Lake of Betrayal: The Story of Kinzua Dam (2016)
Documentary · 15 November 2016
Lake of Betrayal explores the history of Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania and its impact on the Seneca Nation - the effects of which continue to be felt today. Completed in 1965, it was originally proposed to help mitigate flooding in the City of Pittsburgh-200 miles downriver, but the 27-mile reservoir that formed behind it inundated vast tracts of Seneca ancestral lands, forcing their removal in breach of the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794, the oldest US-Indian treaty in effect. The Onöndowa ga:, or Seneca, lost more than 10,000 acres, one-third of their treaty-protected land on the Allegany Territory and all of the adjacent Cornplanter Grant which had been given by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Chief Cornplanter and his heirs in perpetuity. The Cornplanter Tract also held special religious meaning for the followers of Gaiwi:yoh (Good Word), the spiritual teachings of the Seneca Prophet Sganyadaí:yoh who received the visions there that became the foundation of the traditional belief system. More than 600 Seneca were removed from their homes and ancestral lands and forced to relocate to suburban housing developments. Tight-knit communities were broken, families who had lived in near proximity for generations were separated and overnight, they were thrust into a new lifestyle that brought with it irreversible cultural consequences. The communities where they had lived were torched and bulldozed-Jonöhsade:gëh (Cornplanter), Sunfish, Jönya:dih (Shongo), Jöë hesta (Red House), Jonegano:h (Coldspring), Bay State, Ganödagayösgeh (Old Town), O neya geh gëhö:de (Bone Run), Ha deyoya:ya kdöh (Quaker Bridge), and Onoville-landscapes with associated rituals, traditions, stories and sacred places that shaped the lives and sense of identity of those who lived there. Although the taking of Native lands for public works projects is not unique in-and-of-itself, this story is distinctly different in how the Seneca approached the flagrant attack on their sovereignty. Kinzua Dam was a flashpoint in Seneca history and they used it as a catalyst amid irreplaceable cultural losses to ensure their continued survival as a sovereign nation. Against a backdrop of a federal Indian termination policy, pork-barrel politics, and undisclosed plans for private hydropower generation, the Seneca came together as a united force in an attempt to save their land, their culture and their way of life.
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