Cayuga people

Last updated
Total population
12,000+ (450 in New York;
5,000 in Oklahoma; [1]
7,000 in Ontario)
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada ( Flag of Ontario.svg Ontario),
Flag of the United States.svg  United States
( Flag of New York.svg New York, Flag of Oklahoma.svg Oklahoma)
Cayuga, English, other Iroquoian languages
Kai'hwi'io, Kanoh'hon'io, Kahni'kwi'io, Longhouse, Handsome Lake, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Seneca Nation, Onondaga Nation, Oneida Nation, Mohawk Nation, Tuscarora Nation, other Iroquoian peoples

The Cayuga (Cayuga: Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ, "People of the Great Swamp") was one of the five original constituents of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), a confederacy of Native Americans in New York. The Cayuga homeland lies in the Finger Lakes region along Cayuga Lake, between their league neighbors, the Onondaga to the east and the Seneca to the west. Today Cayuga people belong to the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, and the federally recognized Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.



Political relations between the Cayuga, the British, and the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution were complicated and variable, with Cayuga warriors fighting on both sides (as well as abstaining from war entirely). Most of the Iroquois nations allied with the British, in part hoping to end encroachment on their lands by colonists. In 1778, various Iroquois bands, oft allied with British-colonial loyalists (Tories) conducted a series of raids along the frontier from Connecticut to New York and into south-central Pennsylvania threatening much of the Susquehanna Valley. From the revolutionary government's point of view in Philadelphia, several of these were atrocities, and in the early summer that body proceeded to order Washington to send regiments to quell these disturbances. [2]

Consequently, in 1779, General George Washington of the Continental Army appointed General John Sullivan and James Clinton to lead the Sullivan Expedition, a retaliatory military campaign designed to unseat the Iroquois Confederacy and prevent the nations from continuing to attack New York militias and the Continental Army. [3] The campaign mobilized 6200 troops and devastated the Cayuga and other Iroquois homelands, destroying 40-50 villages. Those destroyed included major Cayuga villages such as Cayuga Castle and Chonodote (Peachtown). The expedition, with attacks from the spring through the fall, also destroyed the crops and winter stores of the Iroquois, to drive them out of the land. Survivors fled to other Iroquois tribes, or to Upper Canada. Some were granted land there by the British in recognition of their loyalty to the Crown.

Following the end of the war, the Central New York Military Tract was established in order to grant land bounties to veterans. The tract originally included a Cayuga reservation surrounding the north end of Cayuga Lake, but the reservation was given up a few years later in a treaty with the state.

Some Seneca and Cayuga had left the area earlier even as Tuscarora were migrating north in the early decades of the 1700s, going west of the Alleghenies to the long depopulated Ohio Country lands; settling in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio. These tribes became known as the Mingo or "Black Mingo", for they had a bad reputation, so were able to take in their kin after that systematic bloodletting in 1779. After the Sullivan Campaign, more Cayuga joined them, as well as some other bands of Iroquois who left New York before the end of the Revolutionary War. As the American Revolution was nearing its end, settlers resumed trekking west of the Alleghenies in a trickle that by 1810, became a flood. Other eastern Amerindians, joined by eastward remnants of Susquehannock and large groups of Delaware peoples had also traveled the ancient trails through the gaps of the Allegheny to found settlements such as Kittanning (village) and others in the Ohio Valley. Only weakened cobbled together tribes, such as the Mingo, were in the land, which was still mostly empty; creating a situation drawing settlers west in increasing numbers. By 1831 those Indians left in the lands east of Ohio were encouraged by bigotry, and at times forcibly removed to the Indian Territory, in what became Oklahoma. Their remnants, consequently, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma are a federally recognized tribe.

On November 11, 1794, the (New York) Cayuga Nation (along with the other Haudenosaunee nations) signed the Pickering Treaty with the United States, by which they ceded much of their lands in New York to the United States, forced to do so as allies of the defeated British. It was the second treaty the United States entered into. It recognized the rights of the Haudenosaunee as sovereign nations. The Pickering Treaty remains an operating legal document; the U.S. government continues to send the requisite gift of muslin fabric to the nations each year.

The state of New York made additional treaties with the tribes but failed to get them ratified by the Senate. As it lacked the constitutional authority to deal directly with the tribes, individual tribes have sued for land claims since the late 20th century, charging New York had no authority for their actions. The state rapidly arranged sales of more than 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of former Iroquois lands at inexpensive prices to encourage development in the state. It also granted some western lands to war veterans in lieu of pay. Speculators bought up as much land as they could and resold it to new settlers. Land-hungry Yankees from New England flooded into New York in waves of new settlement, as did some settlers from the Mohawk Valley. Immigrants also came from the British Isles and France after the war.


