Seneca nation

Seneca nation

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Seneca

population = 56,222|region1 = flagcountry|United States (New York, Oklahoma)
pop1 =
ref1 =
region2 = Cattaragus Reservation
pop2 = 2,001
ref2 = (2000 census)
region3 = Tonawanda Reservation
pop3 = 543
ref3 =

region4 = Six Nations Territory
pop4 =
ref4 =
region5 = Allegany Reservation
pop5 = 1,099
ref5 =

region6 = Niagara Falls Territory
pop6 =
ref6 =
region7 = Buffalo Creek Territory
pop7 =
ref7 =
region8 = Seneca-Cayuga Terr.
pop8 =
ref8 =
region9 = Seneca Aboriginal Terr.
pop9 =
ref9 =
region10 = Todiakton Territory
pop10 =
ref10 =
region11 = flagcountry|Canada (Ontario)
pop11 =
ref11 =
religions = Longhouse, Handsome Lake, Kai'hwi'io, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, other Christian denominations
languages = Onan'dowa'ga, English, Other Iroquoian Dialects
related = Onondaga Nation, Oneida Nation, Tuscarora Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cayuga Nation, other Iroquoian peoples, Wyandot Nation, Huron Nation, Neutral, Erie Nation, Lenape Nation, Shawnee Nation, Mingo Nation, other Iroquoian peoples

The Seneca are a group of indigenous people native to North America. They are the westernmost nation within the Six Nations or Iroquois League. While exact population figures are unknown, approximately 15,000 to 25,000 Seneca live in Canada, near Brantford, Ontario, and in the United States, on and off reservations around Buffalo and in Oklahoma.


The Seneca nation's own name is Onöndowága', meaning "People of the Great Hill", and is identical to the endonym used by the Onondagas. With the formation of the Haudenosaunee ("People of the Longhouse") or the Iroquois Confederation in 1142, [Dating the Iroquois Confederacy" essay by Bruce E. Johansen, ND] the Seneca became known as the "Keepers of the Western Door" because they settled and lived the farthest west of all the nations within the Haudenosaunee. Their name "Seneca" was designated by other nations, after the Seneca nation's principal village of "Osininka". However, since "Osininka" sounds like the Anishinaabe word "Asinikaa(n)", meaning " [Those at the Place] Full of Stones", this gave rise to the confusion to non-Haudenosaunee nations in the Seneca nation's name with that of the Oneida nation's endonym "Onyota'a:ka", meaning "People of the Standing Stone."


The Seneca traditionally lived in what is now New York between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake, with some recent archaeological evidence indicating that they lived all the way down to the Allegheny River into what is now northwestern Pennsylvania. The Senecas were by far the most populous of the Haudenosaunee Nations, with the ability to raise over ten thousand warriors by the seventeenth century. [Anthony F.C. Wallace, "The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca" (New York: Vintage Books, 1969). ISBN 0-394-71699-X]

Traditionally, the Seneca Nation economy was based on the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash. These vegetables were the staple of the Haudenosaunee diet and were called "the three sisters". Seneca women generally grew and harvested the three sisters, as well as gathered medicinal plants, roots, berries, nuts, and fruit. Seneca women held sole ownership of all the land and the homes, thus the women also tended to any domesticated animals like deer, dogs, and turkeys. Women were in charge of the kinship groups called clans. The woman in charge of a clan was called the "clan mother." Despite the prominent position of women in Iroquois society, their influence on the diplomacy of the nation was limited. Although older women could lobby and pull some strings behind closed doors, the official decisions were made by the men (hence they were not matriarchical).

Seneca men were generally in charge of locating and developing the town sites including clearing the forest for the production of fields. Seneca men also spent a great deal of time hunting and fishing. This activity took them away from the towns or villages to well known and productive hunting and fishing grounds for extended amounts of time. These hunting and fishing locations were well maintained and not simply left to grow as "wild" lands. [William Cronon, "Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England" (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983). ISBN 0-8090-0158-6; Robert H. Keller & Michael F. Turek, "American Indians & National Parks" (Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1998). ISBN 0-8165-2014-3] Seneca men maintained the traditional title of War Sachems within the Haudenosaunee. A Seneca war sachem was in charge of gathering the warriors of the Haudenosaunee and leading them into battle.

