Cayuga people

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This article is about the people known as "Cayuga". For other uses, see Cayuga (disambiguation).
Total population
30,000+ (450 in New York;
4,892 in Oklahoma[1])
Regions with significant populations
 Canada (Ontario Ontario),
 United States
(New York New York, Oklahoma Oklahoma)
Gayogohó:no’, English, other Iroquoian dialects
Kai'hwi'io, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Longhouse, Handsome Lake, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Seneca Nation, Onondaga Nation, Oneida Nation, Mohawk Nation, Tuscarora Nation, other Iroquoian peoples

The Cayuga People (Cayuga: Guyohkohnyo or Gayogohó:no’, lit. "Canoe Carry Place") was one of the five original constituents of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), a confederacy of American Indians in New York. The Cayuga homeland lay in the Finger Lakes region along Cayuga Lake, between their league neighbors, the Onondaga to the east and the Seneca to the west. Today Cayuga people belong to the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, the Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.


Political relations between the Cayuga, the British, and the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution were complicated and variable, with Cayugas fighting on both sides (as well as abstaining from war entirely). Most of the Iroquois nations allied with the British, in part hoping to end encroachment on their lands by colonists.

In 1779, General George Washington of the Continental Army appointed General John Sullivan and James Clinton to lead the Sullivan Expedition, a military campaign designed to unseat the Iroquois Confederacy and prevent the nations from continuing to attack New York militias and the Continental Army.[2] The campaign mobilized 6200 troops and devastated the Cayuga and other Iroquois homelands, destroying 40-50 villages. Those destroyed included major Cayuga villages such as Cayuga Castle and Chonodote (Peachtown). The expedition, with attacks from the spring through the fall, also destroyed the crops of the Iroquois, to drive them out of the land. Survivors fled to other Iroquois tribes, or to Upper Canada. Some were granted land there by the British in recognition of their loyalty to the Crown. The Cayuga in the United States were the only Haudenosaunee nation to be left without a reservation.

Some Seneca and Cayuga had left the area earlier, going to Ohio. After the Sullivan Campaign, more Cayuga joined them, as well as some other bands of Iroquois who left New York before the end of the Revolutionary War. In 1831 those Indians left Ohio for removal to the Indian Territory in what became Oklahoma may be. The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribe.

On November 11, 1794, the (New York) Cayuga Nation (along with the other Haudenosaunee nations) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States, by which they ceded much of their lands in New York to the United States, forced to do so as allies of the defeated British. It was the second treaty the United States entered into. It recognized the rights of the Haudenosaunee as sovereign nations. The Treaty of Canandaigua remains an operating legal document; the U.S. government continues to send the requisite gift of muslin fabric to the nations each year.

The state of New York made additional treaties with the tribes but failed to get them ratified by the Senate. As it lacked the constitutional authority to deal directly with the tribes, this has affected 20th-century land claims by individual Iroquois tribes. It arranged sales of more than 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of former Iroquois lands at inexpensive prices to encourage development in the state, as well as granting some western lands to veterans in lieu of pay. Speculators bought up as much land as they could and resold it to new settlers. Land-hungry Yankees from New England flooded into New York in waves of new settlement. Immigrants also came from the British Isles and France after the war.


Tammy Rahr, a Cayuga bead artist

Today, there are three Cayuga bands. The two largest, the Lower Cayuga and Upper Cayuga, still live in Ontario, both at Six Nations of the Grand River. Two federally recognized tribes of Cayuga are in the United States: the Cayuga Nation of New York in Seneca Falls, New York, and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

The Cayuga Nation of New York does not have a reservation. Members of the former Cayuga Nation live among the Seneca Nation on their reservation.[3]

