A Project That’s Personal: Exploring NY Native Cultures
A couple of weeks into his summer research project, David Gagnidze ’20 had attended a social dance and dinner at the Oneida Indian Nation and vounteereed to do prep work for the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community's Strawberry Festival. Both events unfolded within an easy drive of Hamilton; the College itself is located in the Oneida ancestral homeland.
Also on Gagnidze’s agenda — research at the Ganondagan State Historic Site, which is located on the original site of a 17th century Seneca Nation town near Rochester, N.Y.
His project, Representations of Haudenosaunee Identity, examines differing cultural events of the six nations that make up the Haudenosaunee alliance, which is also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. Its members include the Cayuga, Mohawk, Ondeida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations.
Hometown: Newburgh, N.Y.
High School: Newburgh Free Academy
Gagnidze, an anthropology major, is one of 200 Hamilton students who are conducting summer research or completing an internship supported by the College. He is a Levitt Summer Research Fellow, working with Meredith Moss, a lecturer in religious studies and a sociolinguist who specializes in the languages of the indigenous peoples of the U.S.
One of Gagnidze’s summer goals is to create a body of information that will strengthen a student organization he heads, The Shenandoah-Kirkland Initiative. Its mission is to inform the Hamilton community about the history of the College and the Oneida Indian Nation and to build a closer relationship between them. Hamilton’s founder, the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, a lifelong friend of Oneida Chief John Skenandoa, created the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in 1793 to educate Oneida children alongside the children of white settlers, a goal that never took root. The academy became Hamilton College in 1812.
Gagnidze plans to build on his summer research for his senior anthropology thesis. He traces his interest in indengenous peoples in part to his family roots. Until he was 7 years years old, he lived in the country of Georgia.
“I can sympathize with people who have been marginalized in their language and their culture. Georgia has had a similar fate, although it’s [also] very different,” he says. “It was in the Soviet Union; it’s culture and language were oppressed, and so I can identify. And I believe that every group has the right to self-statehood and self-governance, so I strongly support that.”