Seneca people lived in villages and towns. Archaeological records indicate that some of these villages were surrounded by palisades because of warfareFact|date=February 2007. These towns were relocated every ten to twenty years as soil, game and other resources were depleted. During the nineteenth century, many Seneca adopted customs of their immediate American neighborsFact|date=February 2007 by building log cabins, practicing Christianity and participating in the local agricultural economyFact|date=February 2007.

Notable Senecas in history include Deerfoot, Red Jacket, Sayenqueraghta, Cornplanter, Guyasuta, Handsome Lake, Ely S. Parker, Governor Blacksnake, Halftown, Half-King, Little Beard, Skunny Wundy, Mary Jemison, Arthur Parker, Isaac Newton Parker, Robert Hoag, Willam C. Hoag, Frank Patterson, Cornelius Seneca, George Heron, Lionel R. John, Martin Seneca Sr., Duwayne 'Duce' Bowen, Solomon McLane, William Seneca, and Catherine Montour.

Contact with Europeans

During the colonial period they became involved in the fur trade, first with the Dutch and then with the BritishFact|date=February 2007. This served to increase hostility with other native groups, especially their traditional enemy, the HuronFact|date=February 2007, an Iroquoian tribe in New France near Lake SimcoeFact|date=February 2007. During the seventeenth century, attacks on Huron villages caused the destruction and dispersal of the HuronFact|date=February 2007. Captives were often adopted into the tribe ["This preponderance, however, was due largely to the wholesale incorporation of captives in the early tribal wars" CathEncy|wstitle=Seneca Indians] depending on the age and gender; however, slavery and execution were also possible, though this was usually limited to captured soldiers.

Interactions with the United States

During the American Revolutionary War, some Senecas sided with the British and Loyalists and as a result, in 1779 came under attack by United States forces as part of the Sullivan Expedition. On July 8, 1788, the Senecas (along with some Mohawk, Oneida, Onondagoes, and Cayogas tribes) sold rights to land east of the Genesee River in New York to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts. cite journal |last=McKeveley |first= Blake|year=1939 |month=January |title=Historic Aspects of the Phelps and Gorham Treaty of July 4-8, 1788 |journal=Rochester History |volume=1 |issue=1 | publisher=Rochester Public Library | issn =0035-7413 |url= |accessdate=2008-01-05 ] On November 11, 1794, the Seneca (along with the other Haudenosaunee nations) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States agreeing to peaceful relations. On January 15, 1838, the Treaty of Buffalo Creek was signed relocating the Senecas to a tract of land west of Missouri. The Seneca formed a modern government, the Seneca Nation of Indians, in 1848, but the traditional tribal government still governs the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians.


While it is unknown exactly how many Seneca people there are, approximately ten thousand Seneca live near Lake Erie.

About 7,800 Seneca people are citizens of the Seneca Nation of Indians. These enrolled members live or work on five reservations in New York: the Allegany (which contains the city of Salamanca), the Cattaraugus near Gowanda, New York, the Buffalo Creek Territory located in downtown Buffalo, NY, the Niagara Falls Territory located due east of Niagara Falls, and the Oil Springs, near Cuba, New York. Few Seneca reside at the Oil Springs, Buffalo Creek, or Niagara Territories due to the small amount of land present-- in the case of the last two, because those territories are specifically laid out for casinos.

Another 1,200 or more Seneca people are citizens of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians and live on the Tonawanda Reservation near Akron, New York.

Other Seneca descendants are members of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma near Miami, Oklahoma, plus a considerable number are citizens of Six Nations and reside on the Grand River Territory near Brantford, Ontario, Canada.

Other enrolled members of the Seneca Nation live throughout the United States.

