Local Indigenous peoples share historic, spiritual meanings of total solar eclipse

OSWEGO, N.Y. — Local Indigenous tribes like the Haudenosaunee are commemorating the total solar eclipse as a remembrance of peace in their ancient tribal history.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy spans much of upstate New York as well as part of Canada north of Lake Ontario, and is often recognized by scholars as one of the earliest democracies in the world. 

“So the eclipse — the total eclipse that’s coming up on April 8 is very important to the Haudenosaunee because it will remind us of an eclipse that happened almost one thousand years ago that was a signal of peace,” said Perry Ground, a member of the Turtle clan of the Onondaga. 

Ground travels the country sharing traditional Indigenous folk stories that have been passed down for centuries. Last week he spoke about the eclipse at the Seneca Art & Culture Center at the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, which is believed to be the home of one of the founders of the Haudenosaunee. According to the Ganondagan’s website, “Ganondagan” is a Seneca name directly translating to “White Town” meaning “Town of Peace.”

The story of how the original five tribes of the Haudenosaunee came together in peace involves a total solar eclipse just like this one.

“A man came to live among us who we came to call the peacemaker,” Perry said. “And as he traveled among the original five nations or tribes that joined together, including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, right in the Oswego area, Cayugas and Senecas, when he joined them together there was a total eclipse at the time of our joining.”

Indigenous astronomers and scientists have a long history with the studies of solar eclipses and astronomy. 

Samantha Doxtator is a star reader and spiritual leader from the Wolf clan of the Oneida. She spoke last week in Niagara Falls about the science of this eclipse as well as the spiritual meaning it holds for Indigenous peoples.

“It is going to help us embrace that energy of the sun and the moon, when we understand their relationship, you know what the eclipse word means, and it’s like, to help us restore that balance we all need,” Doxtator said.

Doxtator compared the eclipse to being like a happy reunion for the sun and moon as they journey through the sky.

“Like how you know when you haven’t seen your family for a long time, and you get really emotional when you see them,” Doxtator said. “It’s kind of the same thing with the sun and the moon. Like their  paths are just about to cross like they’re so excited, they just get to visit for a short time then they have to ‘say see you later.’” 

Ground and Doxtator said how special and sacred this eclipse is for Indigenous peoples.

“As we experience this event together on April 8, it’s a good reminder to hear these stories to say human beings — Native Americans-have had these same feelings for millennia,” Ground said.

“Well, it’s like the only one that we’re going to experience in our lifetime over this location. The path of totality being over all of our homelands of — Haudenosaunee homelands, that’s why it’s so special,” Doxtator said.

The path of totality for this eclipse goes over many areas once home to Indigenous peoples. This includes the land SUNY Oswego stands on today, built on the ancestral grounds of the Haudenosaunee belonging specifically to the Onondaga tribe.