Senecas commemorate treaties with dance and history - The Buffalo News
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Senecas commemorate treaties with dance and history

In its annual ceremony with prayer, dance and speeches about history, the Seneca Nation of Indians commemorated the 1842 treaty at the Burchfield Nature & Arts Center, by Buffalo Creek in West Seneca, the same land where their ancestors lived.

“It’s an important part for the young people to understand,” Barry Snyder, Seneca Nation president, said Friday. “Sometimes what you read is not exactly how it happened – especially when it has to do with land.

“... We don’t want our young people to forget. ... We don’t make treaties anymore.”

Snyder spoke before the formal proceedings began in the windowed front room of the nature center with fellow Senecas explaining the treaty history that led to land and the embattled no-taxation agreement with the U.S. government.

“Treaties are not antiquated. They are still active,” said Randy John of the Turtle Clan and curator at the Seneca-National Iroquois Museum in Salamanca. “They are as relevant as the United States Constitution.”

He said the 1842 Buffalo Creek Treaty that granted land to Senecas followed an 1838 treaty that swindled them out land after 60 years of peaceful coexistence with American settlers following the American Revolution. The Buffalo Creek area was one of the land losses that wasn’t recovered.

“We’ve been negotiating a long time,” John said. “We continue to develop our own economy.”

As if in quiet proof of his point, people in the audience, many of them Senecas, wore shirts with Seneca Niagara Casino insignias. Local politicians also had come to show their support.

Those taking seats along the front windows included West Seneca Police Chief Daniel Denz, Assemblyman Michael Kearns, D-Buffalo, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma.

“I take great pride in being called a friend of the Senecas,” said Gallivan during a short speech.

The treaty commemoration lasted almost two hours and included performances by dancers in beaded costumes and a prayer about the spiritual nature of the outdoors and “the creator.”

“We give thanks to the winds, the winds that move very slowly that enable us to breathe. ... He intended that we should be happy as we walk this earth,” said Alan George, dance coordinator.

For dancer Nicole Jimerson, 26, the treaty history helps put things in perspective.

“You have to know how far people have come,” she said.

Another Seneca speaker, Richard Nephew, told the story of the founding of the Seneca Nation as reaction to the “disastrous” 1838 treaty. The restoration of some property in 1842 followed publicity and help from the Quakers.

“The whole country came to realize a very bad thing was starting to happen to a very small Indian nation,” said Nephew, a member of the Seneca Legislative Council.

“It’s still our homeland,” he said. “We do have friends in the U.S. government. ... We came here to commemorate that, to remember that, to be here with our friends.”

In tribute, he brought a great white pine tree to replace one from a ceremony a few years ago that died. It represents the forests of tall trees that used to be here, he said.

“I hope this one will live and grow very tall. ... It’s a tree of peace and unity,” Nephew said. “We’ll be back here every year to remind everyone of the symbolism of this tree.”


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