Land claims

The Seneca commenced an action to reclaim land that allegedly was taken from it without the approval of the United States on August 25, 1993, in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. The lands consisted of several islands. In November 1993, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians moved to join the claim as a plaintiff which was ultimately granted. In 1998, the United States intervened in the lawsuits on behalf of the plaintiffs in the claim in order for the claim to proceed against New York in light of its assertion of it immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. [ [ Seneca Indian Law Suit Information Page, Grand Island NY @ IsledeGrande.Com ] ] After extensive negotiations and pre-trial procedures all parties to the claim moved for judgment as a matter of law. By decision and order dated June 21, 2002, the trial court held that the subject lands were ceded to Great Britain in the 1764 treaties of peace and that the subject lands were not owned by the Seneca at the time of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua and that New York's "purchase" of them in 1815 was intended to avoid conflict with the Senecas over land it already owned. [] This decision was appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision on September 9, 2004. [] The Senecas then sought review of this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States which was denied on June 5, 2006. []

On April 18, 2007, the Seneca Nation laid claim to a stretch of Interstate 90 that crosses the Cattaraugus Reservation by revoking the 1954 agreement that granted the Interstate Highway System and New York State Thruway Authority permission to build the highway through the territory. The move was a direct shot at New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's attempts to collect taxes on Seneca territory. [ [ Buffalo News story] ] The Senecas had previously made the same claim in a lawsuit which they lost because of the state's assertion of sovereign immunity. [] In Magistrate Heckman's Report and Recommendation it was noted that the State of New York asserted its immunity from suit against both counts of the complaint (one count was the challenge regarding the state's acquisition of Grand Island and other smaller islands in the Niagara River and another count challenging the thruway easement). The United States was permitted to intervene on behalf of the Seneca Nation and the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians. The United States was then directed to file an amended complaint that "clearly states the relief sought by the United States in this action." In this amended complaint the United States did not seek any relief on behalf of the Seneca Nation relative to the thruway easement. By not seeking such relief in its amended complaint the United States permitted the action relative to the thruway easement to be subject to dismissal based on New York's immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. [] On May 4, the Seneca Nation threatened to do the same with Interstate 86. [ [ Salamanca Press article] ]


Diversified businesses

The Senecas have a diversified economy that relies on construction, recreation, tourism, retail sales, and have recently become involved in the gaming industry.

Several large construction companies are located on the Cattaraugus and Allegany Territories. There are also many smaller construction companies that are owned and operated by Seneca people. A considerable number of Seneca men work in some facet of the construction industry.

Recreation is one component of Seneca enterprises. The Highbanks Campground plays host to several thousand visitors every summer, as people take in the scenic vistas and enjoy the Allegheny Reservoir. Several thousand fishing licenses are sold each year to non-Seneca fishermen.Many of these customers are tourists to the region. Tourism in the area often comes as a direct result of several major highways adjacent or on the Seneca Nation Territories that provide ready accessibility to local, regional and national traffic. Many tourists visit the region during the autumn for the fall foliage.

A substantial portion of the Seneca economy revolves around retail sales. From sports apparel to candles to artwork to traditional crafts, the wide range of products for sale on Seneca Nation Territories reflect the diverse interest of Seneca Nation citizens.

Tax free gasoline and cigarette sales

The price advantage of the Senecas' ability to sell tax-free gasoline and cigarettes has created a boom in their economy, including many service stations along the state highways that run through the reservations as well as many internet cigarette stores. This, however, has raised the ire of two groups: non-Indian service stations that cannot compete because of New York's high cigarette and gasoline taxes, and the State of New York, who believes that the internet cigarette sales are illegal and that the state still has authority to tax non-Indians who patronize Seneca businesses, a principle that the Senecas vehemently reject. Seneca President Barry Snyder has defended the price advantage as an issue of sovereignty and cited the Treaty of Canandaigua and Treaty of Buffalo Creek that suggest that Indians are tax exempt. [] This position was rejected by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Third Department. [ [ Snyder v. Wetzler, 193 A.D.2d 329] ] In that decision the court held that the provisions of that treaty regarding taxation was only with regard to property taxes. This decision was affirmed by the New York Court of Appeals on December 1, 1994. [ [ Snyder v. Wetzler, 84 N.Y.2d 941] ]

In 1997, New York State attempted to enforce taxation of Indian gasoline and cigarettes. The attempt was thwarted after a large number of Senecas set fire to tires and cut off traffic to Interstate 90 and New York State Route 17 (the future Interstate 86). [ [ Frens v State of New York (2006 NY Slip Op 51994(U)) ] ]

