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|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
Onondaga Nation, Oneida Nation, Tuscarora Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cayuga Nation, other Iroquoian peoples, Wyandot (Huron) Nation, Neutral Nation, Erie Nation, Lenape Nation, Shawnee Nation, Mingo Nation
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
Onondaga Nation, Oneida Nation, Tuscarora Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cayuga Nation, other Iroquoian peoples, Wyandot (Huron) Nation, Neutral Nation, Erie Nation, Lenape Nation, Shawnee Nation, Mingo Nation
The Seneca are a group of indigenous people native to North America. They were the nation located farthest to the west within the Six Nations or Iroquois League in New York before the American Revolution. While exact population figures are unknown, approximately 15,000 to 25,000 Seneca live in Canada, near Brantford, Ontario, at the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. They are descendants of Seneca who resettled there, as they had been allies of the British during the American Revolution. Nearly 30,000 Seneca live in the United States, on and off reservations around Buffalo, New York and in Oklahoma.
The Seneca nation's own name (autonym) is Onöndowága, meaning "People of the Great Hill." It is identical to the endonym used by the Onondaga people. With the formation of the Haudenosaunee, they settled and lived as the farthest west of all the nations within the league. Other nations called them Seneca after their principal village of Osininka. Since "Osininka" sounds like the Anishinaabe word Asinikaa(n), meaning "Those at the Place Full of Stones", this gave rise to further confusion. Non-Haudenosaunee nations confused the Seneca nation's name with that of the Oneida nation's endonym Onyota'a:ka, meaning "People of the Standing Stone."
The similarity to the name of the Roman statesman Seneca is entirely coincidental.
The Seneca traditionally lived in what is now New York between the Genesee River and Canandaigua Lake. The dating of an oral tradition mentioning a solar eclipse yields 1142AD as the year for the Seneca joining the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). Some recent archaeological evidence indicates their territory eventually extended to the Allegheny River in present-day northwestern Pennsylvania, particularly after the Iroquois destroyed both the Wenrohronon and Erie nations, who were native to the area. The Seneca were by far the most populous of the Haudenosaunee Nations, numbering "about four thousand souls" by the seventeenth century.
Seneca villages were located as far east as current-day Schuyler County, south into current Tioga and Chemung counties, north and east into Tompkins and Cayuga counties, and west into the Genesee River valley. The villages were the homes and headquarters of the Seneca. While the Seneca maintained substantial permanent settlements and raised agricultural crops in the vicinity of their villages, they also hunted widely through extensive areas. They prosecuted far-reaching military campaigns. The villages, where hunting and military campaigns were planned and executed, indicate clear aboriginal presence and hegemony in these areas.
The Seneca had two branches; the western and the eastern. Each branch distinct, they were individually incorporated and recognized by the Iroquois Confederacy Council. The western Seneca lived predominately in and around the Genesee River, gradually moving west and southwest along the Erie and Niagara rivers, then south along the Allegheny River into Pennsylvania. The eastern Seneca lived predominantly south of Seneca Lake in and around current-day Corning. They moved south and east into Pennsylvania and the western Catskill area.
The west and north were under constant attack from their powerful Iroquoian brethren, the Huron. To the South, the Iroquoian-speaking tribes of the Andaste (Conestoga and Susquehannock) threatened constant warfare. The Algonkian tribes of the Mohicans blocked access to the Hudson River in the east and northeast. In the southeast, the Algonkian tribes of the Delaware (Delaware, Minnisink and Esopus) threatened war from eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Lower Hudson.