In December 2005, the S.H.A.R.E. (Strengthening Haudenosaunee-American Relations through Education) Farm was signed over to the Cayuga nation by the United States citizens who purchased and developed the 70-acre (280,000 m2) farm in Aurora, New York. This is the first property which the Cayuga Nation has owned. It is the first time they have lived within the borders of their ancestral homeland in more than 200 years.[4] The Cayuga continue to debate the issue of establishing a Land Trust for the property through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The first land reclaimed was in 1996. On July 17, 1996, the Cayuga People purchased 14 acres (57,000 m2) in Seneca Falls, NY within their 64,000 acres (260 km2) land claim area. On August 2, 1997 a dedication was held where members of all the Iroquois Confederacy were present. This purchase began the return of the Cayuga People to their ancestral homelands. A pine tree was planted at this dedication as a symbol that the Cayuga People are still alive and wanting to return. The elder women of the Cayuga Nation unitedly broke the ground and planted the pine tree to welcome the return of their people to the territory.

Land claims[edit]

The Cayuga Nation of New York commenced an action on November 19, 1980, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York to pursue legislative and monetary restitution for land taken from it by the State of New York during the 18th and 19th centuries. New York entered into land sales and leases with the Cayuga Nation after the signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua after the American Revolutionary War. Its failure to get approval of the United States Congress meant the transactions were illegal. The Treaty of Canandaigua holds that only the United States government may enter into legal discussions with the Haudenosaunee.

In 1981, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma was added as a plaintiff in the claim. A jury trial on damages was held from January 18-February 17, 2000. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, finding current fair market value damages of $35 million and total fair rental value damages of $3.5 million. The jury gave the state a credit for the payments it had made to the Cayugas of about $1.6 million, leaving the total damages at approximately $36.9 million. On October 2, 2001, the court issued a decision and order which awarded a prejudgment interest award of $211 million and a total award of $247.9 million.

Both the plaintiffs and the defendants appealed this award. On June 28, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rendered a decision that reversed the judgment of the trial court. It ruled in favor of the defendants, based on the doctrine of laches. Essentially the court ruled that the plaintiffs had taken too long to present their case, when it might have been equitably settled earlier.

The Cayuga Indian Nation of New York sought review of this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States which was denied on May 15, 2006. The time in which the Cayuga Indian Nation could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear the case has passed.

Current population[edit]

In 1995 there were nearly 450 Cayuga members in New York, and today there are about 4,892 combined members of the Cayuga-Seneca Nation in Oklahoma.[1]

The total number of Iroquois is difficult to establish. About 45,000 Iroquois lived in Canada in 1995. Iroquois tribal registrations in the United States in 1995 numbered about 30,000. In the 2000 US Census, 80,822 people in the United States claimed Iroquois ethnicity, with 45,217 claiming only Iroquois background.

Populations of the Haudenosaunee Members (Six Nations)
Location Seneca Cayuga Onondaga Tuscarora Oneida Mohawk Combined Totals
Ontario         3,970 14,051 17,6031 39,624
Quebec           9,631   9,631
New York 7581 448 1596 1200 1,109 5,632   17,566
Wisconsin         10,309     10,309
Oklahoma             4,8922 4,892
Totals 7581 448 1596 1200 15,338 29,314 22,495 82,022
Sources: Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission: Pocket Pictorial' (2010:33) & Iroquois Population in 1995 by Doug George-Kanentiio.
1 Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
2 Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

Notable Cayuga[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Pocket Pictorial." Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2010: 33. (retrieved 10 Jan 2011)
  2. ^ Emerson Klees. Persons,Places, and Things around the Finger Lakes Region. Rochester, Finger Lakes Publishing, 1994. Page 10.
  3. ^ "The Six Nations of the Iroquois", Herald American, 22 Jul 1990, accessed 10 Apr 2009
  4. ^ Hansen and Rossen, 2007


  • Hansen, B. and J. Rossen. "Building Bridges Through Public Anthropology in the Haudenosaunee Homeland." In Past Meets Present: Archaeologists with Museum Curators, Teachers, and Community Groups. Jameson, Jr., J and S. Baugher. 2007. Springer: New York.

External links[edit]