Sunday, October 3, 2010

Seneca Tribe - Iroquois Nation

New York Seneca Tribe

Seneca ('place of the stone,' the Anglicized form of the Dutch enunciation of the Mohegan rendering of the Iroquoian ethnic appellative Oneida, or, strictly, Oněñiute'ā'kā', and with a different ethnic suffix, (Oněñriute'roñ'non', meaning 'people of the standing or projecting rock or stone').

The Seneca were the largest of the 5 tribes which comprised the Iroquois League or the Five Nations.  Along with the Seneca, the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) League includes the  Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Cayuga.  Later the Tuscarora, or "shirt wearing people" became the  6th Nation to join the confederacy, fleeing from British occupied North Carolina.  Today, nearly 10,000  Seneca  live on reservations in Western New York; the Cattargaurus, Allegany, and Tonawanda reservations, with some also settled in Oklahoma, and Ontario, Canada; they ore the only Nation to own a U.S. city, Salamanca, which is situated on land owned by the Allegany Indian reservation.  


The Seneca were also great conquerors, highly skilled at warfare, and having been given guns by the Dutch colonists, were fierce adversaries to any other tribe who tried to resist their takeover.  One of the distinctive features of the Iroquois warriors' appearance was their hair, which they kept shaved in "Mohawk" fashion, and their heavily tattooed bodies. Iroquois warriors were also believed to have participated in ritual cannibalism, and were also know to torture their prisoners. 


Ironically, Iroquois politics were the most sophisticated in all of the North-American Native cultures;  the Seneca, with the exception of one tribe (The Tonawanda), having adopted a democratic form of government after years of questionable leadership by Chiefs who had come into their positions out of lineage rather than virtue.  The Seneca women were in charge of elections, and decided who was to become tribal leader, Leaders usually held their posts for life, but could be removed if they became corrupt or proved to be incompetent;  the Seneca political system also included a constitution, which is believed to have been the model for the American constitution.

Chief Red Jacket

One of the Seneca's most important leaders was a man named "Red Jacket"; he was a great orator, and  left us with many memorable quotes such as "Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power. The sun also shines on the wicked.", and "It is another's fault if he be ungrateful; ."but it is mine if I do not give."  Red Jacket was a strong defender of the Seneca heritage, opposed to assimilation by the whites, especially with the missionaries who tried to impose Christianity on the Seneca.  Despite his opposition to cultural assimilation, Red Jacket did want to live in peace with the whites. 

The Seneca fought alongside the British during the American Revolutionary war. 

Red jacket was so named because he was given a red coat by one of the British officers he had served with.  Because of his great skills as a speaker, Red Jacket served as official spokesman for the Iroquois League, and was instrumental in negotiation between them and the Americans after the war ended.  This earned him the Seneca name Sagoyewatha meaning "He who keeps them awake."  Red Jacket died of cholera on the Buffalo Creek reservation; a monument erected in his honor now stands in Buffalo, New York.