The Seneca used the Genesee and Allegheny rivers, as well as the Great Indian War and Trading Path (the Seneca Trail), to travel from southern Lake Ontario into Pennsylvania and Ohio (Merrill, Arch. Land of the Senecas; Empire State Books, 1949, p 18-25). The eastern Seneca had territory just north of the intersection of the Chemung, Susquehanna, Tioga and Delaware rivers, which converged in Tioga. The rivers provided passage deep into all parts of eastern and western Pennsylvania, as well as east and northeast into the Delaware Water Gap and the western Catskills. (Map 4 -Folts, James D. “The Westward Migration of the Munsee Indians in the Eighteenth Century", The Challenge: An Algonquian Peoples Seminar. Albany: New York State Bulletin No. 506, 2005. Pp 32)
Traditionally, the Seneca Nation's economy was based on hunting and gathering activities, fishing and the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash. These vegetables were the staple of the Haudenosaunee diet and were called "the three sisters". Seneca women generally grew and harvested varieties of the three sisters, as well as gathered medicinal plants, roots, berries, nuts, and fruit. Seneca women held sole ownership of all the land and the homes, thus the women also tended to any domesticated animals such as dogs and turkeys. Women were in charge of the kinship groups called clans. The woman in charge of a clan was called the "clan mother". Despite the prominent position of women in Iroquois society, their influence on the diplomacy of the nation was limited. If the "clan mothers" did not agree with any major decisions made by the chiefs, they could eventually depose them.
Seneca men were generally in charge of locating and developing the town sites, including clearing the forest for the production of fields. Seneca men also spent a great deal of time hunting and fishing. This activity took them away from the towns or villages to well-known and productive hunting and fishing grounds for extended amounts of time. These hunting and fishing locations were altered and well maintained and not simply left to grow as "wild" lands. 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 people lived in villages and towns. Archaeological excavations indicate that some of these villages were surrounded by palisades because of warfare. These towns were relocated every ten to twenty years as soil, game and other resources were depleted. During the nineteenth century, many Seneca adopted customs of their immediate American neighbors by building log cabins, practicing Christianity and participating in the local agricultural economy.
During the colonial period, they became involved in the fur trade, first with the Dutch and then with the British. This served to increase hostility with other native groups, especially their traditional enemy, the Huron, an Iroquoian tribe in New France near Lake Simcoe.
In 1609 the French allied with the Huron and set out to destroy the Iroquois. The Iroquois-Huron war raged until approximately 1650. The Confederacy, however, grew in power and determined to unify all Iroquois-speaking people while vanquishing all enemies. By the winter of 1648 the Confederacy, led by the Seneca, fought deep into Canada and surrounded the capital of Huronia. Weakened by population losses due to smallpox epidemics as well as warfare, the Huron unconditionally surrendered. They pledged allegiance to the Seneca as their protector. The Seneca subjugated the Huron survivors and sent them to assimilate in the Seneca homelands. (Parker at pp 36–52; Merrill at pp. 78–83.)
Led by the Seneca, the Confederacy began a near 35-year period of conquest over surrounding tribes following the defeat of its most powerful enemy, the Huron. In 1650 the Seneca attacked and defeated the Neutrals to their west. In 1653 the Seneca attacked and defeated the Erie to their southwest. Both tribes were subjugated to the Seneca and relocated to the Seneca homeland. The Seneca then inhabited the vanquished tribe’s traditional territories in western New York. (Parker at pp 36–52; Merrill at pp. 78–83.)
In 1675 the Seneca defeated the Andaste/Susquehannock to the south and south east. The Confederacy’s hegemony extended along the frontier from Canada to Ohio, deep into Pennsylvania, along the Mohawk Valley and into the lower Hudson in the east. They sought peace with the New England Mohegan. Within the Confederacy, Seneca power and presence extended from Canada to Pittsburgh, east to Lackawanna and into the land of the Minnisink on the New York /New Jersey border. (Parker at pp 36–52; Merrill at pp. 78–83.)
The Seneca tried to curtail the encroachment of white settlers. This increased tensions and conflict with the French to the north and west, and the English and Dutch to the south and east. As buffers, the Confederacy resettled conquered tribes between them and the European settlers, with the greatest concentration of resettlements on the lower Susquehanna. (Folts at pp. 33–38).