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer attempted to cut off internet cigarette sales, including negotiating deals with credit card companies and delivery services to not handle cigarette purchases to consumers. [ [ Attorneys General And Philip Morris Usa Reach Landmark Agreement To Reduce Illegal Internet Cigarette Sales ] ] Another attempt at collecting taxes on gasoline and cigarettes sold to non-Indians was set to begin March 1, 2006; but it was tabled, much to the chagrin of Spitzer and the state legislature, by the State Department of Taxation and Finance. [ [ Statement By Darren Dopp, Communications Director For The Department Of Law, Regarding Reservation Cigarette Sales ] ]

Shortly after March 1, 2006, a couple of proceedings were commenced to compel the State of New York to enforce its tax laws on sales to non-Indians on Indian land. One proceeding was commenced by Seneca County, New York which was dismissed. [] The other was commenced by the New York State Association of Convenience Stores and this proceeding was also dismissed. [] Based on the dismissal of these proceedings, Daniel Warren, a member and officer of Upstate Citizens for Equality, has moved to vacate the judgment dismissing his 2002 state court action that was dismissed because of his lack of standing. [ [ Warren v. Spitzer, Billet, Poloncarz and Erie County ] ]


The Seneca Nation began to develop its gambling industry during the 1980s when bingo was introduced. In 2002, the Seneca Nation of Indians signed a Gaming Compact with the State of New York to cooperate in the establishment of three class III gambling facilities (casinos). Currently the Seneca Nation of Indians owns and operates two casinos: one in Niagara Falls, New York called Seneca Niagara and the other in Salamanca called Seneca Allegany. The third, the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, is under construction in downtown Buffalo. There are groups that are opposing the Seneca Nation's establishment of the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino. They include Upstate Citizens for Equality and Citizens for a Better Buffalo, who recently won a lawsuit [] challenging the legality of the proposed casino in Buffalo. On July 8, 2008, United States District Judge, William M. Skretny issued a decision holding that the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is not on gaming eligible lands; [] the National Indian Gaming Commission has agreed with Skretny's ruling and has issued a Notice of Violation. The Senecas were given five days to respond or to face fines and a forced shutdown. The Senecas have indicated that they refuse to comply with the commission's order and will appeal. [Chapman, Chris. [ Battle for Buffalo Creek: Notice of Violation doesn't change operations] . Salamanca Press. ]


Many Seneca people are employed in the local economy of the region as professionals, including; lawyers, professors, physicians, police officers, teachers, social workers, nurses, and managers.

ee also

* Seneca language
* Gaasyendietha
* Ganondagan State Historic Site
* Lewis H. Morgan
* Seneca Trail
* Seneca Rocks
* Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution



* "Dating the Iroquois Confederacy" essay by Bruce E. Johansen, ND.
* Anthony F.C. Wallace, "The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca" (New York: Vintage Books, 1969). ISBN 0-394-71699-X.
* William Cronon, "Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England" (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983). ISBN 0-8090-0158-6
* Robert H. Keller & Michael F. Turek, "American Indians & National Parks" (Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 1998). ISBN 0-8165-2014-3

Further reading

* Cadwallander Colden, "The History of the Five Indian Nations: Depending on the Province of New York in America" (New York: Cornell University Press, 1958). ISBN 0-8014-9086-3
* Allen W. Trelease, "Indian Affairs in Colonial New York: The Seventeeth Century" (Bison Books, 1997). ISBN 0-8032-9431-X
* Daniel K. Richter, "The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization" (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1992). ISBN 0-8078-4394-6
* Francis Jennings, "The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation of Indian Tribes with English Colonies" (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984). ISBN 0-393-30302-0
* Jeanne Winston Adler, "Chainbreaker's War: A Seneca Chief Remembers the American Revolution" (New York: Black Dome Press, 2002). ISBN 1-883789-33-8

External links

* [ Seneca Nation Of Indians (SNI)]
* [ Seneca historical and cultural information]
* [ Seneca Indian Information]
* [ Seneca Allegany Casino]
* [ Seneca Niagara Casino]
* [ Seneca Gaming Corporation]
* [ Seneca language]
* [ Tonawanda Seneca History]
* [ General Tonawanda/Haudenosaunee Information]
* [ How the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign Dispossessed the Seneca]
* [ Taxation on Seneca Territory]

Iroquois Confederacy

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