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Cayuga - Gayogo̱hó:nǫ’

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  • Captain John 'Tachnachdours' Logan (1718 - 1820)
    Cayuga/Turtle Clan Tachnachdours "Spreading Oak" Brother of Chief James (Tah-Gah-Jute) Logan "W. Ray Metz in his article, 'The History Of this Territory Prior To 1846, in the book, Blair County's F...
  • Koonay "Anne" Gibson (1741 - 1774)
    Cayuga/Turtle Clan "The Yellow Creek Massacre was a brutal killing of several Mingo Indians by Virginia frontiersmen on April 30, 1774. The atroc...
  • Ruby May Gibson (1897 - 1941)
    Cayuga/Heron Clan Known as "May" Daughter of Amos W Pierce (1863-1944) and Caroline Gardner (Parker) Pierce (1878-1928). Married John Earl Gibson Their children: May, Alexander James and John E...
  • Agnes Thea Greenwood (1893 - 1981)
    Cayuga/Heron Clan Married Arthur Greenwood on June 7, 1919 in Collins, Erie, New York Their children: Brennan, Yvonne and Sara Greenwood (Cenotaph) United States Social Security Death Index...
  • Ely Spencer Pierce (1905 - 1905)
    Cayuga/Heron Clan

People of the Great Swamp

The Cayuga (Cayuga: Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ, "People of the Great Swamp") are one of the five original constituents of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), a confederacy of Native Americans in New York. The Cayuga homeland lies in the Finger Lakes region along Cayuga Lake, between their league neighbors, the Onondaga to the east and the Seneca to the west. Today, Cayuga people belong to the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, and the federally recognized Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

Traditionally, Cayuga men hunted the abundant game, waterfowl, and fish of the region, and Cayuga women cultivated corn (maize). Villages consisted of multiple-fireside longhouses that sheltered related families. When first visited by the French Jesuit René Ménard in 1656, their towns occupied the lands east of the lake above the marshes south of the Seneca River. Approximately 1,500 people lived in some 100 longhouses. The local Cayuga council, which guided the village chiefs, comprised representatives of the eight exogamous clans. The clans were grouped into two major divisions, or moieties, which had largely ceremonial functions at funerals and games.


Our Native language is Cayuga. However, because many members of the Cayuga Nation have integrated and are living among the Senecas, many of us are familiar with the Seneca language.

Among the Haudenosaunee are groups of people who come together as families called clans. As a matrilineal society, each clan is linked by a common female ancestor with women possessing a leadership role within the clan. The number of clans varies among the nations with the Mohawk only having three to the Oneida having eight. The clans are represented by birds and animals and are divided into the three elements: water, land and air. The bear, wolf and deer represent the land element, the turtle, eel and beaver represent the water element and the snipe, hawk and heron represent the air element. Cayuga Nation has five clans. Each member of the Cayuga Nation belongs to one of these clans. The Cayuga Nation has a maternal ancestry, which means Cayuga mothers will have children of her same clan. Each Clan has a Clan Mother, a Chief or sub Chief or a Seat Warmer.

The Haudenosaunee have ceremonies throughout the year representing the 13 moons throughout the year. These ceremonies occur at various times of the year often following seasonal changes. Most ceremonies are a way of expressing thanks to the people, the natural world, the spirit world and the creator. It is hoped that this will help to maintain the health and prosperity of the nations.

Each ceremony includes an opening and closing prayer followed by dances and songs. Often various stories special the Haudenosaunee are shared to continue traditional teachings.Music and dance were a major part of the Haudenosaunee lives. Ceremonies and social dances could involve 60 to 70 songs using instruments like water drums and gourd rattles.
The ceremonies are:

Midwinter – Second week in January and lasts for approximately eight days.
Maple Ceremony – Second week in February and lasts one day.
Thunder Dance – First week in April to welcome back the thunderers.
Sun and Moon dance – Beginning of May to give thanks to the sun and second week of May to give thanks to the moon in the morning and evening respectively.
Seed Ceremony – Middle of May and lasts 1 day
Planting Ceremony – End of May
Strawberry Ceremony – Middle of May and lasts 1 day
Green Corn – Middle of August
Harvest – Middle of October and lasts four days.
Thunder - November

Years ago, members of the Cayuga Nation lived in houses called a "Longhouse". The frame of the longhouses were made of upright logs and cross poles. Then they were covered with the bark of an elm tree. There were several holes in the roof to accomodate for several families to live inside and each would have a space for a cooking or heating fire. The holes in the roof would allow for the smoke to escape.

​Art, sports, games, music and dance were staples in the Haudenosaunee people’s lives and often intertwined in their day to day activities. Every game or piece of art had a second significant purpose. Sports like lacrosse were played by men as a sort of conditioning to maintain and further develop their skills. Baskets, combs and beadwork clothing which are seen as artistic pieces today were made for practical use but with as much love and attention as any artistic piece today.
While children played, most of their games involved role playing to learn what their mothers or fathers do. For young boys lacrosse was a way of teaching the skills of stealth, strength, agility and speed. Girls played with cornhusk dolls to prepare them for their role as nurturers. Another past time of story telling helped them to learn the stories that taught them their culture and the ways of the Haudenosaunee.


The Cayuga Nation is known as "The People of the Great Swamp", Cayugas are one the original five members of the Haudenosaunee "The People of the Longhouse". The Cayuga Nation's homeland is found in the Finger Lakes Region of a territory now called New York. Cayuga Lake and its northern shores were the primary locations of many villages of the Cayuga people. They are said to be found between their two brothers, the Onondaga (to the east) and the Seneca (to the west). The Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, Onieda and Mohawk are the original members of the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois Confederacy). Their way of life was admired by many of the founding fathers of the United States of America. Many goverance principles of the Haudenosaunee were installed into the American form of governance. These principles were given to the Haudenosaunee as gifts from the Peacemaker.

