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Schuyler County History
Seneca Natives



The Seneca tribe was the largest of the 5 tribes in the Iroquois League.  The name “Seneca” means “people of the big hill”.  The Seneca’s relied heavily on agriculture for food.  Their main source for food was: Corn, squash, and beans.  Because these foods were the basics for survival, the Seneca Indians called them the three sisters.  The Seneca’s were skilled at almost everything that they did; The Seneca’s built long houses, which could vary in length between 200 and 300 ft long, and could fit up to 60 people in each long house.  The male Seneca’s hunted and fished all year long and when needed were called into battle.  In fact, when a warrior died in battle, the Seneca’s sought vengeance for the warrior’s death.  In turn numerous wars relied solely on the death of one man.  Traditionally when one thinks of the Seneca’s, they don’t think of rituals and spirits, however, the Seneca tribe is notorious for their prisoner sacrifices, spiritual warships, and similar shamanistic rituals. 



There were numerous spiritual beliefs in the Seneca tribe; one for instance was the belief of the inner spirit “Orenda”.  Furthermore, each individual’s “Orenda”, contributed to the tribes overall “Orenda”.  Knowing this, when a Seneca died, they normally adopted a captive to replenish the “Orenda”.  Although these beliefs seem foolish and jovial to today’s society, the Seneca’s cherished these beliefs, and practiced them daily.  The Seneca’s saw the sun as a great warrior who watches over their people and protects them from rival tribes.  Partly due to their beliefs, the common man frowned upon their society and savageness. 



The Seneca’s are great conquerors; they are highly skilled at warfare.  The Seneca’s occupied land between the Genesee River and Seneca Lake.  The Seneca Indian tribe was the undisputed powerhouse in the Iroquois Confederacy.  With numerous resources and many members, the Seneca’s have endured over three and a half centuries of European aggression.  The Seneca’s were called “keepers of the western door”; this is because they protected attacks from the south and east.



Although the Seneca Indians from New York were closely related with the Seneca’s from Ohio, the Ohio Seneca’s were not affiliated with the Iroquois Nation.  During the revolutionary war the Seneca tribe was closely affiliated to the British.  This was due largely in part to the dishonesty from colonists towards natives.


The Seneca’s were the western most tribe of the Iroquois nation, and composed of 4 primary villages.  During the French and Indian war relations with the French and Seneca’s were almost always hostile; despite a peace treat that was signed in 1665.  Historians believed that is why the Seneca’s were working with the English.  Women played a large role in the survival of the Seneca tribe.  Seneca women were in charge of politics and farming.


The Seneca Indian tribe was often confused with the Mohawk tribe; because of their closely related warfare and living traditions.  The traditional Seneca tribe settled in and around Watkins Glen.



The Seneca Indian tribe needed many important leaders to organize and instruct the natives.  One of these leaders went by the name of “Red Jacket”.  Red Jacket was a strong defender of the Seneca heritage, and opposed all assimilation by the whites.  Despite Red Jacket’s disgrace towards whites, he did want to live in peace with the white men, and he even fought along side the British in the American Revolutionary War.


Red Jacket got his name by receiving a red coat from the British as a reward for him helping the British.  This earned him another name from the Seneca tribe.  He was also named “Sagoyewatha”, meaning “He who keeps them awake”.



These are just highlights of perhaps one of the most sophisticated and complex native tribes in the North American continent.  The Seneca’s have a very rich history and an understanding of traditional practices by whites.  With a population near equal to the other four tribes combined, the Seneca’s stories and traditions will continue to survive.

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