In 1685, King Louis XIV of France sent Marquis de Denonville to govern New France in Quebec. Denonville set out to destroy the Seneca Nation and in 1687 landed a French armada at Irondequoit Bay. Denonville struck straight into the seat of Seneca power and destroyed many of its villages. Fleeing before the attack, the Seneca moved further west, east and south down the Susquehanna River. Although great damage was done to the Seneca home land, the Seneca’s military might was not appreciably weakened. The Confederacy and the Seneca moved into an alliance with the British in the east. (Houghton at 244).
In and around 1600, the area currently comprising Sullivan, Ulster and Orange counties of New York was home to the Lenape Indians. The Lenape nation was Algonkian-speaking and made up of the Delaware, Minnisink and Esopus tribes. These tribes would later become known as the Munsees. (Folts at pp 32) The Munsees inhabited large tracts of land from the middle Hudson into the Delaware Water Gap, and into north east Pennsylvania and North West New Jersey. The Esopus inhabited the Mid-Hudson valley (Sullivan and Ulster counties). The Minnisink inhabited North West New Jersey. The Delaware inhabited the southern Susquehanna and Delaware water gaps. The Minnisink-Esopus trail, today’s Route 209, helped tie this world together.
To the west of the Delaware nation was the Iroquoian-speaking Andaste/Susquehannock. To the east of the Delaware Nation lay the encroaching peoples of the Dutch New Netherland. From Manhattan, up through the Hudson, the settlers were interested in trading furs with the Susquehannock in and around current Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As early as 1626, the Susquehannock were struggling to get past the Delaware to trade with the Dutch in Manhattan. In 1634 war broke out between the Delaware and the Susquehannock, and by 1638 the defeated Delaware became tributaries to the Susquehanna.
The Confederacy to the north was growing in strength and numbers, and the Seneca, as the most numerous and adventurous, began to travel extensively. Eastern Senecas traveled down the Chemung River to the Susquehanna River. At Tioga the Seneca had access to every corner of Munsee country. Seneca warriors traveled the Forbidden Path south to Tioga to the Great Warrior Path to Scranton and then east over the Minnisink Path through the Lorde’s valley to Minnisink. The Delaware river path went straight south through the ancient Indian towns of Cookhouse, Cochecton and Minnisink where it became the Minsi Path. (Map 5 Paul A. W. Wallace, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Pa: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1965)).
Utilizing these ancient highways, the Seneca exerted influence in what is today Ulster and Sullivan Counties from the Dutch Period of the Colonies history onward. Historical evidence demonstrating Seneca Indian presence in the Lower Catskills includes:
In 1657 and 1658 the Seneca visited as diplomats, Dutch Colonial officials in New Amsterdam (Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan and Berthonl Fernow, Eds., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany: Weed, Parsons, 1881) [hereafter NYCD], 13:184
In 1659 and 1660 the Seneca interceded in the First Esopus War, which raged between the Dutch and Esopus at current-day Kingston. The Seneca chief urged Stuyvesant to end the bloodshed and “return the captured Esopus savages.”(NYCD 13:114,121,124,177-178, 184; See also The Senecas and the First Esopus War. NYCD, 13: 184-185.) In 1663 after the Second Esopus War, Minnisink chief reported that the Seneca threatened to attack him (NYCD, 13:361.)
In 1675, after a decade of warfare between the Iroquois (mainly the Mohawk and Oneida) and the Andaste/Susquehannock, the Seneca finally succeeded in vanquishing their last remaining great enemy.(Parker at pp 49) Survivors were colonized in settlements along the Susquehanna river and were assimilated into the Seneca and Cayuga tribes (Folts at pp 31–47).
