jacket Peace Medal cannot belong to any individual or museum; it is inalienable and belongs to the Seneca People as a collective,” said Dr. Joe Stahlman, director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. “Like the Canandaigua Treaty, the Red Jacket Peace Medal is a representation of the ongoing sovereign relationship between the federal government and the Seneca People. It has always maintained an inviolable place in our cultural memory.”
“As a steward of local history, The Buffalo History Museum must look back at its own history, reassess its collections and the circumstances surrounding artifact acquisition,” said Melissa Brown, executive director of The Buffalo History Museum. “Reassessment is not enough, however, action is imperative to ensure that any artifacts of cultural patrimony are returned- in this instance, to the collective stewardship of the Seneca people. I, and all of the Museum, were committed to repatriation of the Peace Medal. Through our continued relationship, we seek to ensure the legacy of Red Jacket and the history of the Haudenosaunee, reinforcing connections to the vibrancy of the Nation that shapes our community today.”
“I applaud The Buffalo History Museum for their decisive action to return the Red Jacket Peace Medal to its rightful owners, the people of the Seneca Nation,” said New York State Senator Sean Ryan. “The repatriation of Indigenous artifacts is an important process in building strong, meaningful, and peaceful relationships between Native American territories and their surrounding communities. The return of the Peace Medal – an explicit symbol of this relationship – is an especially significant act, and a momentous occasion here in Western New York.”
The Peace Medal will soon be available for public viewing at the Onohsagwë:dé Cultural Center in Salamanca. A public unveiling event is tentatively planned for May 17; details will be released in the days to come.