When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. – Old Indian saying
The following is excerpted from “Information about the Seneca Indians from This Seneca’s Perspective.”
In 1960 the Seneca Indians were forcibly removed from their land to make room for the Kinzua Dam project. The Seneca Nation lost 10,000 acres of land to the Kinzua Dam project, which forced over 700 Seneca Indians to abandon their homes and relocate. Replacement housing had to be found for the people whose homes were soon to be flooded. To lose their homes on the reservation was really to lose a part of their lives. The lands taken had great religious and social significance to the Seneca Indians.
The Seneca Nation were known as "keepers of the western door of the Iroquois Confederacy" and they have lived in this part of the country since prehistoric times. The Seneca Indians have a long history of "losing things" to the white man; after the Revolutionary War the missionaries, who had come here to convert the natives, split the Seneca Nation into two factions.
The Seneca people who chose to accept the missionaries' teachings became the Christian Party while those who chose not to follow the white men became known as the Pagan Party. The Pagans chose to follow the prophet Handsome Lake; he would help revitalize the Indian culture and formed the basis for the Longhouse religion. Longhouse is a very important part of the modern day Seneca’s lifestyle.
When the treaty of 1794 between the United States and the Seneca Nation was broken in 1960 to make way for the Kinzua Dam project, it would be the last land lost by Native Americans to the white man in this country.
Imagine what it must have been like for the Seneca to stand by and helplessly watch as the men from the Army Corps of Engineers torched and destroyed their homes and businesses. The anger they must have felt as the white men moved in on their land with huge bulldozers and toppled all the trees and churned over all the rich, lush vegetation and wildlife that had sustained them and their ancestors all these years. Imagine the heart-wrenching horror that crossed their faces and souls as their dead were dug up like old bones to be reburied in scattered cemeteries. The Seneca people would stand helplessly by as their very existence was discarded to make way for the modernization and progress of the United States of America.
The Kinzua Dam and Reservoir Project was necessary. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the dam was
[a]uthorized by the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938, Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir is one of 16 flood control projects in the Pittsburgh District. The project provides complete protection for Warren, Pa., from Allegheny River flooding, and in conjunction with other projects in the District substantially reduced flooding in the Allegheny and upper Ohio River Valleys.
The reservoir provides water during dry periods. This helps to decrease pollution and improve water quality for domestic, industrial, and recreational uses.
The dam and reservoir also help maintain navigable depths for commercial traffic on the Allegheny and upper Ohio Rivers. Another important benefit of the dam is hydroelectric power; the power plant is run by First Energy Corporation and its peak capacity is 400,000 kilowatts per hour.
The necessity of the Kinzua Dam and Reservoir was dramatically demonstrated in 1972 the floods resulting from Tropical Storm Agnes when an estimated $247 million in flood damages were prevented. Since the dam's completion in 1965, Kinzua has prevented flood damages in excess of one billion dollars.
My husband Rick and I consider the Kinzua Reservoir to be one of our favorite places. Once we went on a boat trip with one of Rick’s co-workers, Kathy, and her son Jonathan. We had a ball that day gliding smoothly through the glassy cool water into private coves, nooks, and crannies that can only be reached by boat. We went as close as possible to the dam before turning around to head towards Wolf Run Marina for an outdoor lunch on the deck; here we fed dog food to the carp and ducks who live together in the water near the docks, scarfing up free food from children and childish adults.
Oh, how we laughed as the ducks sat on top of the swell of fish who had their big mouths sticking out of the water right into the air to receive the little round brown treats! On the way back to Onoville and our cars, Jonathan ran aground in the middle of the lake right in front of Cornplanters monument and when I asked, “What are we going to do now?” Jonathan answered, “We’re going to get out and push!” Say what?
Rick and I often go to the Onoville Marina and the “road to nowhere” as we like to call it. This is a part of the state land system where there is a stretch of road that was never removed for the Kinzua Dam project. In places along the road you can still see traces of yellow highway department paint and I really wonder what they made that paint with to be visible since 1964. It is a bird and wildlife sanctuary now, located adjacent to the reservoir pool. In fact, if you were to continue walking down this “little road to nowhere” you would end up in the reservoir. Once when the water level was really low we were able to walk farther than at any other time we had previously visited. After crossing a shallow creek bed Rick and I discovered an identical road! It was like passing through a mirror and discovering this narrow path identical to the other one and we walked almost all the way to the reservoir that afternoon.
When the world forces its ever-present pressure into our souls and our nervous systems, this is where we like to unwind and escape. Walking quietly down the narrow path, holding hands at times, breathing in the smells of sweet flower blossoms, musky woods, and the clean air purified by the lush vegetation, we always feel a sense of peace and renewed balance. Once we saw fresh bear prints in the soft mud; it looked like a small barefoot child had run across the path into the thick tall grasses.
This frightened me for a time, but yesterday when we returned once more I felt safe, walking with my partner in this life, the man I will love until my dying breath and then some, with the stones crunching under our feet while looking at all the trees. We sat down for a while in the middle of the little road with a bottle of Johnson Estate red wine, a corkscrew, and two glasses. It was good to talk and ponder our lives together, making dreams for our future and missing our family and friends that are no longer on this Earth — “only the lucky get to be old” Rick’s father Leonard always said to us, and he was right.
Outdoors enjoying this land with its uncut and undeveloped woods — there must be a million different shades of green here! — I am so grateful to be alive and I feel empathy for the Nation of Seneca Indians losing their homes and land so that this reservoir could be built. I wish everyone could experience just once in their lifetime the wonder that is the Allegheny Reservoir and “the road to nowhere.”