Tammy Rahr, a Cayuga bead artist Tammy rahr cayuga.jpg
Tammy Rahr, a Cayuga bead artist

Today, there are three Cayuga bands. The two largest, the Lower Cayuga and Upper Cayuga, still live in Ontario, both at Six Nations of the Grand River, a reserve recognized by the Canadian government. Two federally recognized tribes of Cayuga constitute the third band in the United States: the Cayuga Nation of New York in Seneca Falls, New York, and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

The Cayuga Nation of New York does not have a reservation. Members have lived among the Seneca Nation on their reservation. [4] Since the late 20th century, they have acquired some land in their former homeland.

Land claims

The Cayuga Nation of New York filed an action on November 19, 1980, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York to pursue legislative and monetary restitution for land taken from it by the State of New York during the 18th and 19th centuries. New York had entered into land sales and leases with the Cayuga Nation after the signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua after the American Revolutionary War. Its failure to get approval of the United States Senate meant the transactions were illegal, as the state had no constitutional authority to deal directly with Indian nations. The Treaty of Canandaigua holds that only the United States government may enter into legal discussions with the Haudenosaunee.

In 1981, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma was added as a plaintiff in the claim. A jury trial on damages was held from January 18-February 17, 2000. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, finding current fair market value damages of $35 million and total fair rental value damages of $3.5 million. The jury gave the state a credit for the payments it had made to the Cayuga of about $1.6 million, leaving the total damages at approximately $36.9 million. On October 2, 2001, the court issued a decision and order which awarded a prejudgment interest award of $211 million and a total award of $247.9 million.

Both the plaintiffs and the defendants appealed this award. On June 28, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rendered a decision that reversed the judgment of the trial court. It ruled in favor of the defendants, based on the doctrine of laches . Essentially the court ruled that the plaintiffs had taken too long to present their case, when it might have been equitably settled earlier.

The Cayuga Indian Nation of New York sought review of this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which was denied on May 15, 2006. The time in which the Cayuga Indian Nation could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear the case has passed.

The Nation reclaimed its first land on July 17, 1996, by purchasing 14 acres (57,000 m2) in Seneca Falls, within their 64,000 acres (260 km2) land claim area. On August 2, 1997 a dedication was held where members of all the Iroquois Confederacy nations were present. This purchase began the return of the Cayuga People to their ancestral homelands. They planted a pine tree at this dedication as a symbol that the Cayuga People are still alive and wanting to return. The elder women of the Cayuga Nation broke the ground and planted the pine tree to welcome the return of their people to their home territory.

In December 2005, the S.H.A.R.E. (Strengthening Haudenosaunee-American Relations through Education) Farm (including a house) was signed over to the Cayuga nation by United States citizens who had purchased and developed the 70-acre (280,000 m2) farm in Aurora, New York. This is the first property which the Cayuga Nation has owned since after being forced to cede its lands after the Revolutionary War. It is the first time they have lived within the borders of their ancestral homeland in more than 200 years. [5] The Cayuga continue to debate having the Bureau of Indian Affairs take this land into trust for them. They have been developing projects featuring indigenous planting, cultivation of herbs and medicinal plants, wild plant collection and a seed saving program. [5]

Current population

In 1995 there were nearly 450 Cayuga members in New York. In the 21st century, there are about 4,892 combined members of the Cayuga-Seneca Nation in Oklahoma. [1]

The total number of Iroquois is difficult to establish. About 45,000 Iroquois lived in Canada in 1995, more than 39,000 in Ontario and the remainder in Quebec. Among the six nations and federally recognized units in the United States, total tribal enrollment in 1995 numbered about 30,000. In the 2000 US Census, 45,217 respondents identified solely as Iroquois (but this does not mean they were enrolled as members); and 80,822 as having Iroquois ancestry.

Populations of the Haudenosaunee Members (Six Nations)
Ontario    3,97014,05117,603139,624
Quebec     9,631 9,631
New York7581448159612001,1095,632 17,566
Wisconsin    10,309  10,309
Oklahoma      4,89224,892
Sources: Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission: Pocket Pictorial' (2010:33) & Iroquois Population in 1995 by Doug George-Kanentiio.
1 Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
2 Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

Notable Cayuga

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  1. 1 2 "Pocket Pictorial." Archived April 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2010: 33. (retrieved 10 Jan 2011)
  2. Editor: Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., by The editors of American Heritage Magazine (1961). page 205 (ed.). The American Heritage Book of Indians. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. LCCN   61-14871.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. Emerson Klees. Persons, Places, and Things around the Finger Lakes Region. Rochester, Finger Lakes Publishing, 1994. Page 10.
  4. "The Six Nations of the Iroquois" Archived 2006-11-16 at the Wayback Machine , Herald American, 22 Jul 1990, accessed 10 Apr 2009
  5. 1 2 Hansen and Rossen (2007), "Building Bridges", in Past Meets Present, p. 128