The Seneca Nation (Onondowahgah), meaning the People of the Great Hill, was one of the five original nations of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy.  Their traditional homeland was between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake in what is now called New York State. The Seneca were also known as the "Keepers of the Western Door" because they lived west of all the other Haudenosaunee nations.  They were responsible for guarding the Iroquois Confederacy from threats from the west.

 

The Seneca sided with the British during the Revolutionary War.

  

There are 5 Seneca communities in the United States and Canada shown in blue on the map above.

Click on the images below for information on each of the five Seneca communities.

Click the arrows to move to the next slide. 

Photographs of Cattaraugus contributed by Lily Jones, Seneca Bear Clan

ALLEGANY

ALLEGANY

The Seneca community of Allegany is located in western New York near Allegany State Park and the Pennsylvania border. Following the American Revolution, the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 recognized that much of the land in western New York belonged to the Seneca. Three years later, the Treaty of Big Tree was signed and all but a small portion of the property was sold to the Holland Land Company. One of the four largest pieces of unsold land became Allegany reservation.

ALLEGANY

ALLEGANY

Allegany Reservation is 30,469 acres in size but much of it is under water! In the 1960s 1/3 of the Reservation lands were taken by the U.S. government to build the Kinzua Dam. Despite opposition to the dam project, 9000 acres of Seneca land along the Allegany River were flooded, leaving only 2300 acres above the water line that were flat enough to be farmed or built on. An extremely important sacred site, burial grounds, medicine plants, & the homes of 130 families were lost.

ALLEGANY

ALLEGANY

The Seneca have their own museum at Allegany. It displays ancient stone tools, baskets, beadwork, sculptures, clothing, and photographs that tell the story of the dam and the history of their people. Young Seneca’s often serve as tour guides for visitors who come to the museum from all over the world to learn about Seneca culture.

ALLEGANY

ALLEGANY

About 2000 individuals live on the reservation. They have a casino, bingo hall, library, campground, health center, craft shops, a car wash, video stores, and a Chinese restaurant. There is also a McDonalds and a Burger King! In some ways Allegany looks like any other community in the United States, but here you can see large murals by Seneca artist Carson Waterman and road signs written in the Seneca language.

CATTARAUGUS, NY

CATTARAUGUS, NY

The Seneca community of Cattaraugus is located in western New York on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. Following the American Revolution, the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 recognized that much of the land in western New York belonged to the Seneca. Three years later, the Treaty of Big Tree was signed and all but a small portion of the property was sold to the Holland Land Company. The four largest pieces of unsold land became Allegany, Tonawanda, Buffalo Creek, and Cattaraugus reservations.

CATTARAUGUS, NY

CATTARAUGUS, NY

Cattaraugus is 21,680 acres in size and home to about 3,000 people.  Most of those who live there are Seneca, but some Cayuga and non-Native people live there too. In 1848 Cattaraugus joined with Allegany reservation in a political revolution.  Together they formed the Seneca Nation of Indians and established a new type of government where all the members of the Seneca Nation over 18 can vote to elect their leaders.

CATTARAUGUS, NY

CATTARAUGUS, NY

In 1875, Thomas Indian School, a boarding and day school, was constructed at Cattaraugus.  Some of the students who attended were orphaned, others were removed from their homes by authorities, and still others enrolled because it was close by.  Most of the students were Seneca from Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations. 

CATTARAUGUS, NY

CATTARAUGUS, NY

The school required the students to speak only English and to dress in the fashion of non-Natives at that time.  Older students helped to grow and put aside all the food necessary for school meals.  Thomas Indian School operated until 1957.  Many elders from the Cattaraugus community still recall their days at the school and, even though some things about the school made them sad, some were sorry to see it close. 

CATTARAUGUS, NY

CATTARAUGUS, NY

Cattaraugus Creek still runs through the reservation providing a place to fish, swim, and picnic, but today the New York State Thruway also goes through the community.  There are artist studios, private businesses, a bingo hall, library, daycare center, health center and senior housing.  Most of the youth play on soccer, basketball, or lacrosse teams. 

CATTARAUGUS, NY

CATTARAUGUS, NY

Like many other Iroquois communities, the original language is spoken by very few people.  Combining computer technology with traditional methods, a dedicated group of community members aided by Seneca elders are working to preserve their language for future generations.  This is especially difficult since many of the people who remember the language are well over 70 years old.  But the elders know how important it is, so they work hard too. 

