Published on October 26, 2010 by John
The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribe with tribal sovereignty, based in Oklahoma, United States. Theirs is a limited sovereignty, as the tribes are recognized as “domestic dependent nations” within the United States. To the degree permitted by that sovereignty, they are an independent nation outside state law. The tribe’s sovereignty means it governs itself within its limits; it creates laws for its own people and can operate mostly independently of the state of Oklahoma.
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The Seneca, or Onödowága (meaning “People of the Great Hill”), traditionally lived in what is now New York between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake. The name Cayuga (Gayogohó:no’) means “People of the Great Swamp”.
They belonged to the Iroquoian linguistic family, and were the largest division of the Five Nations (or League of the Iroquois) who traditionally lived in New York. The Five Nations were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Cayuga. When the Tuscarora joined the Iroquois Confederation in 1722, the confederacy was known as the Six Nations.
In the mid to late 18th century, a confederation of Iroquois Indian bands was drawn west from throughout the Northeast. Its members moved west to escape encroachment by the colonists. It included the Mingo (from the upper Ohio River), Susquehannock, Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga and the Seneca of Sandusky (who had lived in New York at the outset of the American Revolution). After the Revolutionary War, some of the Cayuga moved to Ohio, where the US granted them a reservation along the Sandusky River. They were joined there by the Shawnee of Ohio and members of the Iroquois bands.
All the main Iroquois nations except the Oneida had allied with the British in the Revolution. They were considered defeated in the war. The British gave up both their and Indian claims to lands in treaty negotiations, and the Iroquois were forced to cede their lands to the United States. Most relocated to Canada after the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794, although some bands were allowed small reservations in New York. New York made separate purchases and leases of land from the Indians, which were not ratified by the US Congress.
The Indian Claims Commission’s opinion in Strong v. United States (1973), 31 Ind. Cl. Comm 89 at 114, 116, 117 details the separation of this small band of the Seneca-Cayugas’ ancestors (who were known as Mingoes) from the Six Nations. It noted their migration to Ohio in the mid-18th century: “The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma constitutes the descendants of those Mingoes who were living in Ohio in the 18th century. . . About 1800 these Senecas of Sandusky were joined by a portion of the Cayugas who had sold their lands in New York…Based upon the record in these proceedings, we believe that by the time of the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty, the Mingoes in Ohio were small, independent bands, no longer politically subservient to the Six Nations of New York. . . Beginning shortly before 1750, the Mingoes themselves were asserting their independence from the Six Nations of New York . . . The only conclusion which can be reached from an analysis of the activities of these Mingoes in Ohio during the 18th century is that they constituted independent bands who often acted in concert with other Ohio Indians. Their actions do not support the conclusion that they remained politically affiliated with the Six Nations of New York”.
In 1831, the tribe sold their land in Ohio and accepted a reservation in the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). They were a prosperous people who, preparing to leave Ohio, loaded their considerable baggage (clothing, household goods, tools, seed) onto a steamboat to sail to St. Louis. The trip to their new home took eight months, plagued by delays, blizzards, disease, and death. Upon their arrival in Indian Territory, the Iroquois band found their assigned lands overlapped those of the Cherokee. Another band (the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee) traded their Ohio lands for a tract in Indian Territory, which turned out to be wholly within the Cherokee Nation. An 1832 treaty – the first made by the U.S. with the immigrant Indians within the boundaries of Oklahoma – adjusted the boundaries and created the “United Nation of Seneca and Shawnee”.
During the American Civil War, the Indian Territory became a battleground. Many Seneca-Cayuga fled to Kansas for safety, although the state was also subject to insurgent violence. Following the war, in 1867, federal negotiators sold part of the Seneca-Cayuga lands to various tribes. They arranged for separation of the Shawnee (who then became the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma).
In 1881, a band of Cayuga from Canada joined the Seneca Tribe in Indian Territory. In 1902, shortly before Oklahoma became a state, 372 members of the joint tribe received individual land allotments in exchange for becoming US citizens and withdrawing from the traditional tribe.
Today, the tribal roll numbers approximately 5,000 members, many of whom live throughout Ottawa and Delaware counties. The tribal headquarters is located in Miami, Oklahoma.
The current Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma is a Federal Corporation chartered under the Act of June 26, 1936.
New York land claims
Despite having left New York more than two centuries ago, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma closely followed emerging land claim cases in the state. It attempted to join the Cayuga Nation in its suit for land claim in New York. The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe asserted that its members were equally descendants of the Cayuga Nation.
But, the decision of the U.S. Indian Claims Commission in Strong v. United States (1973) ruled that ancestors of the Seneca-Cayuga were not a party to the treaties between the Cayuga Nation and New York. The Seneca-Cayuga ancestors had already left the state by 1794, when the treaties were made following the American Revolution. Therefore, the Claims Commission found that the Seneca-Cayuga should not have any claim based on the loss of land that the Cayuga suffered in New York as a result of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.
Similarly, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma attempted to intervene in the land claim suit which the Seneca Nation of Indians brought against New York. This related to land around Cuba, New York. Again, the courts ruled that the Seneca-Cayuga had no standing in a case with roots in treaties between the Seneca Nation and the state of New York following the American Revolution. The Seneca Nation ultimately reached a settlement with the state of New York in relation to their claim to property around Cuba Lake.
The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma has long sought land in New York upon which to build another casino. The tribe applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the opportunity to purchase land in New York and have it taken into trust. The US Department of the Interior rejected the tribe’s trust application.
Groups such as the Upstate Citizens for Equality in New York have opposed the revival of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois nations) land claims in the state. They particularly object to out-of-state tribes’ attempting to enter into cases related to treaties made after such tribes’ ancestors had left the state.
The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma have an electorate system of government, consisting of two governing bodies: the Reservation Business Committee (RBC), which acts as the Tribe’s council that oversee the daily governing of the Tribe, and the Grievance Committee, which acts as the Tribe’s judiciary.
The Reservation Business Committee consists of seven members: Chief, Second Chief, Secretary-Treasurer and four RBC Members. The current chief is LeRoy Howard. The Grievance Committee consists of five members. On odd years, Chief, First and Third RBC Members, and First, Third and Fifth Grievance Committee Members are elected. On even years, the Second Chief, Secretary-Treasurer, Second and Fourth RBC Members and Second and Fourth Grievance Committee Members are elected. All elected terms are for two years.
The Seneca-Cayuga criteria for tribal membership are:
All persons of Indian blood whose names appear on the official census roll of the Tribe as of January 1, 1937;
All children born since the date of the said roll, both of whose parents are members of the Tribe;
Any child born of a marriage between a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe and a member of any other Indian tribe who chooses to affiliate with the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe;
Any child born of a marriage between a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe and any other persons if such child is admitted to membership by the Council of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe.
The Seneca-Cayuga have a Class II casino and cigarette manufacturing plant near Grove, Oklahoma, which makes their Skydancer cigarettes. By investing a large portion of their gaming and industry profits back into their community, within the last few decades the Seneca-Cayuga tribe has gone from being a destitute people to enjoying a fair amount of social prosperity.
The tribe has two smoke shops, and in 2009, they made $98,000 in charitable donations.
Administration on Aging Program
Adult Education Program
Adult Vocational Training Program
Child Care & Development Program
Higher Education Program
Housing Improvement Program & NAHASDA
Indian Child Welfare Program
Johnson O’Malley Program
Social Services/Child Protection Program
Substance Abuse Program