In 1694, Captain Arent Schuyler, in an official report, described the Minnisink chiefs as being fearful of being attacked by the Seneca because of not paying wampum tribute to these Iroquois. (NYCD, 4:98-99 Seneca Power Over the Minnisink Indians)
Around 1700 the upper Delaware watershed of New York and Pennsylvania became home of the Minnisink Indians moving north and northwest from New Jersey, and of Esopus Indians moving west from the Mid-Hudson valley.(Folts at pp 34)
By 1712 the Esopus Indians were reported to have to the east Pepacton branch of the Delaware River, on the western slopes of the Catskill Mountains. (Folts at pp 34)
From 1720 to the 1750s the Seneca resettled and assimilated the Munsee into the Confederacy and the Nation. (Folts at pp 34)
In 1756 the Confederacy directed the Munsee to settle in a new town on the Chemung called Assinisink, at present day Corning, located in Seneca territory. The Seneca received some of the Munsees’ war prisoners as part of the negotiations. (Folts at pp 34)
At a peace conference in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1758, the Seneca chief Tagashata demonstrated control over affairs of the belligerent Munsee and Minnisink by requiring them to conclude a peace with the colonists and “take the hatchet out of your heads, and bury it under ground, where it shall always rest and never be taken up again,” A large delegation of Iroquois attended this meeting and demonstrated that the Munsee were now under the protection of the tribe. (Herbert C. Kraft, The Lenape: Archaeology, History and Ethnography (Newark, N.J.:New Jersey Historical Society, 1986), p. 230.)
In 1759, colonial records indicate that in order to have diplomatic success with the Munsees, negotiators had to speak with the Seneca. (Robert S. Grumet, “The Minnisink Settlements: Native American Identity and Society in the Munsee Heartland, 1650-1778.” In: the People of Minnisink, David Orr and Douglas Campana, Eds. (Philadelphia: National Park Service, 1991), p. 236. (Grumet cites the Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, 8: 416)) By the end of the eighteenth century, the Munsee’s who had previously migrated to the upper Susquehanna region were living in Seneca communities.
Despite the French military campaigns, Seneca power remained far reaching at the beginning of the 18th century. Gradually, the Seneca began to ally themselves with the British and Dutch against France’s ambitions in the new world. By 1760 during the Seven Years War, the British, with the help of the Seneca, captured Fort Niagara from the French. The Seneca experienced relative peace from 1760 to 1775. When war finally broke out between the British and the colonists, the Seneca attempted to remain neutral. Neutrality was futile. While routing the British at Fort Stanwix, the colonists killed many Seneca onlookers. (Merrill at pp 90–97.)
In 1778, Seneca fought on the side of the British in the revolutionary war and participated in well planned raids prosecuted by Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant on Woodstock and Warwarsing. These raids, including the Battle of Minnisink, were carefully planned raids on a trail laid out “from the Susquehanna to the Delaware Valley and over the Pine Hill to the Esopus Country.”
During the American Revolutionary War, some Senecas sided with the British and Loyalists. As a result of several massacres they inflicted against American towns, in 1779 they were attacked by United States forces as part of the Sullivan Expedition. To neutralize the Confederacy, General Washington sent an expedition of 3000 to 5000 men under the command of General John Sullivan up the waterways and paths used by the Seneca. Sullivan's Expedition marched up the Susquehanna to Elmira, pushing the Seneca to Fort Niagara; despite a costly manoeuvre that led the whole of the army straight into a swamp, which they forded nearly twenty times before arriving at Cathrine’s town, from this point on, with the league undeniably dissolved, the nation settled in new villages along Buffalo Creek, Tonawanda Creek, and Cattaraugus Creek in western New York. These settlements eventually became the nation’s reservations after the Revolutionary War as part of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. (Merrill at pp 90–97.)
On July 8, 1788, the Seneca (along with some Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga tribes) sold rights to land east of the Genesee River in New York to Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts.
On November 11, 1794, the Seneca (along with the other Haudenosaunee nations) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua with the United States, agreeing to peaceful relations. On September 15, 1797 at the Treaty of Big Tree, the Seneca sold their lands west of the Genesee River, retaining ten reservations for themselves. The sale opened up the rest of Western New York for settlement by European Americans. On January 15, 1838, the US and some Seneca leaders signed the Treaty of Buffalo Creek, by which the Seneca were to relocate to a tract of land west of the state of Missouri, but most refused to go. The majority of the Seneca in New York formed a modern elected government, the Seneca Nation of Indians, in 1848. The Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians split off, choosing to keep a traditional form of tribal government. Both tribes are federally recognized in the United States.