SENECA-CAYUGA, OK

SENECA-CAYUGA, OK

After the Revolutionary War, a group of Seneca and Cayuga moved from their traditional lands in New York to Ohio, where the US granted them a reservation along the Sandusky River. In 1831, the Tribe sold their land in Ohio and accepted a reservation in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Upon their arrival in Indian Territory, the Seneca-Cayuga people found their assigned lands overlapped those of the Cherokee.

SENECA-CAYUGA, OK

SENECA-CAYUGA, OK

An 1832 treaty – the first made by the U.S. with the immigrant Indians within the boundaries of Oklahoma – adjusted the boundaries and created the "United Nation of Seneca and Shawnee." In 1902, shortly before Oklahoma became a state, 372 members of the joint tribe received individual land allotments in exchange for becoming US citizens and withdrawing from the traditional tribe.

SENECA-CAYUGA, OK

SENECA-CAYUGA, OK

Today, the tribal roll numbers approximately 5,000 members. The current Seneca–Cayuga Nation is a Federal Corporation chartered under the Act of June 26, 1936. On May 15, 2014 The U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Miami Agency conducted a referendum election to change the Constitution and Bylaws at the request of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma Business Committee. As a result of this referendum, the members voted to change the Name to the Seneca-Cayuga Nation.

SIX NATIONS

SIX NATIONS

The Six Nations of the Grand River is a reserve located approximately 25 km southwest of the city of Hamilton, Ontario; between the cities of Brantford, Caledonia, and Hagersville. During the American Revolution, Captain Joseph Brant convinced many Iroquois to ally with the British. For their aid during the war, they were deeded a tract of land along the Grand River in Ontario. Much of the original tract was surrendered or sold and the reserve currently has 46,000 acres.

SIX NATIONS

SIX NATIONS

The Six Nations of the Grand River has the largest population of all First Nations in Canada. In 2005, total band membership was 22,294 with 11,297 people living within the Six Nations Reserve. The Reserve is centered on the village of Ohsweken and is home to newspapers, approximately 300 native businesses, a library, an arena and other sports facilities, social services, including men and women's shelter and band council offices, shopping centers, several schools, four longhouses, and numerous churches. The reserve has both a traditional Iroquois council of chiefs and an elected band council conforming to Canadian government requirements.

SIX NATIONS

SIX NATIONS

There are approximately 2,674 houses on the Reserve, most in rural areas, with a few in urban subdivisions. Fire protection is provided by the Six Nations Volunteer Fire department.

TONAWANDA

TONAWANDA

Tonawanda Reservation is located in a remote area of western NY, a few miles north of the NYS Thruway. Although most of the reservation lies in Genesee County, portions are within the boundaries of Erie and Niagara counties. The Tonawanda Creek flows through the entire reservation to the Niagara River, separating the part in Niagara Co. from the parts in Erie and Genesee counties. The northern boundary of the reservation's Niagara Co. portion is part of the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area.

TONAWANDA

TONAWANDA

The reservation was first created in the early 1800s, By 1826, the Seneca had sold a major portion of their land to the Ogden Land Company. In 1838, their remaining lands which included Tonawanda were sold in an unscrupulous transaction. The Tonawanda Seneca fought for 2 decades to retain their lands and in 1857, they bought their land back from the Ogden Land Company with monies that had been held in trust for them by the US Federal Government. Today they continue to retain a deed to their land

TONAWANDA

TONAWANDA

Anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan worked with the Tonawanda Seneca during the mid 19th century to learn about Iroquois kinship and social structures. In 1851 he published The League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee or Iroquois, a book that has  influenced much subsequent anthropological research. Much of the information was provided by his colleague and friend Ely S. Parker, a Seneca born on the reservation in 1828. Morgan dedicated his book to Parker and credited him with their joint research.

TONAWANDA

TONAWANDA

The 2000 census recorded a population of 533 people. It has more than a half dozen businesses located within the reservation. Several sell untaxed, low-price cigarettes and gasoline. Other businesses sell Seneca craft goods, groceries, and prepared food. Tonawanda has maintained a hereditary system of government with 10 chiefs. They elect a chairman, treasurer, and clerk. Agreements are made with NYS to maintain the roads & they contract with local towns to provide fire & ambulance services.

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