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Heritage Report Seneca Indian

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Heritage report Seneca Indian
The Seneca Indians were one of the six nations that formed the Iroquois nation. They encompassed a region that covered western New York to the western edge of Lake Erie. The Seneca where a very modern people in ways like politics and social interaction but also very steeped in tradition with their religious beliefs. Seneca tribal leaders like Red Jacket were some of the first to accept the white man and they even fought alongside the British during the Revolutionary war.
The Seneca consisted of nine tribes named after animals. The tribes’ names were Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Hawk, Sandpiper, Deer, Doe and the Heron. During the mid to late 1600’s the tribes combined to have a population reported to be near 5000, though some have said it was closer to 3500. The tribes occupied the area from New York to Lake Erie from as far north as Canada and as south as Pennsylvania.
Their economy was based around crops as well as what was caught during hunting and fishing trips. Like most hunters and gathers, the women harvested the crops and gathered fruit and berries as well as the different roots and plants that would be used for medicinal purposes while the men would typically handle the hunting. Seneca Indians where well versed in agriculture, predominantly growing what they called the three sister crops: corn, squash and beans. They did not rely solely on agriculture, though, and were also considered good hunters and fishers.
Seneca women were granted more responsibility than women from other cultures during their time. Along with the responsibility of growing the crops, they were also in charge of the domesticated animals and helped run elections within the tribe. The men were typically away from the rest of the tribe, either scouting/developing locations for new cities or at hunting grounds. The hunting and fishing grounds were generally located away from the tribe but were well maintained for possible extended stays. The men were also responsible for the defense of the tribe. The males with the title of War Sachems were charged with rallying warriors and lead them into battle. Red Jacket, a key figure in Seneca history, was noted as someone who would generally avoid battle if possible. During a battle he took some of his men and left the battlefield. This caused another leader named Cornplanter to say to Red Jackets wife “Leave that man, he is a coward”.
The Seneca had a vast history of great events but on event stands out from the rest. In 1758 the Seneca abducted a fifteen year old girl named Mary Jemison and her family. Mary’s family was scalped and killed but Mary was free. Mary decided that she would stay and live with the Seneca where she had to endure many of the same harsh realities and the Indians she was with. She stayed with the Seneca until her death in 1833 at the age of 90
The stories told by the Seneca were somewhat on par for the region with major themes like shape-shifting and journeys from beyond the sky. The Seneca creation myth starts with a journey from beyond the sky and shape shifting animals that help the first man. The myth starts, “This was a long, long time ago. This was in the land of the sky world. In the sky world, there were beautiful, beautiful trees and wonderful plants with bright colors and delicious fruits to be eaten. There were beautiful animals there and beautiful birds. There was also a young couple in the sky world.” The main things that separate the Seneca myths from the other tribes in the area is the uncle being of greater importance then the father and the role played by the women. In Seneca mythology women play strong characters that rely on themselves which is different than the role of nurturer that is the normal role for women in mythology. Their myths, like most others, were filled with monsters for the heroes to fight against. The main protagonists in their stories are man-eaters, but it is also of note that many of the stories are constructed around the same themes. The Seneca were great warriors and conquerors bringing into their tribe part of the tribes they had conquered. By doing so they became one of the largest tribes in the Iroquois nation. Their warriors were fierce as was their appearance. They shaved their hair into Mohawks and were covered in tattoos. The guns that were given to them by the Dutch colonist as well as the stories told about them practicing cannibalism and torturing prisoners made other tribes less likely to stand up against them. Even as animalistic and primal as they were in war, they were the exact opposite in politics. One would expect the tribe to be barbaric in their methods of choosing a leader but they were forward thinking and democratic. With the exception on the Tonawanda Tribe, all tribes adopted a democratic government. The political system somewhat mirrored the United States in the fact that it was based on a constitution and there were elections to decide who the leaders would be. Their society differed, however in the fact that political posts were usually served for life. Politicians could only be removed from their leadership position if they became corrupt, incompetent or died. The Seneca where progressive in that the women were in charge of the elections. Even though the Seneca acted together in most area there were times that separate tribes would act without informing the other tribes of there actions. While the tribes were not supposed to act autonomously on major decisions they were left to handle the day to day dealings without needing to contact the rest of the tribes. One of the biggest names and key leaders in the history of the Seneca people is Sa-go-ye-wat-ha better known as Red Jacket. He got this knick name because of the red jacket that he received from the British soldiers that he would always wear. Red Jacket was a chief and orator for the Seneca from 1758 – 1830. During this time he became an ally of the United States where he fought in the battles of fort George and Chippewa. He would only leave the war due to the increasing number of casualties suffered during the conflicts. Red Jacket was a strong defender of the Seneca cultures and traditions and against any assimilation of white people and the missionaries that tried to bring Christianity to the tribes. He did want peace with white people but not at the price of losing their ways. While a great speaker and debater it is said that he was not an in-depth thinker and would speak off the cuff. In his later years he described himself as “an aged tree… My leaves are fallen, my branches withered, and I am shaken by every breeze. Some of his other more famous quotes are “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” and “It is another’s fault if he be ungrateful but it is mine if I do not give.” The Seneca Indians were a strong and noble tribe. Predominately hunters and gatherers they lived in the harsh climates of the upper north east of the United States. There ruthlessness on the battlefield and towards their enemies was starkly countered by their progressiveness towards women’s rights and the democratic government that they used. The Seneca where one of the first tribes work with white people there is even some that think that the Seneca ways were an influence on the American constitution.
References
Caswell, H. S. (1892). Our life among the Iroquois Indians. Boston, MA: Congregational Sunday-School and Pub. Society.
Curtin, J. (1922). Seneca Indian myths,. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton and company.
Index of /native/tribes/seneca. (n.d.). Access Genealogy: A Free Genealogy Resource. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/seneca
Parker, A. C. (n.d.). The Age of the Clans: The Highlands from Somerled to the Clearances by Robert Dodgshon. Questia - The Online Library of Books and Journals. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o
Stone, W. L. (1841). Life and times of Red-Jacket, or, Sa-go-ye-wat-ha: being the sequel to the history of the Six Nations. New York, NY: Wiley and Putnam.

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