In my lifetime I have experienced great and exciting moments in the history of the Seneca Nation. I have also lived through times of great difficulty and sadness.
Fifty-six years ago 10,000 acres of land here at Allegany were taken to make way for the Allegany River reservoir that would be created by the construction of the Kinzua Dam. One hundred-thirty Allegany Seneca families were under orders of the federal government to be removed from their homes and lands.
Our leaders began the fight to stop this dam in October of 1956 when the Seneca Nation Council resolved to deny the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permission to enter our lands. The ensuing court battle took us to the U.S. Supreme Court where in 1959 that court refused to hear our case thereby letting stand the lower court decision that upheld the power of Congress to condemn our lands for this project. That day, the federal government violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794. The U.S. Constitution upholds treaties as the supreme law of the land. The Canandaigua Treaty acknowledges these lands to be the property of the Seneca Nation and that the U.S. will never claim these lands, nor disturb the Seneca Nation in the free use and enjoyment thereof. The treaty says that these lands will remain ours until we say otherwise.
The Seneca Nation took this fight not only through the court system, but to the White House and the U.S. Congress. U.S. presidential candidate John Kennedy said he would uphold our treaty rights, but once he reached the White House he said it was not possible to halt construction of the Kinzua Dam. In 1961 President Kennedy directed federal departments and agencies to take every action within their authority to assist the Seneca Nation, in his words, “in adjusting to the new situation.” Congress’ response was one of prolonged deliberation that eventually resulted in the passage of Public Law 88-533. This public law authorized payment for a permanent easement of lands within the Allegany Territory taken by the United States for the Allegheny Reservoir Kinzua Dam project and for purposes of relocation, rehabilitation, social and economic development of the Seneca Nation.
The monetary settlement brought much needed housing assistance for displaced Seneca families. An education scholarship foundation was established that provided the means for Senecas to pursue a post-secondary education. A community center was constructed on both the Allegany and Cattaraugus territories which housed Nation offices and were integral to rebuilding our devastated communities at Allegany.
But much was lost. The beautiful valley downstream from Salamanca through which the Ohi:yo’ flows was bulldozed and re-shaped. The animal populations shifted. The river’s delicate ecosystem was damaged. Generations-old family homesteads were lost. Houses were burned to the ground – some before families had sufficient time to remove all their possessions. 3,107 graves at Allegany and Cornplanter were disturbed. An inordinate number of elders died during the final years of Kinzua. Some say they died from broken hearts. The communities of Red House, Shongo, Coldspring, Quaker Bridge, Onoville, and Cornplanter vanished. The old neighborhoods and family groupings were dispersed into two residential areas – one at Jimersontown and the other 13 miles away at Steamburg.
The Allegany Indian School, or as it was better known, the Red House School was closed and like our homes, it was burned to the ground. For the children who attended Red House School, the shadow of Kinzua loomed large over their young lives. I know because I was one of those children. The impact of the forced removal upon our families, the incendiary destruction of our homes, the defilement of sacred places, the altering of the landscape, the very air of sadness and uncertainty all contributed to the violation of the innocence of our childhood. Today that generation of children from the early 1960s have become the elders of our Nation and we have an obligation to remember.
Even after our removal, the battle continued. The very same Public Law 88-533 that offered us housing and education relief also called for our termination as a sovereign nation. The very last section of the law called for the Seneca Nation to submit a plan for terminating our treaty based relationship with the federal government within 3 years. Fortunately, by 1967 the federal Indian policy of termination was falling out of favor in Washington as its ruinous effects were being witnessed among the many tribes already terminated. Unfortunately, House concurrent resolution 108, the law calling for termination of Indian nations, has never been rescinded.
In 1984 the Seneca Nation Council resolved that the last Saturday of September thereafter would be Remember the Removal Day. That year survivors gathered together in the early morning fog of a September morning. The mood was quiet and respectful. The day began with prayers. Emotions were high as they walked the six miles to Steamburg. Memories of the old homesteads, old neighborhoods, family and friends were fresh. Some survivors did not participate that day because the memories were too difficult.
In the words of the 1984 presidential proclamation, Remember the Removal Day was established in tribute to the Seneca families who were moved from their homelands, and in remembrance of a great tragedy inflicted upon the Seneca people. As President of the Seneca Nation, I call upon all Senecas to observe and remember the removal in hopes that we shall never forget and that it will never happen again.
Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr.
Red Ribbon Week
President Armstrong stated that the Seneca Nation recognizes the need to take an active role in the fight against drugs on our Territories.
On-going development and support will include activities that address both prevention and intervention. One national campaign that is considered to be the largest drug-abuse prevention campaign in the Country is Red Ribbon Week being held from October 23rd through the 31st.
This event was started in 1988 by the National Family Partnership to recognize the loss of life of a DEA Agent by wearing red ribbons in honor of his sacrifices. Today, millions of people wear red ribbons throughout the week and participate in drug-free events in addition to pledging to live drug-free lives.
There is a multitude of information and activities for families on the website: WWW.REDRIBBON.ORG and everyone is encouraged to check out the website and to take the drug free pledge.
Sovereign Nations Day Recognition
President Armstrong would like to remind the Seneca community that Tuesday, October 13, 2020 is our Sovereign Nations Day. On September 15, 2018, a resolution was passed by the Seneca Nation Council unanimously proclaiming that the Seneca Nation abolishes Columbus Day and observes the second Tuesday of October of each year to be recognized as Sovereign Nations Day.
We have the inherent right to govern ourselves as our ancestors did pre-European contact and protecting our Sovereign Rights is a common denominator that we all continue to stand strong and united on. Seneca sovereignty is especially evident in our rights that we assert to develop our own laws, to govern ourselves, to devise an economy, provide for our communities, to preserve our culture and much more.
Our Seneca lands are beautiful and our way of life is sacred to us. We must remain steadfast in protecting all that we have and all that we are for ourselves and for our future generations, that is the Seneca Way.