The Tonawanda Band of Seneca are a federally recognized band of Seneca Indians residing in the state of New York. They split from the main body of Seneca to form their own Band over disagreements with the terms of 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek.
Official Tribal Name: Tonawanda Band of Seneca
Address: 7027 Meadville Road, Basom, NY 14013
Phone: (716) 542-4244
Fax: (716) 542-4008
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
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Formerly known as the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians of New York.
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Confederacy: Iroquois Confederacy, Seneca Tribe
1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek
1857 Treaty with the Seneca, Tonawanda Band
Reservation: Tonawanda Reservation
Other Seneca Reservations: Allegany Reservation, Cattaraugus Reservation, Oil Springs Reservation
Time Zone: Eastern
Population at Contact:
Registered Population Today: About 10,000 Seneca live in the United States and Canada, primarily on reservations in western New York, with others living in Oklahoma and near Brantford, Ontario.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Charter: The Tonawanda Band of Seneca still govern under their traditional tribal system of hereditary Sachems appointed by Clan Mothers. Sachems generally govern for life, unless they do something that causes a Clan Mother to remove them. There is one Sachem and one Clan Mother from each of the eight clans.
Name of Governing Body: Council of Chiefs
Number of fluent Speakers: The language is severely endangered, with fewer than 50 fluent speakers. In 1998, the Seneca Faithkeepers School was founded as a five-day-a week school to teach K-5 children the Seneca language and traditions. A revitalization program is in progress.
In 2013, the first public sports event in modern times was held in the Seneca language, when middle school students served as announcers for a lacrosse match.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The Tonawanda Band consists of eight clans: the Snipe, the Heron, the Hawk, the Deer, the Wolf, the Beaver, the Bear, and the Turtle. Each clan appoints a clan mother, who in turn appoints an individual to serve as Chief [from hereditary maternal lines]. The clan mother retains the power to remove a Chief and, in consultation with members of the clan, provides recommendations to the Chief on matters of tribal government. The clan mothers cannot disregard the views of the clan, nor can the Chiefs disregard the recommendations of the clan mothers.
- Seneca Nation of Indians
- Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma (Some Seneca relocated to Indian Territory in the early 19th century)
- Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation (Canada)
Member tribes of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy
Beginning in 1609, the Iroquois League engaged in a decades-long series of wars, the so-called Beaver Wars, against the French, their Huron allies, and other neighboring tribes, including the Petun, Erie, and Susquehannock.
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The Seneca have a matrilineal kinship system; hereditary chiefs are selected through the maternal line by clan mothers. Under their traditional government, hereditary chiefs typically serve for life. They govern by a consensus of leaders of the clans, which formed the basis of the band. Seneca chiefs are called sachems.
Children were considered born into the mother’s clan and took their status from her people. Descent and property are passed through the maternal line.
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Although Seneca-owned radio station WGWE (whose call sign derives from “gwe,” a Seneca word roughly translating to “what’s up?”) broadcasts primarily in English, it features a daily “Seneca Word of the Day” feature prior to each noon newscast, broadcasts a limited amount of Seneca-language music, and makes occasional use of the Seneca language in its broadcasts in a general effort to increase awareness of the Seneca language by the general public.
Newspapers: A newsletter, Gae:wanöhge′! Seneca Language Newsletter, is available online.
Catastrophic Events: Smallpox epidemics.
The Beaver Wars
In 1687, Jacques-René de Brisay de Denonville, Marquis de Denonville, Governor of New France from 1685 to 1689, set out for Fort Frontenac with a well-organized force. They met with 50 hereditary sachems from the Onondaga council fire, who came under a flag of truce. Denonville recaptured the fort for New France and seized, chained, and shipped the 50 Iroquois chiefs to Marseilles, France, to be used as galley slaves.
