By Jason Corwin. Edited by Joe Stahlman. Photos by Seneca Media
The Canawaugus Territory is one of several reservations along the Genesee River retained by the Seneca in the 1797 Big Tree Treaty. It was lost following a fraudulent treaty in 1826 that was never accepted by the Seneca and illegally ratified by Congress without the 2/3 majority that the US Constitution calls for. However, the pressure from settlers was so great at that time that those lands were left behind as the people moved to other territories. The area has been home to Native peoples since at least the ending of the ice age and the northerly retreat of the glaciers. There are countless generations who lived, loved, and raised their families on those fertile river plains.
Currently there is a project proposal by the Invenergy corporation to install a massive solar farm of over 1,000 acres in that area, including a section of the Canawaugus Territory. NY Governor Cuomo’s green energy plans include provisions to fast-track projects and standard review procedures. The entire region is filled with the final resting places of our ancestors, as documented by many archeologists, and which this solar project now threatens.
On October 12, 2020, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, community members from Allegany, Buffalo, Cattaraugus, Tonawanda, Tuscarora, and Rochester came together for a “Protect Our Ancestors” walk and rally. Local residents opposed to the project and other non-Native allies also joined in. People walked a mile and a half from the Genesee River to the historic sign that marks the heart of Canawaugus and notes that Handsome Lake and Cornplanter were born there. Signs and speakers showed how committed people are to ensuring that proper respect is given to burial grounds and for the project to cease and desist.
Archeological consultants hired by Invenergy recently found bones at the Golah Road site in Rush, NY where they intend to connect the project to an existing electrical grid sub-station. One of the consultants claimed first that one of the bones that appeared human was a heron bone. They reidentified it as bear bone since there are anatomical similarities between human and bear feet. Seneca Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office director Dr. Joe Stahlman has been monitoring the situation closely while working with Nation officials and legal counsel to address it.
President Armstrong recently stated, “The integrity of our sacred sites must be protected at the eternal resting places of our ancestors, not simply plowed over in the pursuit of economic gain. First and foremost, it must be determined whether the bone that was discovered on site is a human bone. If so, and our experts believe that is the case, there is a possibility that other human remains may be exposed if work continues. We are asking Invenergy to properly secure and protect the integrity of the location, so that all human remains can be properly reinterred with our community’s participation. We are further requesting that the company employ the use of a tribal monitor throughout the duration of all surveying activities, in order to protect the historical resources located on this site.
The Seneca Nation is committed to clean energy and working cooperatively with our neighbors. We find it important that the State and Invenergy do their part to respect all Seneca and Haudenosaunee people, living and deceased.
Nobody, regardless of heritage, wants to see their ancestors disturbed, desecrated and disregarded. That is not progress, but rather blatant disrespect. Canawaugus is part of Haudenosaunee history. The presence of our ancestors’ remains forever links us to the land, even nearly two centuries after it was fraudulently taken from us. Our people may have been forced to leave Canawaugus, but those who have been at rest at the site must be allowed to rest in eternal peace.”
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