STEAMBURG - Nearly 50 years after members of the Seneca Nation suffered through the forcible removal from the Ohi:yo' Valley on the Allegany Territory, members walked in remembrance of what was lost; and how the Seneca have moved on.
President Robert Odawi Porter opened the recent remembrance events with remarks at a breakfast at the Steamburg Community Center.
"Those Seneca who lived through the removal; those who watched their houses burn to the ground - they experienced trauma and heartbreak that no doubt nearly broke their spirit. But we are a people who do not give up. We are a people who came back from what was defeat from the ultimate treaty violation. But we persevered and today we are thriving," said Porter.
The Seneca refer to the 1960s as the "Removal Era" in which the Nation lost 10,000 acres of land due to the construction of the Kinzua Dam. More than 600 Seneca citizens were forced from their ancestral homelands along the "Ohi:yo'" or Allegany River Valley when the Army Corps of Engineers built the dam for flood control 350 miles south in Pittsburgh.
The Senecas fought, proposed alternatives, appealed to the president of the United Sates, and argued the validity of treaty guarantees - all to no avail.
A group of Senecas walked down Old Route 280. The Seneca make the annual walk through a part of the community that was once dotted with small houses.
"We are here today to mourn the loss of the lands and the loss of those elders who were unable to sustain such dramatic loss."
Robert Odawai Porter
Seneca Nation president
Tribal Archivist Becky Bowen said, "Every year we take time to remember the significance of the tremendous loss experienced. But we also walk to demonstrate what the Seneca Nation has overcome."
Congress authorized the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938, and with that, plans for the Kinzua Dam near Warren, Pa., went into action, later opening in 1965. The Seneca were never told that another more profitable purpose was in the works for the $108 million dam, but in 1970 the federal government awarded a license to generate hydropower to a private, for-profit utility company - now operating in Ohio. To this day, the Nation has never been invited to share in the financial benefits or offered a share of the energy produced.
The dam controls a watershed area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island, 2,180 square miles. The reservoir that resulted flooded 10,000 acres of Seneca land, displacing the Senecas and flooding graves.
Historian Lawrence Hauptman gave remarks at the recent event and a short video documentary by young Seneca filmmaker Caleb Abrams was shown. Seneca Nation Iroquois Museum curator Randy John discussed the social impacts that the removal had on the people of the Ohi:yo'.
"To say that the removal period was a dark and difficult time for our people is an understatement. It was especially hard on the elders, those who were tied to the land in a mutually interdependent, and spiritual way. To be forcibly removed and dislocated from all that they ever knew was a shock. Some of those elders died of a broken heart," said John. "We are here today to mourn the loss of the lands and the loss of those elders who were unable to sustain such dramatic loss."
Today, the Seneca Nation seeks to acquire the license and the rights to operate the hydropower facility that is powered by the water that flows from its Seneca territories. The federal license to operate the facility expires in 2015. The licensing process is a long-term commitment that the Nation entered into in 2010.