Seneca Nation files to operate federal dam

The Seneca Nation of Indians in New York state has taken the first step to become the operator of a hydroelectric dam built on land expropriated from the nation more than 50 years ago.

New Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter announced that the nation filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Nov. 30 for the license to operate the Seneca Pumped Storage Project at Kinzua Dam.

Seneca will be competing for the permit against the current owner, FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, Ohio. The current 50-year license to operate the pumped storage project expires in 2015.

The dam was authorized by Congress in the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938, and the Army Corps of Engineers built the Kinzua Dam near Warren, Pa. in 1960-65.

The government forced 147 Seneca families out of their homes on 10,000 acres of their treaty-protected territory in a fertile valley, and relocated them several miles away. The flooded land drowned cultural, sacred, and ceremonial sites, including a longhouse and burial grounds.

“The construction of the Kinzua Dam and reservoir stands as the most aggressive and violent action taken by the United States against the Seneca nation in the modern era to violate the terms of the Canandaigua Treaty. To me there are historic and justice elements of this that could be remedied by the granting of the license to the nation.” -Robert Odawi Porter, Seneca president

The federal government had already granted the permit to build the hydropower project before the Seneca Nation was even informed of the plans!? So much for consultation with the Seneca Nation about taking its land. Furthermore, the Nation has never been invited to share in the project’s significant financial benefits.

The Nation alleges that in taking the land, the United States violated the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, signed by President George Washington and the Iroquois Six Nations. The treaty defines the boundaries and waters of the Seneca lands and promises that “the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb the Seneca nation, nor any of the Six Nations, or of their Indian friends residing thereon and united with them, in the free use and enjoyment thereof.”

The Seneca Nation is not the first indigenous nation to seek a FERC license. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana both sought licenses for power facilities built on their land.

Read the entire article in Indian Country Today.

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