Old Cherokee saying:"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."
Information about The Seneca Indians
from THIS Seneca's perspective
(This is not intended to be an OFFICIAL Seneca Nation site.
To see the official website of the Seneca Nation click on graphic below)
The Seneca Nation once claimed all of the lands in Western New York from the Genesee to Niagara Rivers, and a portion of the state of Pennsylvania. They have been in the area since prehistoric times. The Senecas are a member of the confederation of Iroquois tribes, formed in 1570, which consists of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas and Tuscaroras. The heartlands of the confederation stretched from the Hudson River to the shores of Lake Erie. The Seneca Indians were the western most member nation and thus were known as the Keeper of the Western Door. The Seneca tribe was the most numerous and most powerful of the confederation.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, after the Revolutionary War, both New York and Massachusetts claimed the Iroquois lands in New York. In 1786, New York was given jurisdiction over the land, but Massachusetts was granted the pre-emptive right to purchase the land should the Iroquois decide to sell. This right was sold three times over the next few years, during which tracts of land were purchased from the Senecas. The people ended up on several small reservations in western New York. The Senecas soon became demoralized, their social structures decayed, and traditional rituals became less vital due to reservation life.
In 1810 the Ogden Land Company bought the pre-emptive right to purchase the Seneca lands from New York state; under this perogative, the company purchased large Seneca tracts on the Genesee River and on the Buffalo Creek, Tonawanda and Cattaraugus Reservations in 1823 and 1826. Not satisfied with these acquisitions, the Ogden Land Company pressed the Senecas to sell more of their land. The Indian removal policy of the Andrew Jackson administration added to this pressure. It had been the policies of presidential administrations since the time of Thomas Jefferson to remove Indians from their lands and to resettle them further west; it was under Andrew Jackson that the federal government began forcefully to carry out such policy.
The Senecas were successful in resisting such pressures until 1838, when corruption, intimidation and bribery changed everything. About half of the Senecas were induced to sign a treaty agreeing to sell their remaining lands and emigrate to Kansas. While a portion of the chiefs were in favor of the treaty, the majority were against it. The treaty became an issue of public debate when the Society of Friends and others undertook the task of having it revoked. The Quaker missionaries and their supporters felt that the Senecas had been defrauded.
The public debate that began in 1838 because of the manner in which the chiefs had signed the treaty, lasted for more than a decade. A result of this debate brought a number of young intellectuals to the forefront of Seneca affairs. Works produced by these young men, especially from Nathaniel Thayer Strong and Maris Bryant Pierce, not only contributed to the debate, but were used by non-Indians on both sides of the issue.
Careful reading of the reasoning employed by these men demonstrates the similarities of conditions, pressures, and arguments that the Senecas faced were experienced by many other tribes as well in the first half of the nineteenth century. Issues of great importance then such as sovereignty, treaty rights, and questions of ownership of land and natural resources are, of course, still being debated today.
The displacement in the 1830s when some of the Seneca people emigrated to Kansas, was by no means the only such upheaval faced by the Seneca people. Earlier treaties had led to earlier removals.
The Pickering Treaty of 11 Nov 1794, between the United States and the Seneca Nation, recognized the area of the Seneca Nation and stated that "...the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb the Seneca Nation, nor any of the Six Nations, or of their Indian friends residing thereon, and united with them, in the free use and enjoyment thereof; but it shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same, to the people of the United States, who have the right to purchase." That treaty was broken in the 1960s, as the Senecas were forcibly removed from their land to make room for the Kinzua dam project. The Senecas never chose to sell their land but the government was bent on taking it. Removal and destruction of Seneca lands was a direct violation of the Treaty of 1794. The Seneca Nation lost 10,000 acres of land to the Kinzua Dam project which forced over 700 Seneca Indians to abandon their homes and relocate. Replacement housing had to be found for the people whose homes were soon to be flooded. To lose their homes on the reservation was really to lose a part of their lives. The lands taken had great religious and social significance to the Seneca Indians. The dam displaced people, towns, railroads and highways. The acres flooded were undoubtedly the most productive for agriculture, hunting and fishing.