He ravaged the land of the Seneca, landing a French armada at Irondequoit Bay, striking straight into the seat of Seneca power, and destroying many of its villages. Fleeing before the attack, the Seneca moved farther west, east and south down the Susquehanna River. Although great damage was done to the Seneca homeland, the Senecas’ military might was not appreciably weakened. The Confederacy and the Seneca developed an alliance with the English who were settling in the east. The destruction of the Seneca land infuriated the members of the Iroquois Confederacy. On August 4, 1689, they retaliated by burning to the ground Lachine, a small town adjacent to Montreal. Fifteen hundred Iroquois warriors had been harassing Montreal defenses for many months prior to that.
They finally exhausted and defeated Denonville and his forces. His tenure was followed by the return of Frontenac, who succeeded Denonville as Governor for the next nine years (1689–1698). Frontenac had been arranging a new plan of attack to lessen the effects of the Iroquois in North America. Realizing the danger of continuing to hold the sachems, he located the 13 surviving leaders of the 50 originally taken and returned with them to New France in October 1689.
In 1696, Frontenac decided to take the field against the Iroquois, although at this time he was seventy-six years of age. On July 6, he left Lachine at the head of a considerable force and traveled to the village of the Onondaga, where he arrived a month later. With support from the French, the Algonquian nations drove the Iroquois out of the territories north of Lake Erie and west of present-day Cleveland, Ohio, regions which they had conquered during the Beaver Wars. In the meantime, the Iroquois had abandoned their villages. As pursuit was impracticable, the French army commenced its return march on August 10. Under Frontenac’s leadership, the Canadian militia became increasingly adept at guerrilla warfare, taking the war into Iroquois territory and attacking a number of English settlements. The Iroquois never threatened the French colony again.
King William’ War
During King William’s War (North American part of the War of the Grand Alliance), the Iroquois were allied with the English. In July 1701, they concluded the “Nanfan Treaty”, deeding the English a large tract north of the Ohio River. The Iroquois claimed to have conquered this territory 80 years earlier. France did not recognize the validity of the treaty, as it had settlements in the territory at that time and the English had virtually none. Meanwhile, the Iroquois were negotiating peace with the French; together they signed the Great Peace of Montreal that same year.
Treaty of Buffalo Creek
On 15 January 1838, the United States government entered into the Treaty of Buffalo Creek, with nine Indian nations of New York, including the Seneca Nation. The treaty was part of the US’ Indian Removal program, by which they persuaded or forced Native American peoples from eastern states to move west of the Mississippi River to lands reserved for them in the Kansas Territory. The US wanted the Seneca and other New York tribes to move there to free up lands in New York for European-American development. Under the treaty, the US acknowledged that the Ogden Land Company was going to buy the four remaining Seneca reservations in New York. The proceeds would be used to pay for the nation’s removal to Kansas Territory.
In 1842, the US modified the 1838 treaty by the “Treaty with the Seneca of 1842”. The new treaty reflected that the Ogden Land Company had purchased only two reservations, including the Tonawanda Reservation. The Seneca retained the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations. At this time, the Seneca of the Tonawanda Reservation protested they had not been consulted on either treaty, nor had their chiefs signed either treaty. They refused to leave their reservation.
In 1848, the Seneca Indians of the Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations held a constitutional convention. They adopted a new form of constitution and government modeled on that of the United States, including tribal elections of chiefs. This was not their traditional practice, in which chiefs were selected by clan mothers and ruled for life (unless one displeased his clan’s mother.)
The Tonawanda Band did not want to make such changes, and seceded from the main Seneca nation. They reorganized and re-established their traditional government with a Council of chiefs from each of their eight clans. In 1857, under the “Treaty with the Seneca, Tonawanda Band”, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians secured federal recognition as an independent Indian nation. With their share of proceeds from the earlier land sale, they bought back most of the Tonawanda Reservation. They reorganized under a traditional government, where chiefs typically served for life. This traditional form governed by a consensus of leaders of the clans, which formed the basis of the band.
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