While it is not known exactly how many Seneca there are, approximately ten thousand Seneca live near Lake Erie.
About 7,800 people are citizens of the Seneca Nation of Indians. These enrolled members live or work on five reservations in New York: the Allegany (which contains the city of Salamanca); the Cattaraugus near Gowanda, New York; the Buffalo Creek Territory located in downtown Buffalo, NY; the Niagara Falls Territory located in Niagara Falls, New York; and the Oil Springs Reservation, near Cuba, New York. Few Seneca reside at the Oil Springs, Buffalo Creek, or Niagara Territories due to the small amount of land at each. The last two territories are held and used specifically for gaming casinos.
Another 1,200 or more people are citizens of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians and live on the Tonawanda Reservation near Akron, New York. Other Seneca are members of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma who live near Miami, Oklahoma.
Some 10,000 to 25,000 Seneca are citizens of Six Nations and reside on the Grand River Territory near Brantford, Ontario, Canada. They are descendants of Seneca who migrated to Canada after the American Revolution, where they were given land as allies of the British government.
Other enrolled members of the Seneca Nation live throughout the United States.
Begun in 1960, construction of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River forced the relocation of approximately 600 Seneca from 10,000 acres (40 km2) of land which they had occupied under the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. They were relocated to Salamanca, New York, near the northern shore of the Allegheny Reservoir, which covers land flooded by the dam. The Seneca did not want to relocate and appealed to the courts and President John F. Kennedy to halt construction. The Seneca lost their court case, and in 1961, citing the immediate need for flood control, Kennedy denied their request.
In 1990 the Seneca Settlement Act resolved a long-running land dispute between the Seneca and the State of New York. The dispute centered around 99–year leases granted by the Seneca in 1890 for lands now in the city of Salamanca and nearby villages. The settlement cropped up again in the early 2000s, as issues arose over use of settlement lands for casino gaming operations.
On August 25, 1993, the Seneca filed suit in United States District Court to begin an action to reclaim land allegedly taken from it by New York without having gained required approval of the treaty by the United States government. The lands consisted of Grand Island and several smaller islands in the Niagara River. In November 1993, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians moved to join the claim as a plaintiff; it was granted standing as a plaintiff.
In 1998, the United States intervened in the lawsuits on behalf of the plaintiffs in the claim. This was to allow the claim to proceed against New York in light of its assertion of its immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. After extensive negotiations and pre-trial procedures, all parties to the claim moved for judgment as a matter of law.
By decision and order dated June 21, 2002, the trial court held that the Seneca ceded the subject lands to Great Britain in the 1764 treaties of peace after the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War). Thus the disputed lands were not owned by the Seneca at the time of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. The court found that the state of New York's "purchase" of the lands from the Seneca in 1815 was intended to avoid conflict with them, but the state already owned it by virtue of Great Britain's defeat in the Revolution.
The Seneca appealed this decision. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision on September 9, 2004. The Senecas then sought review of this decision by the US Supreme Court. On June 5, 2006, the Court declined to hear the case.
On April 18, 2007, the Seneca Nation laid claim to a stretch of Interstate 90 that crosses the Cattaraugus Reservation. They revoked their 1954 agreement that had granted the Interstate Highway System and New York State Thruway Authority permission to build the highway through the territory. The move was a direct shot at New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's attempts to collect taxes from businesses on Seneca territory.[dead link]
The Seneca had previously brought suit against the state on the same basis. That was decided in favor of the state based on its assertion of sovereign immunity. In Magistrate Heckman's "Report and Recommendation", it was noted that the State of New York asserted its immunity from suit against both counts of the complaint. One count was the Seneca Tribe's challenge regarding the state's acquisition of Grand Island and other smaller islands in the Niagara River, and the second count challenged the state's thruway easement.
