Seneca Nation's Lands and the Preemption Rights Doctrine: Exploring the Agency of the in-between Space of the Two Rows of Guswentah
Piasta-Mansfield, Urszula M.
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The Senecas continue to occupy their traditional homelands in the Allegany, Cattaraugus and Tonawanda Reservations. At the close of the eighteenth and through the nineteenth centuries, these lands persisted despite the constant threat of dispossession. The impetus for as much as a barrier to these immense land losses resulted from the formation of relationships that were uniquely shaped by preemption rights. Hence, this dissertation seeks to narrate and trace the development of various constellations of relationships that will culminate in the discussion of the Senecas and their lands. Part I examines the manner in which the pre-contact Haudenosaunee (popularly known as Iroquois) formed their relationships with the land and the rest of the natural world. They treated Earth as a relative, a living being, to whom they owed a certain set of responsibilities rather than claimed it by possession. Competing, post-contact forms of relationships are introduced in Part II. These relationships were redefined as rights as a result of the application of the property, and in particular, preemption rights, which, once established in North America, underwent their own process of transformation from being an exclusive right of a European sovereign seeking to secure its territories based on the rights of first discovery, to becoming future rights of first purchase that allowed their holder to acquire indigenous-held lands based on indigenous nations' consent. Hence, the power that preemption rights granted, on the one hand, served to eliminate the competition from the land market and secure higher financial returns on initial investments, and, on the other, to territorialize and legitimate the Euro-American settlement of North America. Part II illustrates as well how the application of preemption, as a conceptual, political and a legal tool, generated and expanded specific forms of relationships among the Euro-American settler states and communities, how they reached out to indigenous nations as land holders, and, finally, how the indigenous nations, here, the Haudenosaunee, expended their agency to affect and rebuild those relationships and the space that they produced. Finally, Part III examines the manner in which the preemption rights to Seneca lands reached the private market and, in effect, facilitated in the formation of the middle, in-between space, where new opportunities for the participation of multiple indigenous and non-indigenous actors allowed them to generate such relationships that prevented those preemption rights from being fully realized into fee simple ownership and, in effect, from erasing the Seneca presence from their homelands. On the whole, this dissertation seeks to tell a more complex story of preemption rights and problematize their nature in order to arrive at a much deeper understanding and much richer portrayal of Seneca history by using preemption as a specter of analysis. In the end, this process of re-conceptualization of preemption through relationships and spatial arrangements reaffirmed the continuing relevance of the Haudenosaunee relationship-building tools such as Guswentah (the Two-Row Wampum Treaty), according to which the Haudenosaunee and Europeans, and later Euro-Americans, agreed to live alongside each other as separate and sovereign entities.