Work soon began on two relocation sites for the displaced Senecas; one was at Jimersontown and the other at Steamburg. Jimersontown, near Salamanca NY was laid out in 145 one-acre plots. Steamburg, near the southern end of the reservation, had 160 one-acre plots. A family could be eligible for as many as three plots, so each homesite for a Seneca family could consist of up to three acres. We still live on those three acres given to my family but many in the area have sold off their acreage.
The Seneca Nation today is comprised of three reservations. The Allegany Reservation, the largest, has 20,469 acres. It is located along both sides of the Allegany River, from the Pennsylvania border upriver to Vandalia NY. It is entirely in Cattaraugus County, including the city of Salamanca. (In fact, Salamanca is known as the only city in the world situated entirely on an Indian reservation.) My wife and I and our two sons moved to the Allegany Reservation from Southern California in 1978, and our daughter was also born after we relocated there. The Cattaraugus Reservation, has 21,680 acres and is located in Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. These lands extend along the Cattaraugus Creek from Gowanda NY to Lake Erie. I was born on the Cattaraugus Reservation and lived there, off and on, until I was 12 years old. The Oil Springs Reservation is approximately one square mile in area and is located near Cuba NY in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties. It includes access to Cuba Lake. Presently, no Senecas reside on this reservation, which was originally surveyed around the natural petroleum springs which the Seneca used for medicinal purposes to cure illness, treat rheumatic pains and old ulcers. There are, however, Seneca Nation and privately owned enterprises operating on the reservation.
The Seneca Nation is a matrilineal society. Family relationships are determined by maternal descent. As long as the Mother is an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation, her children are also enrolled members. Thus, our children are not enrolled Senecas, even though they are half Indian. All enrolled Senecas are members of one of eight clans within two moieties. The first moiety are the Wolf, Turtle, Bear and Beaver. The second moiety are the Heron, Snipe, Hawk and Deer. I am in the wolf clan. A child's clan is the same as his Mothers'. Long ago, a Seneca could not marry another Seneca from the same moiety, then it was relaxed so that the only restriction was not to marry within ones clan. There is so much inter-relation among the Senecas, that this is how they kept track of families. I do not have an Indian name as they are given out to Senecas who are of the Longhouse religion, of which I am not a member.
After the Revolutionary War, the missionaries, who had come here to convert the natives, split the Seneca Nation into two factions. The Senecas, like other tribes, received appeals from Christian missionaries to allow the establishment of mission stations on Seneca land. With the missions came schools designed for the "civilizing" of the Senecas. Although these missionary schools were around as early as 1811, they did not become a strong influence in the Seneca land until the 1820s.
By this time the Senecas were split into two factions known as the Christian and Pagan parties. The Christian party welcomed the missionaries and their efforts by adopting the lifestyles and institutions of the white people. The Pagans rejected this missionary influence and many of them began following the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake. He helped revitalize Seneca society by providing the basis for the Longhouse religion, which is still an important part of modern-day Seneca life for traditional Senecas.
The Iroquois call themselves the People of the Longhouse. The religion of many of the Seneca People today is still the Longhouse Religion. It originated in 1799. I will tell you what I know about it. The religious prophet associated with the religion was named Handsome Lake. The name Longhouse comes from the dwellings that the Seneca people used to live in long ago. The Senecas never lived in teepees like the Plains Indians. They lived in longhouses made out of wood and bark and many families lived in each long house. Longhouses were used for dwellings up to the year 1800 in the area where I live. They were 50 to 150 feet in length, 20 to 25 feet wide, and 15 to 20 feet high. The number of families living in each longhouse dictated the size, accommodating anywhere from 5 to 20 families. The longhouses were made from bark; elm bark being considered best. The longhouses had no windows. Light came from the high, wide doors at each end, and from above. Displayed at the end was the symbol of one of the eight clans. Located along the length of the central passageway were a series of small fires (typically 3-5) that were vented through openings in the roof. Along either side of the passageway were platforms for sleeping and storage. Generally, they retired early. They put a piece of wood, stone or a bundle of precious objects under their head, slept on mats and put their feet toward the fire. The oldest woman in each longhouse was the head of the household. Upon her death, she would be replaced by the next oldest woman. Young men, when they married, moved into the longhouse of the bride. This longhouse lineage was the basic social structure, which in turn, was the heart of the Clan System. The Seneca baby is a member of her/his mother's clan. A Clan Mother heads each clan. With the exception of a man's weapons and personal effects, all implements, property, and even the longhouse, belonged to the women. As a woman rose in seniority within the longhouse, she gained influence. Chiefs are appointed by the Clan Mothers and can be removed by them. The Iroquois were eloquent statesmen. Longhouse religious services are still conducted in the Seneca language and the speakers tend to be very long-winded. The women enter and sit on one side of the building, and the men on the other. They have celebrations for each season, which they call "doings". There are six major religious services during the year, although gatherings for social dances may be held at any time. The worship services are mainly for thanksgiving; however, this includes the supplication to the Great Spirit for continuance of His protection.
