￼“Know that we are eager to share our gifts, in the name of love…” ~ Seneca Chief Red Jacket (Sagoyewatha)~ 1757-1830 -Seneca Tribal
Seneca Chief Red Jacket (Sagoyewatha) 1757-1830, Photo Credit- First Nation History, by Daniel N. Paul
￼The Seneca are part of the Iroquois (also known as the Haudenosaunee) League of Nations, which includes the Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Cayuga. The Seneca traditionally lived in what is now New York between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake. Of the five tribes, the Seneca were the largest.
The Seneca’s name in their language is Onöndowága, which translate into “Great Hill People.” At the time of the formation of the Iroquois League, the five tribes occupied territory from the East to the West, the Seneca being the “keepers of the western door”.
The Seneca were also great conquerors, highly skilled at warfare, and having been given guns by the Dutch colonists, were fierce adversaries to any other tribe who tried to resist their takeover.
The political history of the Seneca is tied closely with that of the League of the Iroquois. At times the Seneca acted independently in their dealings (battles) with other tribes. But their independent action was never enough to severe their ties with the bonds that united them with the federal government of the League.
The Seneca warriors composed the larger part of the Iroquois warriors who in 1648-49 assailed, destroyed, and dispersed the Huron tribes and also took a leading part in the defeat and subjugation of the Neuters in 1651 and of the Erie in 1656.
The Seneca following the policy of adopting conquered tribes, and making them abide by the rules established by the government of the League. By 1657 the Seneca had incorporated eleven different tribes into their body politic.
In 1663, 800 Seneca and Cayuga warriors from the Confederation of the Five Nations were defeated by the Minqua, aided by the Marylanders.
One of the Seneca’s most important leaders was Red Jacket. Red Jacket was a strong defender of the Seneca heritage, opposed to assimilation by the whites, especially with the missionaries who tried to impose Christianity on the Seneca. Despite his opposition to cultural assimilation, Red Jacket did want to live in peace with the whites, and even fought alongside the British during the American Revolutionary war.
While the Seneca maintained substantial permanent settlements and raised agricultural crops in the vicinity of their villages, they also hunted widely through extensive areas. Traditionally, the Seneca Nation’s economy was based on hunting and gathering activities, fishing and 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 varieties of 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 such as dogs and turkeys.
Women were in charge of the kinship groups called clans. 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.
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.
Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
1. What larger group are the Seneca a part of?
2. What is the meaning of the Seneca’s name in their language?
3. At the time of the formation of the Iroquois League, which part of the territory were the Seneca tribe responsible for guarding?
4. Who was Red Jacket?
5. What other name is given to corn, beans, and squash?
6. What was the role of Seneca women back then?
7. What was the function of a Seneca war sachem?
Today, nearly 10,000 Seneca live on reservations in Western New York; the Cattargaurus, Allegany, and Tonawanda reservations, with some also settled in Oklahoma, and Ontario, Canada; they are the only Nation to own a U.S. city, Salamanca, which is situated on land owned by the Allegany Indian reservation.
The modern day Seneca Nation of Indians is a democracy whose constitution was established in 1848, and provides for a multi-branch system of government that is comprised of elected Executive and Legislative branches, and an elected Judicial branch.
The Executive Branch leadership includes a president, treasurer and clerk, each elected for two year terms. The Seneca constitution allows leaders to serve multiple, but not consecutive terms.
The Seneca Nation functions as an autonomous, sovereign community, providing its members with a wide range of health, education, recreation, social and public services…The Nation also recently expanded its capital building and social services operations, with new projects including improvements to roads, sewers, water treatment plants, water-supply facilities, athletic arenas and low-income and senior housing.
The Nation is also working to provide an all-encompassing, cultural education experience for its youth that includes Seneca history and traditions. Nation-run education programs run the gamut from pre-school learning and tutoring for school-aged children, to higher education scholarship and mentoring efforts, as well as post-graduation career counseling.
The Seneca Health Department is also key to the fabric of daily life for members. the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Health Center and the Lionel R. John Heath Center provide comprehensive health maintenance, primary care and referrals.
The Nation’s government employs over 1,300 full-time and 100 part time workers, ranging from teachers and judges, to physicians and engineers. Total Nation payroll is approximately 42 million and vendor outlays are more than $90 million…Its Seneca Gaming Corporation has grown into one of the area’s largest employers, with a staff of over 3,700 at its gaming facilities in Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo.
In addition to hundreds of union construction jobs created in the last eight years, the Nation has paid New York State and local municipalities more than $475 million in fees in exchange for the exclusive right to offer slot-type games at its casinos.
Seneca White Deer Story
The Indian legend of Mona-sha-sha lends an air of tragedy to the beautiful Glen with the famous waterfalls. The hunter, Joninedah, brought his wife and child to a temporary home when the hunting was good, but days of hunting brought no success. Mona-sha-sha tried to cheer him and fished and gathered berries while he was away. After a long hard day, he came home in despair that the evil eye was upon him. He failed to respond to the smiles of Mona-sha-sha. Feeling that he no longer loved her, she waited until he fell asleep, then strapping her babe upon her back , stole out into the night. Far above the (Middle) Falls she found her bark canoe, and slipping silently down the stream, was dashed over the waterfall. Joninedah awoke to find her gone and hurried outside. Following her trail to the water’s edge, he saw that the canoe was gone. A white doe and fawn darted by, and the grief-stricken brave said the spirit had spoke of the dead. Plunging his knife into his breast, he joined his wife and child in death.”~Seneca White Deer Story: Sugar Loaf Historical Society ~
Photo: Seneca Chief Red Jacket -1757-1830– Photo Credit: First Nation History, by Daniel N. Paul
Seneca Flag: Don Healy’s Native American Flags