Senecas and their neighbors: An ethnographic and historical portrait
Horton, Sidney James
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In this dissertation I examine the relationship between Senecas and Euro-Americans from initial contact until the present day. The disciplines of history and anthropology necessarily inform my work; the former gives it depth and the latter nuance. My research includes reports from council meetings, court hearings, congressional testimony, tribal newsletters, newspaper accounts, fieldnotes, and interviews. From these materials, as well as from my life experiences, I construct a narrative history of the interaction of Euro-Americans and Native Americans who live together in the region of the Western Door of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy. The actions of Jesuit priests, the earliest whites who lived among Senecas, foreshadow the actions of those who came later. Thus, many twenty-first century New Yorkers desire that Senecas give up both their culture and their land. To illustrate this I explore in detail major confrontations and analyze the way they have negatively impacted on Seneca culture and the Allegany Seneca land base. I have chosen the city of Salamanca as my geographical focus in order to reveal the nature of the ongoing interactions between Senecas and Euro-Americans. Salamanca is an anomaly in that it is the only city in the United States that lies almost entirely within the borders of an Indian reservation. The history of how that occurred and why it has continued to affect Senecas and their neighbors is central to my research. I am fortunate that I was raised on the Allegany Territory in Salamanca so that I could receive neighborly help from my many Seneca and Euro-American neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and officials. Seneca culture, like any culture, changes. Yet, in spite of many military, cultural, and political assaults, Senecas maintain their particularity, their unique “Seneca-ness”, and their authenticity. This is not always readily apparent to non-Senecas. In this dissertation I will demonstrate that the tropes of decline and assimilation are fallacious and that Seneca culture remains both traditional and vibrant. Familial relations remain surprisingly unchanged, in spite of what many believe. Women have an unbroken record of agency in spite of paternalistic impositions. By agency I mean the ability to control their lives and influence Seneca economic, political, social and other spheres. Many of the values and characteristics of Seneca particularity, such as an unyielding sense of place, have always infused Seneca worldviews. This is not to say that tragedies—such as land and language loss—have not occurred. Senecas, in spite of the actions of their neighbors, have continued their cultural particularity with humor, dignity and magnanimity. Their culture has changed, sometimes with tragic losses, sometimes with admirable adaptations. Through it all, they remain Seneca. And nowadays, more often than not, the Senecas' neighbors are friends.