Colgate’s Senior Honor Society, formerly known as Konosioni (KONO), is in the process of changing their name. Founded in 1934, the honor society combined two opposing secret societies, the Skull and Scroll and the Gorgon’s Head. This union put an end to old rivalries, but it also continued the colonial legacy of appropriation of the Haudenosaunee culture that persists on our campus to this day. The society’s recent motion to change the name is believed to stem from a community-wide effort to address Colgate’s problematic history with colonization, as the university sits on the unceded traditional lands of the Onyota’a:ka, known as “the people of the upright stone” and the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. This conversation was first brought to light by Sierra Sunshine ’18 in collaboration with former Museum Assistant (current Community Liaison) at the Colgate Longyear Museum of Anthropology Lisa Latocha. Sunshine was an anthropology and Native American Studies double concentrator, as well as the president of the Native American Students and Allies group for a year, and became the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Assistant for the Longyear Museum after graduation.
The senior society announced this unanimous decision to change its name to the Colgate community during the 13 Days of Education which started in late August. According to current president Harleen Kaur, all 26 members feel very passionate about the process and are determined to make a well-informed and researched decision when choosing a new name.
“It is important to include the faculty and staff because we recognize that this decision impacts our entire Colgate community, so we welcome all voices and opinions,” Kaur said of community involvement in the process.
The name “Konosioni,” as explained on the society’s website, allegedly means “people of the longhouse.” Kaytlynn Lynch, former Interim Curator and the current Curatorial Assistant at the Longyear Museum of Anthropology and NAGPRA Coordinator, who is Oneida through her father, notes that the translation is inaccurate. She has expressed her concern for the lack of accuracy, inconsistency and disrespect the use of “Konosioni” suggests to the Indigenous members of our community and to the local Oneida Nation. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was created when the original five nations, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, were joined together by the Peacemaker. Contrary to what is stated on the Colgate website, the Tuscarora were originally from what is now known as North Carolina, and did not join the Confederacy until the early to mid 1700s, where they were welcomed and sponsored by the Oneida. The group’s choice to name themselves “Konosioni” is a way of associating two undergraduate secret societies with the coming together of the six native nations.
“The formation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was prophesied by the Peacemaker and was a sacred event in it of itself,” Sunshine said. “Insinuating that the unification of two undergraduate societies is in any way comparable to an event so sacred to the Haudenosaunee way of life is insulting and diminishes the spiritual as well as the political significance of this accomplishment.”
The University Museums recently partnered with KONO to discuss and acknowledge the historical trauma at the heart of Colgate’s founding, as well as to provide a platform to promote emotional and spiritual healing for Indigenous members of the Colgate community. Colgate held an event over Zoom to discuss the decolonization process of the university museums. The discussion was facilitated by Museum co-directors Rebecca Mendelsohn and Nicholas West, along with two members of the museum staff who identify as Indigenous, Lynch and Lisa Latocha (Wolf Clan, Onyota’a:ka, Oneida Indian Nation), as well as Kakwireiosta Hall ’04 (Cherokee/Akwesasne Mohawk).
Latocha expressed her frustration with Colgate’s longstanding refusal to reconcile with this controversial history and the ways in which certain practices and teaching methods perpetuate that same trauma within the native community. She also feels adamant about creating and maintaining a safe space for Indigenous students on campus.
“I am so open with who I am because I want to make sure that other native students know that there is someone on their side,” Latocha said. “The decision to change the name of the honor society is a step in the right direction.”
Latocha is hopeful that the society adopts an attitude similar to that of the Washington Football Team. Formerly known as the “Redskins,” the NFL team removed the racial slur from their name in an effort to begin making reparations for the Native American communities across the country.
When asked about the kind of support needed from Colgate as an institution, as well as its community members, Lynch explained that it is important to think of the past in the context of the present.
“Always do your best to think in the now, the present day,” Lynch said. “Include the voices of your nearest Indigenous neighbors, no matter where you are across the country. Do your best to speak in the present tense when talking about Native and Indigenous peoples. We are still here. I’d like to see more active listening taking place. I think this work has been started, but it is an evolving process. The conversation must continue.”
As of right now, the group is planning to hold a virtual town hall meeting for the organization’s alumni and current members to foster a larger, more in-depth discussion. For any members of the community who would be interested in joining the discussion hours, they are held every Friday in the month of October, and the registration link can be found on the Colgate calendar.