"The Amazing Iroquois" and the Invention of the Empire State tells the story of a multi-generational Iroquoian family from American Revolution to the Cold War who used their peoples' history, politics, and culture to shape how New Yorkers conceived of their own history and self-identity.
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In America's collective unconscious, the Haudenosaunee, known to many as the Iroquois, are viewed as an indelible part of New York's modern and democratic culture. From the Iroquois confederacy serving as a model for the US Constitution, to the connections between the matrilineal Iroquois and the woman suffrage movement, to the living legacy of the famous "Sky Walkers," the steelworkers who built the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge, the
Iroquois are viewed as an exceptional people who helped make the state's history unique and forward-looking.
John C. Winters contends that this vision was not manufactured by Anglo-Americans but was created and spread by an influential, multi-generational Seneca-Iroquois family. From the American Revolution to the Cold War, Red Jacket, Ely S. Parker, Harriet Maxwell Converse (adopted), and Arthur C. Parker used the tools of a colonial culture to shape aspects of contemporary New York culture in their own peoples' image. The result was the creation of "The Amazing Iroquois," an historical memory that
entangled indigenous self-definition, colonial expectations about racial stereotypes and Native American politics, and the personalities of the people who cultivated and popularized that memory. Through the imperial politics of the eighteenth century to pioneering museum exhibitions of the twentieth,
these four Seneca celebrities packaged and delivered Iroquoian stories to the broader public in defiance of the contemporary racial stereotypes and settler colonial politics that sought to bury them.
Owing to their skill, fame, and the timely intervention of Iroquois leadership, this remarkable family showcases the lasting effects of indigenous agents who fashioned a popular and long-lasting historical memory that made the Iroquois an obvious and foundational part of New Yorkers' conception of their own exceptional state history and self-identity.