This Date in Native History: On November 11, 1794, the Canandaigua Treaty marked an end to the wars upon the Iroquois by the settlers and United States. The date will be celebrated with an event today, Monday, November 11, 2013, the 219th anniversary.
During the Revolutionary War, tensions mounted between the United States and the Iroquois, called Haudenosaunee by their own people. When the vast majority of the Haudenosaunee allied with Great Britain, George Washington mounted the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign with the intention of wiping them out. Washington marched 6,200 soldiers through the territory of the Cayuga, Seneca and Onondaga destroying 50 Haudenosaunee towns and destroying a million bushels of corn, 50,000 bushels of vegetables and 10,000 fruit trees. This was the largest offensive strike ever launched against the country’s Native population.
Forced from their homes, 5,000 Haudenosaunee forged their way to Fort Niagara, leaving their land unprotected from encroaching settlers who assumed it was theirs for the taking. “We had to vacate to Buffalo Creek, or what is now Buffalo, New York. Settlers started flooding into our territories. When we tried to resist, there was wanton killing. People were coming onto our land and just shooting us,” G. Peter Jemison, Heron Clan, Seneca, said. Jemison is a co-editor and contributor to the book, Treaty of Canandaigua 1794: 200 Years of Treaty Relations Between the Iroquois Confederacy and the United States.
Jemison said members of the Iroquois Confederacy made their way to the nation’s capitol of Philadelphia where they expressed concern for their safety from the settlers. At the same time, Northwest Territory tribal nations were mobilizing into the Western Confederacy, led by Little Turtle, who had twice defeated the United States Army.
In the Battle of Wabash, the United States suffered greater loss than the Battle of Little Big Horn. Called “the worst disaster experienced by the U.S. Army at the hands of Native Americans” by the Army History Journal—920 U.S. soldiers and 200 others made their way to attack the Western Confederacy. But early in the morning of November 3, the soldiers were felled by a surprise attack by the Western Confederacy. The army lost 632 soldiers with another 264 wounded. The Western Confederacy of 1,000 warriors saw only 21 killed and 40 wounded.
Jemison said the Haudenosaunee considered aligning themselves with the Western Confederacy, who promised, “If you align yourselves with us we will drive them back into the sea.”
Considering the Haudenosaunee’s options, Jemison said, “We were looking at the prospect of the settlers continuing to attack. Do we ally ourselves with the Western Confederacy and go after the new government? Or do we look at the option for a peaceful resolution?”
Before a decision had been made, the Western Confederacy lost the Battle of Fallen Timbers to the United States, resulting in the Treaty of Greene Ville and the loss of land for the Western Confederacy.
“As a result of the loss we decided to go the Seneca and Onondaga and begin a negotiation with Timothy Pickering, who later signed the Treaty of Canandaigua. So now, we sit down with him to hammer out the issues, which includes what land belongs to us, and how do we resist the advances of the United States?”
The land was being seized by settlers and the U.S. government, and the U.S. wanted to clear cut 10 miles of trees along the Niagara River for a wagon road. The Haudenosaunee needed to re-establish that their land had never willingly been ceded. “We wanted to re-establish that it was up to us to decide what land is given or sold. We entered into the treaty as a nation, in a nation-to-nation agreement; and there is a recognition by the United States that we are a confederacy of nations,” Jemison stated.
On Monday, the treaty will once again be recognized. “We are proud to mark this anniversary,” Jemison said. “We are still occupying our land, we still have our sovereign nations, and we are reminding people we are still here and still have a treaty.”
Jemison said the event is not simply a celebration, but a reminder that the Haudenosaunee nations are not alone in this treaty. “The United States is also a party to it, and if we don't remind them this treaty is in still place, they will not remember.”
This year is especially noteworthy with the recognition of the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum between the Six Nations and the Dutch, the subject of the keynote speech by Chief Jake Edwards, Onondaga.