The United States was permitted to intervene on behalf of the Seneca Nation and the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians. The United States was directed to file an amended complaint that "clearly states the relief sought by the United States in this action." In this amended complaint, the United States did not seek any relief on behalf of the Seneca Nation relative to the thruway easement. By not seeking such relief in its amended complaint, the United States permitted the action relative to the thruway easement to be subject to dismissal based on New York's immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the US Constitution.[original research?] On May 4, 2007, the Seneca Nation threatened to revoke its agreement of easement for Interstate 86.[dead link]
The Senecas have a diversified economy that relies on construction, communications, recreation, tourism, retail sales, and have recently become involved in the gaming industry.
Several large construction companies are located on the Cattaraugus and Allegany Territories. There are also many smaller construction companies that are owned and operated by Seneca people. A considerable number of Seneca men work in some facet of the construction industry.
Recreation is one component of Seneca enterprises. The Highbanks Campground plays host to several thousand visitors every summer, as people take in the scenic vistas and enjoy the Allegheny Reservoir. Several thousand fishing licenses are sold each year to non-Seneca fishermen. Many of these customers are tourists to the region. Tourism in the area often comes as a direct result of several major highways adjacent to or on the Seneca Nation Territories that provide ready accessibility to local, regional and national traffic. Many tourists visit the region during the autumn for the fall foliage.
A substantial portion of the Seneca economy revolves around retail sales. From sports apparel to candles to artwork to traditional crafts, the wide range of products for sale on Seneca Nation Territories reflect the diverse interest of Seneca Nation citizens.
The price advantage of the Senecas' ability to sell tax-free gasoline and cigarettes has created a boom in their economy, including many service stations along the state highways that run through the reservations as well as many internet cigarette stores. This, however, has raised the ire of competing business interests and the state government. Non-Indian service stations cannot compete with Seneca prices because of New York's high cigarette and gasoline taxes. The state of New York believes that the tribe's sales of cigarettes by Internet are illegal. It also believes that the state has the authority to tax non-Indians who patronize Seneca businesses, a principle which the Senecas reject.
Seneca President Barry Snyder has defended the price advantage as an issue of sovereignty. Secondly, he has cited the Treaty of Canandaigua and Treaty of Buffalo Creek as the basis of Senecas' exemption from collecting taxes on cigarettes to pay the state. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Third Department rejected this conclusion. In that decision the court held that the provisions of the treaty regarding taxation was only with regard to property taxes. The New York Court of Appeals on December 1, 1994 affirmed the lower court's decision.
The Senecas have refused to extend these benefits and price advantages to non-Indians, in their own words "has little sympathy for outsiders" who desire to do so, and have actively prosecuted non-Indians who have attempted to claim the price advantages Indians receive; one well-known case involved that of Little Valley businessman Lloyd Long, who operated two Uni-Marts on the reservation under the ownership of a Seneca woman, but was arrested by federal authorities at the behest of the Seneca Nation and eventually ordered to pay over one million dollars in restitution and serve five years on probation.
In 1997, New York State attempted to enforce taxation of Indian gasoline and cigarettes. The attempt was thwarted after numerous Senecas protested by setting fire to tires and cutting off traffic to Interstate 90 and New York State Route 17 (the future Interstate 86).
Former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer attempted to cut off the Seneca Tribe's internet cigarette sales. His office attempted to negotiate deals directly with credit card companies and delivery services to reject handling cigarette purchases by consumers. Another attempt at collecting taxes on gasoline and cigarettes sold to non-Indians was set to begin March 1, 2006; but it was tabled, much to the chagrin of Spitzer and the state legislature, by the State Department of Taxation and Finance.