The religious services are: #1 Maple Festival, to give thanks to the maple itself for yielding its sweet waters, and to the Great Spirit for the gift of the maple #2 Planting Festival, and invotation to the Great Spirit to bless the seeds #3 Strawberry Festival, thanksgiving for the first fruit of the season #4 Green Corn Festival, thanksgiving for the ripening of the harvests #5 Harvest Festival, a general thanksgiving to the Great Spirit for the abundance and gathering of the harvest #6 Midwinter or New Year's Festival, which signifies "The Supreme Belief"
It is a time when opportunity is given to all for the general and public confession of sins. The Keepers of the Faith visit each home with an invitation to the ceremonies, telling the householders to "prepare their houses" clean away all "rubbish", drive out evil spirits. Nothing is to hinder the observances. In the past, if a death occurred during this ceremony the family was advised not to mourn, nor any friends to mourn. They were told that mourning could take place after the ceremonies when other members will mourn with them. Also, many years ago, this festival included the sacrifice or burning of a white dog on the fifth day.
A "Tenth Day Feast" (comparable to the White man's reading of the last will and testament) takes place ten days after the date of the funeral. Where there is a death in one moiety, all the clans included in that moiety are considered in mourning, and the opposite moiety provide the help for all the work, running errands, etc., whatever is necessary to be accomplished from the time of death to the completion of the rite of the Tenth Day Feast. At the Feast, the will of the deceased is carried out. The family can retain real property, valuable jewelry, and furniture, but most of the clothing and whatever the family of the deceased wish to give away is distributed to the workers of the opposite moiety and close friends.
They have a knowledge of herbs, but tend to be very secretive about that knowledge and who they pass it on to. Alcohol is vehemently preached against. So is the "white man's religion". It seems that most Senecas were either reared in the Longhouse religion or the Christian faith (mainly Presbyterian). All of my maternal Grandma's relatives were "Christian". Those on my maternal Grandpa's side were Longhouse. I choose to be a believer in Jesus Christ.
The Iroquois were a hunting, fishing and agricultural people. The nations of the Iroquois Confederacy possessed vast lands that were immensely rich in resources, both natural and cultural. Elm bark was crucial for shelter and containers. There were several hundred species of plants that could be used for medicines. Deer and bear were plentiful. Men were builders, field clearers, hunters, fishermen, tool makers, warrior, traders and knowledge bearers. Women were givers of life, farmers, clothing makers, pottery makers, wampum makers, food providers, clan leaders and primary teachers for the young. The women and elderly men did the gardening and were wild food gatherers; collecting roots, berries, greens, nuts. Children served as lookouts to keep birds and other pests from the fields. By this cooperative effort, everyone contributed to the production of food in the Iroquois village. Childhood was an apprenticeship for adulthood. By observing the word and actions of the adults, children learned their role in Seneca society. Livestock included pigs and other domesticated animals. From early writings, it was noted that the people generally ate one regular meal a day and otherwise ate when they felt hungry or when a traveler arrived or a hunter returned. A large pot of soup flavored with meat, and wheels of corn bread were available throughout the day, for this purpose. Guests and travelers were expected to bring their own eating utensils with them for a meal. They shared whatever there was and no one went hungry or they all did. Most cooking was done by boiling; by the use of heated stones carefully placed into a pot of food until it was cooked. Cooled stones were later removed and more hot stones were added as needed. Baking was done on flat stones in a bed of coals. Foods were also roasted directly on hot coals and meats were broiled on spits over the fire.
