The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation through Two Generations

The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation through Two Generations

The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation through Two Generations

The Allegany Senecas and Kinzua Dam: Forced Relocation through Two Generations

Synopsis

In the late 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced its intention to construct a dam along the Allegheny River in Warren, Pennsylvania. The building of the Kinzua Dam was highly controversial because it flooded one-third of the Allegany Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Nearly six hundred Senecas were forced to abandon their homes and relocate, despite a 1794 treaty that had guaranteed them those lands in perpetuity.

In this revealing study, Joy A. Bilharz examines the short- and long-term consequences of the relocation of the Senecas. Granted unparalleled access to members of the Seneca Nation and reservation records, Bilharz traces the psychological, economic, cultural, and social effects over two generations. The loss of homes and tribal lands was heartwrenching and initially threatened to undermine the foundations of social life and subsistence economy for the Senecas. Over time, however, many Senecas have managed to adapt successfully to relocation, creating new socialnetworks, invigorating their educational system, and becoming more politically involved on local, tribal, and national levels.

Today the Kinzua Dam is, according to Bilharz, a "potent symbol" for the Senecas. For the younger generation, faced with a reservation land shortage, it represents powerlessness, providing them with ample reasons to blame their parents and to continue to mistrust the federal and state governments. For the older generation, the risen riverbanks have acquired an almost spiritual significance. In the evenings many continue to wander down to the reservoir banks "to be near where the 'old places' used to be".

Excerpt

Between 1959 and 1964, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook the construction of a 179-foot dam on the Allegheny River in Warren, Pennsylvania (see map 1). Its reservoir, with a maximum capacity of 21, 188 acres, flooded one-third of the Allegany Reservation of the Seneca Nation of Indians in western New York, leaving untouched only wooded hillsides and towns occupied by whites under leases executed by Congress in the late nineteenth century (see map 2). the construction of Kinzua Dam resulted in the relocation of 550 Seneca people, which William Fenton (1967, 7) has called "one of the most interesting social experiments of our time . . . an experiment in directed culture change."

The objective of this study is to trace over thirty years the reaction of the Senecas to their relocation. the case study is placed within a comparative framework using a model of long-term response to resettlement developed by Thayer Scudder and Elizabeth Colson based on their study of the Kariba Dam in Zambia. the Allegany Reservation provided an ideal situation for this. There were extensive historical records generated by Senecas and non-Senecas, and many of the people most directly involved still lived on or near the reservation and were able to provide their own insights and recollections. Information on pre-dam conditions was gathered from reservation newsletters, local papers and archives, Seneca Nation documents, a pre-relocation survey done by the Bureau of Indian

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