Shortly after March 1, 2006, other parties began proceedings to compel the State of New York to enforce its tax laws on sales to non-Indians on Indian land. Seneca County, New York began a proceeding which was dismissed. Similarly, the New York State Association of Convenience Stores began a proceeding, which was also dismissed. Based on the dismissal of these proceedings, Daniel Warren, a member and officer of Upstate Citizens for Equality, moved to vacate the judgment dismissing his 2002 state court action. The latter was dismissed because the court ruled that he had lack of standing.
Governor David Paterson included $62 million of revenue in his budget from the proposed collection of these taxes. He signed a new law requiring that manufacturers and wholesalers swear under penalty of perjury that they are not selling untaxed cigarettes.
In response to this, the Senecas announced plans to collect a toll from all who travel the length of I-90 that goes through their reservation. In 2007 the Senecas rescinded the agreement that permitted construction of the thruway and its attendant easement through their reservation. Some commentators have contended that this agreement was not necessary or moot because the United States was already granted free right of passage across the Senecas' land in the Treaty of Canandaigua.
A law that would bar any tax-exempt organization in New York from receiving tax-free cigarettes went into effect June 21, 2011. The Seneca nation has repeatedly appealed the decision, continuing to do so as of June 2011, but has yet to overturn the law. The state has only enforced the law on cigarette brands produced by non-Indian companies (including all major national brands), having left brands that are entirely tribally produced and sold (which, being mostly lower-end and lower-cost brands, have always made up the bulk of Seneca cigarette sales) out of its jurisdiction for the time being.
With the US Supreme Court decision ruling that Native Americans could establish gaming on reservations, the Seneca Nation began to develop its gambling industry during the late 1980s. It began, as states and other tribes did, with bingo.
In 2002, the Seneca Nation of Indians signed a Gaming Compact with the State of New York to cooperate in the establishment of three class III gambling facilities (casinos). It established the Seneca Gaming Corporation to manage its operations. Currently the Seneca Nation of Indians owns and operates two casinos: one in Niagara Falls, New York called Seneca Niagara and the other in Salamanca called Seneca Allegany.
Construction began on a third, the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, in downtown Buffalo. In 2007 the Seneca opened a temporary casino on its land in Buffalo after federal approval, to satisfy its agreement with the state. Some citizens have opposed all Indian gambling, but especially the Buffalo location. Additional controversy has been engendered because there were questions about whether the Seneca-controlled land met other status criteria for gambling.
Some civic groups, including a "broad coalition of Buffalo's political, business, and cultural leaders", have opposed the Seneca Nation's establishment of a casino in Buffalo. They believe the operations will adversely affect the economic and social environment of the already struggling city. Opponents include the Upstate Citizens for Equality and Citizens for a Better Buffalo, who recently won a lawsuit challenging the legality of the proposed casino in Buffalo, because of the status of the land. On July 8, 2008, United States District Judge William M. Skretny issued a decision holding that the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is not on gaming-eligible lands. The National Indian Gaming Commission is reviewing proposed Seneca regulations and weighing its appeal options.
The Seneca were given five days to respond or to face fines and a forced shutdown. They have indicated they refuse to comply with the commission's order and will appeal.
Given the declining economic situation, in summer 2008 the Seneca halted construction on the new casino in Buffalo. In December 2008 they laid off 210 employees from the three casinos.
The nation has established an official broadcasting arm, "Seneca Broadcasting," for the purposes of applying for and purchasing radio station licenses. The company currently owns one commercial FM radio station (broadcasting at 105.9 MHz) licensed to the village of Little Valley, which the company purchased from Randy Michaels in early 2009. That station, known as WGWE, signed on February 1, 2010 from studios in the city of Salamanca with a classic hits format operated by former WPIG disc jockey Mike "Smitty" Smith. An earlier application, for a noncommercial FM station at 89.3 in Irving, New York, ran into mutual exclusivity problems with out-of-town religious broadcasters.
Many Seneca people are employed in the local economy of the region as professionals, including; lawyers, professors, physicians, police officers, teachers, social workers, nurses, and managers.