Corn has always been the principal food of the Iroquois, along with beans and squash. Those three were commonly called "the three sisters". Both green and mature corn were used in the preparation of many popular dishes that continue in use today. Corn soup is a favorite of mine. I also love fried bread--very common on the reservation. Click HERE for recipe. Wild onions, leeks, skunk cabbage, poke, and milkweed were eaten within the day they were picked. Many types of berries were a common addition to the Iroquois diet in the summer. We have many wild berry bushes growing in our woods today; loganberries, raspberries, and black raspberries being the most common. Maple sugar was important in the Iroquois diet, almost as much as salt is used today, however, salt was little used by the Iroquois until they were introduced to it and then they became heavy users. Maple sap was collected and boiled down to sugar and syrup and used for sweetening mush and for flavoring corn meal. Indian tobacco was grown for ceremonial and social smoking.
Fire was used to hollow canoes and to fell large trees for building purposes. Gourds were used for bowls and eating utensils. In 1794, a treaty was ratified so that the Federal Government made a yearly payment of "goods" to the Six Nations. To the present day, each enrolled Seneca on the Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations receive 12 yards of unbleached muslin once a year from the U.S. Government.
Iroquois women traditionally parted their hair in the middle. Married women wore a single braid. Until the mid 1800's most Seneca men wore their hair long, divided into two braids. Warrior shaved or burned their hair, leaving only a scalp lock. Warriors are said to have painted three stripes on each cheek; one for each of the Six Nations.
Lacrosse is a sport that has been played by the Senecas, centuries before the White Man's discovery of America. It continues to be popular today. Another popular winter sport, Snow Snake, is the national game of the Iroquois. Snow snakes are smooth, polished, flexible rods, made of hard wood, referred to as a stick. They are five to nine feet in length; one inch in diameter at the head, tapering to half an inch at the tail. When there is abundant snow, a smooth, shallow course is laid out by pulling a smooth-barked log in a straight line which can sometimes be miles long. This packs the snow. The course is then sprinkled with water to form an ice crust. The game's object is simple; those playing gather at one end of the track and take turns throwing the snakes with force, skill, and accuracy so as to make them travel the longest distance possible in the shortest time. The stick jumps back and forth out of the trough more than half of the time, but with a really good throw it can travel half a mile. The game requires skill and years of practice. Snow snake competitions typically take place every weekend, from the first big snow until all the snow is gone in the Spring.
Because they lacked a written language, the Iroquois used such memory aids as pictographs, wampum, and other symbols in the making of records, and in affirming treaties. The language has now been preserved in written form. My Gram was one of the early teachers when the process was just beginning. The language is once again being taught in the schools.
Seneca-Iroquois National Museum814 Broad StSalamanca NY 14779-1331
For those interested in more reading material about the Iroquois, the Seneca-Iroquois Museum has a ten page Booklist available upon request. The price of each book is listed and orders are sent by U.S. Mail with postage charges added. There are books, cookbooks, coloring books, maps, puppets, dictionaries, and cassette tapes. Their website is at http://www.senecamuseum.org
Their email address is email@example.com
Their phone number is (716) 945-1760. Their mailing address is:
Our reservation is just like any other typically rural area. The businesses on our reservation consist of privately owned gas stations and cigarette outlets and a restaurant. We also have a Campground, owned and operated by the Seneca Nation. Most of the houses, surrounded by woods, were originally on 3 acre lots, but some have sold off some of their acreage. In the small town closest to where we live, off the reservation, there is a mini-mart/gas station/cafe combination, a post office, a restaurant, and a volunteer fire house. The rest are houses, farms, and several churches. The reservation was established in 1792 and extends 42 miles from Salamanca to Steamburg, curving around Allegany State Park, the largest state park in New York State. The Indians lived there in relative isolation until the mid-1800's, when railroads pushing westward obtained leases from individual Indians. Settlers, lumbermen and farmers rode in on the rails and signed more leases. The Seneca Nation owns the land on which 85% of the town of Salamanca is built. Each non-Indian homeowner and business leases the land on which their house or business is built. There are over 10,000 Iroquois Indians with 7,300 of those being enrolled Senecas. About 3500 of them reside on the Allegany reservation. The Seneca Nation employs many of their own people. In Salamanca, we have a brand new Health Center, funded by Indian Health Services which houses a medical clinic, mental health unit, pharmacy, dental clinic & drug/alcohol rehab unit. Also, there is a casino complete with hotel,spa and restaurants, a large Bingo concession, an Education Department, an Administration building, a gym complex, a construction company, a library, a volunteer fire department, a museum, and several gas stations and a mini-mart. There is also a Sports Arena on the Cattaraugus Reservation. All of these are owned and operated by the Seneca Nation and Indians are given preference in hiring. Profits from these enterprises go into a general fund from which services for tribal members are supported.
