Seneca Indians

The indigenous people of the United States are commonly called “American Indians.” These people are also termed as “Native Americans.” “Seneca” or “Seneca Indians” are the term used for the group of indigenous people native to North America . Seneca Indians were the westernmost Nation within the Six Nations or Iroquois League. They are also known as “Iroquois Indians.”

The word ‘Seneca’ came from the name of one of their villages, Osininka. Seneca Indians called themselves Onandowaga, which means “People of the Great Hill.” Traditionally, they lived in what is now present New York between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake . Recent archaeological evidences indicate that these people lived all the way down to the Allegany River into what is now upper North Western Pennsylvania.

Iroquois Indians history can be traced ages back, before the formation of Iroquois League. Seneca Indians were tribe people and Seneca Indian nation was one of the original members of the Iroquois League, or Kanonsionni (league of clans) formed in 1142. The Mohawk, the Oneida , the Cayuga, the Onondaga, and the Tuscarora were the other members of confederacy. These people today call themselves as the Haudenosaunee (people of the longhouse) or Six Nations. Seneca Indians were called “Keepers of the Western Door” because they settled and lived the farthest west of all the Nations within the Haudenosaunee. The Seneca were by far the most populous of the Haudenosaunee Nations, with the ability to raise over 10,000 warriors by the 17th century (Wallace, 1969).

The major occupations of Seneca Indian tribe people were agriculture, hunting and fishing. Seneca men were in charge of hunting, trading, and war, and Seneca women were in charge of farming, property, and family. The Seneca Nation economy was based on the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash that were the staple food of the Haudenosaunee and were called “the three sisters.” Seneca women grew and harvested corn, beans, and squash. The women also gathered medicinal plants, roots, berries, nuts, and fruits. The women also tended to domesticated animals like deer, dogs, turkeys, etc.

Seneca women had the ownership of all the land and the homes. Seneca Indian tribes were ruled by Seneca women who made all important decision regarding the land and resources. The woman in charge of a clan was called “clan mother.” The tribe chiefs were Seneca men who took military decisions and trade agreements. Seneca men maintained the traditional title of War Sachems within the Haudenosaunee. A Seneca war sachem was in charge of gathering the warriors of the Haudenosaunee and leading them into battle. Seneca men represented the Seneca Nation at the Iroquois Great Council, but only women voted to elect the Seneca representatives. Seneca Indian tribe people used to take part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

Seneca Indians lived in longhouses that are also called iroquois indian longhouses. Iroquois indian longhouses were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. The houses could be a hundred feet long, and an entire clan lived in each one- up to 60 people. Their villages were surrounded by palisades due to warfare. During the 19th Century these people adopted customs and religion of immediate American neighbors and started building log cabins, practicing Christianity, and developed local agricultural economy. Presently, 15,000 to 25,000 (approx) Seneca Indians live in the United States and Canada, specifically in the western New York State, Oklahoma and near Brantford, Ontario.