How Much Land Did the Iroquois Possess?
by Doug George-Kanentiio
Prior to European colonization the Iroquois exercised active dominion over most of what is now New York State. Of the 49,576 square miles of the state the Iroquois held title to about 4/5 of the total area (approximately 39,000 square miles).
Traditional Iroquois boundary lines were quite specific as to which lands belonged to a particular nation. Mohawk territory extended from the Delaware River north to the St. Lawrence and included almost all of the Adirondack Mountains. Their boundaries to the east were Lake Champlain, Lake George and the Hudson River.
By adding up the area of the current counties within this region the Mohawk Nation can lay claim to 15,534 square miles (or 9,941,760 acres) as having been alienated from their possession through various means, including fraudulent "treaties."
Oneidas recognized the West Canada Creek, the Unadilla River and the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in St. Lawrence county as their eastern border with the Mohawks. They also knew their land went as far north as the St. Lawrence River and south to below the Susquehanna. Using the same formula of applying county areas to indigenous Oneida territory, a figure of 5,819 square miles is arrived at (or 3,724,160 acres).
To the west of the Oneidas were the Onondagas; their borders followed the Tioughnioga River, Otselic River and Chittenango Creek as it flowed into Oneida Lake. Within their national boundaries are the counties of Jefferson, Oswego, Onondaga, Cortland, part of Tioga and about half of Broome. Their total is 2,670,720 acres or 4,173 square miles.
Cayuga lands between Rochester and Syracuse included Cayuga, Seneca, Chemung, Schuyler, Wayne, Tompkins and part of Tioga counties. Their region is 3,123 square miles or 1,998,720 acres.
In western New York the Seneca Nation enjoyed fertile lakeshore fields and a rolling terrain which was rich in wildlife. Their lands stretched from east of the Genesee River to the Niagara Peninsula and southwest to Lake Erie. An estimated 10,248 square miles (6,558,720 acres) were held by the Senecas until various land companies removed them to three small reservations in the early nineteenth century.
All together the Iroquois Confederacy held as its own 24,894,080 acres of some of the most beautiful and resource wealthy lands in all of North America. Yet traditional Iroquois were careful custodians of the earth for nowhere in this broad expanse of territory was there a single polluted stream, hazardous waste site or open landfill.
In 1995 the Iroquois hold but a fraction of their former lands. After years of expropriation by New York State officials, various public work agencies and the United States the following is what is left:
Mohawk land in New York as been reduced to 14,640 acres in Franklin County referred to as the "St. Regis Indian Reservation" or, more correctly, the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.
Technically the Oneidas live on 32 acres in Madison County but have been purchasing additional lands. They now have an estimated 3,000 acres in their possession.
Only 7,300 acres remain to the Onondagas on their territory, mistakenly called a "reservation", south of Syracuse. Cayugas have no land left in New York; they live primarily on the Cattaraugus Seneca lands or on the Six Nations Reserve west of Hamilton, Ontario.
Since the Senecas divided in 1848 they have dwelt on three land areas. Tonawanda is the traditional capital of the Seneca Nation with 7,317 acres in Niagara, Genesee and Erie counties. They were required to buy their ancestral land back from speculators in 1850 when the United States refused to recognize their claims to protection under the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.
Just west of Tonawanda live the Tuscaroras on 5,778 acres. They had initially been granted the right to settle in Oneida territory but were forced to move to Niagara County after the American Revolution.
Distinct from the Iroquois Confederacy, the Seneca Nation of Indians (not affiliated with the Seneca Nation at Tonawanda) follows a constitution modeled after the U.S. It controls the reservations of Cattaraugus (17,025 acres) in Erie County and Allegany (30,984 acres) in Cattaraugus County. There is in addition the small 640 acre Oil Springs Reservation northeast of Allegany.
Total land holdings for the Iroquois in 1995 are about 86,716 acres remaining from the original 25,000,000 or .034% of what we once had.
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