PO Box 136
An early attempt to gather the Seneca Indians into a school on the Allegany Reservation was made by Quaker, Joseph Elkinton, who came from Philadelphia for this purpose in 1816. A log house was erected below the mouth of Cold Spring Creek, but was not supplied with seats. To construct these he hunted up boards, and began his school under many other equally discouraging circumstances. Many were opposed to educating the Indian youth, but others of the Senecas favored the project, and not only sent their children, but sometimes came themselves and encouraged the pupils by a friendly talk. Perhaps the most significant Christian proselytizing and educational effort that occured among the Senecas were the Society of Friends (or Quakers) that established the Tunesassa School in Old Town on the Allegany Indian Reservation and the Cattaraugus reservation had Thomas Indian School. Many of the children knew no English when they started these schools. In the 60's and earlier, the Indians had their own district schools. There is presently no school system in Steamburg on the Allegany Reservation, so all the children on the reservation are bussed to the Salamanca School District (12 miles away). Our three children attended a private school after spending their first few years in the public school system. In September 2000, a group of Senecas, opened up their own school, dedicated to preserving the Seneca language and culture. It is called the Faithkeeper's School. Here is their address if you wish to contact them:
Steamburg NY 14783
There are those who have asked me about my recommendation of books on Senecas. There is a book of interviews of elderly Iroquois Indians about their experiences growing up on the reservation. I believe there are 3 volumes. My Grandma, Virginia Logan, was one of those interviewed in Volume I. The book is entitled, "That's What It Was Like" by Alberta Austin. For information or copies, email firstname.lastname@example.org send inquiries to:
Seneca Nation Education Department
1500 Route 438
Irving, NY 14081
I have been asked if Indians can vote. Indians were made American citizens in 1924 and were then given the right to vote. However, in Arizona and New Mexico, there were state laws which prevented Indians from exercising this privilege. These laws were repealed in 1948.
The Senecas have a history of being a nation of formidable warriors that has sent hundreds to war for two centuries. Senecas served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and 495 Senecas served in World War II, at least 109 in the Korean War, at least 82 in the Vietnam War and at least 20 in the Persian Gulf War. It is estimated that eight Senecas are serving in the current Iraq conflict. Census figures show that over 17% of Senecas on the Allegany Reservation and over 13% on the Cattaraugus Reservation are veterans. Senecas have their own veteran's post on the Cattaraugus Reservation.
After having been asked by MANY to help them with geneology research, let us say that we CANNOT help you with this and we ask that you PLEASE direct all questions regarding ancestry research to the Seneca Nation. Their email address is: email@example.com
Their website is at: http://www.sni.org/gen.html
Their phone number is: (716) 945-1790
Their address is:
THE SENECA NATION OF INDIANS
PO Box 231
Salamanca, NY 14779
If you want to see OUR genealogy page, click here.
Homework Help (information about the Iroquois)
Iroquois Indian Museum
Native American Sites on the WWW
Onodowahgah (The People of the Great Hill)Seneca
Seneca Indian Tribe History
Seneca Nation of Indians
Above is the picture that was on the front page of the Sept 3, 2000 edition of the Olean Times Herald. To read the article, click on photo.
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