Tonawanda Band of Seneca

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Tonawanda Band of Seneca
Total population
Enrolled members
Regions with significant populations
New York
About 700
English, Seneca language
Christianity, traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora

The Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians is a federally recognized tribe in the State of New York. They have maintained the traditional form of government led by hereditary Seneca chiefs ( sachems) and clan mothers. The Seneca are an Iroquois nation, one of the original five (later six) of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy. Their people speak the Seneca language, an Iroquoian language. In 1857, the Tonawanda Band signed a treaty with the United States, allowing them to buy back lands from the Ogden Land Company, which had been sold out from underneath the Tonawanda residents without their permission in the Treaties of Buffalo Creek.

The Tonawanda Band is one of two federally recognized Seneca tribes in Western New York; the other is the Seneca Nation of Indians, a republic formed in 1848 to govern the Allegany, Cattaraugus and Oil Springs reservations. The Tonawanda Band opted out of participating in the republic (in part due to hostilities stemming from the Buffalo Creek sale), leading to the band's formation nine years later; the Tonawanda retrieved the horns of authority and other artifacts from the other tribes and re-established a continuation of the traditional Seneca government that existed prior to 1848.

In addition, some Seneca relocated to Indian Territory in the early 19th century; their descendants now form the Seneca-Cayuga Nation, along with Cayuga people, present-day Oklahoma. The majority of Seneca live in western New York, with a small number living in Canada: Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, within Ontario, Canada.


Jesse Cornplanter, the last descendant of Cornplanter, making a ceremonial mask, Tonawanda Community House, 1940

On 15 January 1838, the United States government entered into the Treaty of Buffalo Creek, with nine Indian nations of New York, including the Seneca. The treaty was part of the United States Indian Removal program, by which they persuaded or forced Native American peoples from eastern states to move west of the Mississippi River to lands reserved for them in the large Kansas Territory (now the states of Kansas and Oklahoma). The US wanted the Seneca and other New York tribes to move there to free up lands in New York for European-American development. Under the treaty, the US acknowledged that the Ogden Land Company was going to buy the four remaining Seneca reservations in New York. The proceeds would be used to pay for the nation's removal to Kansas Territory.[1]

In 1842, the US modified the 1838 treaty by the "Treaty with the Seneca of 1842". The new treaty reflected that the Ogden Land Company had purchased only two reservations, including the Tonawanda Reservation. The Seneca retained the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations.[2] At this time, the Seneca of the Tonawanda Reservation protested they had not been consulted on either treaty, nor had their chiefs signed either treaty. They refused to leave their reservation.

In 1848, the Seneca Indians of the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations held a constitutional convention. They adopted a new form of constitution and government modeled on that of the United States, including tribal elections of chiefs. By their traditional practice, chiefs were selected by clan mothers and ruled for life (unless one displeased his clan's mother.)


The Tonawanda Band did not want to make such changes, and seceded from the main Seneca nation. They reorganized and re-established their traditional government with a Council of chiefs from each of their eight clans. In 1857, under the "Treaty with the Seneca, Tonawanda Band", the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians secured federal recognition as an independent Indian nation.[4] With their share of proceeds from the earlier land sale, they bought back most of the Tonawanda Reservation. They reorganized under a traditional government, where chiefs typically served for life. This traditional form governed by a consensus of leaders of the clans, which formed the basis of the band. The Seneca and all the Iroquois peoples had a matrilineal kinship system, in which descent and property were passed through the maternal line. Children were considered born into the mother's clan and took their status from her people.

"The Tonawanda Band consists of eight 'clans': the Snipe, the Heron, the Hawk, the Deer, the Wolf, the Beaver, the Bear, and the Turtle. Each clan appoints a clan mother, who in turn appoints an individual to serve as Chief. The clan mother retains the power to remove a Chief and, in consultation with members of the clan, provides recommendations to the Chief on matters of tribal government. The clan mothers cannot disregard the views of the clan, nor can the Chiefs disregard the recommendations of the clan mothers."


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Treaty of Buffalo Creek", 15 January 1838, 7 Stat. 550.
  2. ^ "Treaty with the Seneca of 1842", Oklahoma State Library, accessed 22 Mar 2010
  3. ^ a b PETER L. POODRY, DAVID C. PETERS, SUSAN LAFROMBOISE, JOHN A. REDEYE, and STONEHORSE LONE GOEMAN, Petitioners-Appellants, v. TONAWANDA BAND OF SENECA INDIANS; BERNARD PARKER, a/k/a Ganogehdaho; KERVIN JONATHAN, a/k/a Skongataigo; EMERSON WEBSTER, a/k/a Gauhnahgoi; DARREN JIMERSON, a/k/a Sohjeahnohous; HARLEY GORDON, a/k/a Gah-En-Keh; JAMES LOGAN; and DARWIN HILL,, 1995, accessed 22 Mar 2010
  4. ^ "Treaty with the Seneca, Tonawanda Band", Oklahoma State Library, accessed 22 Mar 2010

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