Thursday, September 22, 2011

Alvin Josephy, Cornplanter, and the Kinzua Dam

Sorry for the long time between Josephy Library blog postings. Now that kids are back in school, I plan to get back with some kind of regularity!

Did anyone hear the recent NPR interview with the Seneca Nation’s new president, Robert Odawi Porter? I had been digging through Josephy speeches and writings looking towards an anthology of his work that is still relevant today. And looking especially at articles and speeches that had to do with environmental issues. Alvin came to these concerns through Indians, of course. I remember him saying that he first learned that Peabody Coal was strip mining coal and wreaking havoc on Hopi and Navajo lands in the southwest—and went on to see the havoc that the strip mining and coal fire emissions were wreaking on everyone in the Southwest.

But back to the Seneca. The NPR interview sent me to Alvin’s December 1968 piece in American Heritage Magazine, “Cornplanter Can You Swim,” republished in Now That the Buffalo’s Gone in 1982. After two decades of Indian opposition, the Kinzua Dam had been built in 1965. Villages had been condemned, houses had been burned, and the remains of 300 Seneca Indians, including Chief Cornplanter—Alvin had a great talent with titles—had been moved by the Army Corps of Engineers to higher ground so that thousands of acres of Indian Lands could be inundated by the Alleghany Reservoir. The Corps was also running over, or abrogating, the oldest active treaty agreed to by the United States of America, one signed by Cornplanter and 58 other Seneca sachems and chiefs in 1794!

Fast forward to 2011, and a new Seneca Chief with a Harvard law degree, to a Seneca nation made wealthy by three casinos and a thriving tobacco business, and then to 2015, when a 50 year lease on the Kinzua Dam expires (the dam provides power to Pittsburgh!). Chief—or President—Porter thinks the Senecas should run the dam, and he and his tribe are marshalling their legal forces to make the case. I don’t know whether Alvin’s early work will be part of the case—but maybe….

And here is the link to the NPR interview. Googling Kinzua Dam and Seneca will get you much more.


p.s. For the Southwest, check “Murder of the Southwest,” Audubon Magazine, July 1971, and “The Hopi Way,” American Heritage Magazine, February 1973.