As the American colonists and the British began to war against each other, Cayugas and other members of the Haudenosaunee were caught in the middle of the Revolutionary War. Some were said to be fighting with the British, some with the Colonists and some abstained altogether. Nonetheless, the Cayugas were loyal to their families and to their land. As land encrochments occurred from both sides of the war, Cayugas defended themselves. As war continued to vacillate between the two possible victors, Cayugas could be found on boths sides in an effort to be found in a negotiating position for land and peace when the conflict was over.

​Following the Revolutionary War, in 1779, General George Washington commissioned General John Sullivan and James Clinton to destroy the Cayugas and other members of the Haudenosaunee. These two Generals led 6,200 troops into many villages and crop fields of the Cayugas and the Haudenosaunee and destroyed them. There was no complete victory over the Haudenosaunee. Although many tribal members and bands of each tribe were scattered (to Ohio, Canada and Buffalo Creek) because of this campaign, there remained a few to negotiate a Treaty with General Washington. Cayugas that relocated to Ohio were later moved to a territory now called Oklahoma. Cayugas that relocated to Canada now reside on the Grand River Reservation at Six Nations. The Cayugas that remained, negotiated with the first president of the United States of America.
On November 11th, 1794 the Cayuga Nation along with the other members of the Six Nations (or Haudenosaunee) signed the Treaty of Canandaigua. This Treaty established peace between the United States and the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee. This treaty established peace for needs of the United States, but it also provided for the sovereignty for each Haudenosaunee Nation within its lands. It established explicit Federal Powers of the United States over the state of New York. It grandfathered previous treaties made between the state of New York and Haudenosaunee Nations, but also established jurisdiction over the state of New York as it pertained to Indian Affairs and Indian transactions. This treaty remains in full force today.

​Over a series of illegal land transactions and treaties, the New York State has taken all the lands of the Cayuga Nation. In accordance with the Treaty of Canandaigua and the Constitution of the United States of America, the State of New York neglected to seek Federal approval for these land transactions and claimed powers of the state in Indian Affairs, for which they have none. As a result, the State of New York still claims that the Cayuga Nation has no reservation and will not permit the Cayuga Nation free use and enjoyment of a Treaty established reservation. The Cayuga Nation continues to fight for its Treaty Rights today and will continue to seek to have these rights upheld by the State of New York and the United State of America.

Historically, the Cayuga often allowed other groups to join their communities. When living in a refuge settlement north of Lake Ontario, they took in Huron and Erie captives to replace war losses, and in the late 17th century they provided refuge for many Siouan-speaking and Algonquian-speaking bands from the near south and west. At the beginning of the American Revolution a large part of the Cayuga tribe, which favoured the British, moved to Canada. After the Revolution, the Cayuga remaining in the United States sold their New York lands and scattered among other Iroquois peoples in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Ontario. Cayuga descendants numbered more than 3,500 in the early 21st century.


There are three Cayuga bands. The two largest, the Lower Cayuga and Upper Cayuga, still live in Ontario, both at Six Nations of the Grand River, a reserve recognized by the Canadian government. Two federally recognized tribes of Cayuga constitute the third band in the United States: the Cayuga Nation of New York in Seneca Falls, New York, and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

The Cayuga Nation of New York does not have a reservation. Members have lived among the Seneca Nation on their reservation. Since the late 20th century, they have acquired some land in their former homeland by purchase.


The Cayuga Nation of New York filed an action on November 19, 1980, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York to pursue legislative and monetary restitution for land taken from it by the State of New York during the 18th and 19th centuries. New York had entered into land sales and leases with the Cayuga Nation after the signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua after the American Revolutionary War. Its failure to get approval of the United States Senate meant the transactions were illegal, as the state had no constitutional authority to deal directly with Indian nations. The Treaty of Canandaigua holds that only the United States government may enter into legal discussions with the Haudenosaunee.

In 1981, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma was added as a plaintiff in the claim. Following many years of pre-trial motions, a jury trial on damages was held from January 18-February 17, 2000. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, finding current fair market value damages of $35 million and total fair rental value damages of $3.5 million. The jury gave the state a credit for the payments it had made to the Cayuga of about $1.6 million, leaving the total damages at approximately $36.9 million. On October 2, 2001, the court issued a decision and order which awarded a prejudgment interest award of $211 million and a total award of $247.9 million.

Both the plaintiffs and the defendants appealed this award. On June 28, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rendered a decision that reversed the judgment of the trial court. It ruled in favor of the defendants, based on the doctrine of laches. Essentially the court ruled that the plaintiffs had taken too long to present their case, when it might have been equitably settled earlier.

The Cayuga Indian Nation of New York sought review of this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which was denied on May 15, 2006. The time in which the Cayuga Indian Nation could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear the case has passed.

The Nation reclaimed its first land on July 17, 1996, by purchasing 14 acres (57,000 m2) in Seneca Falls, within their 64,000 acres (260 km2) land claim area. On August 2, 1997 a dedication was held where members of all the Iroquois Confederacy nations were present. This purchase began the return of the Cayuga People to their ancestral homelands. They planted a pine tree at this dedication as a symbol that the Cayuga People are still alive and wanting to return. The elder women of the Cayuga Nation broke the ground and planted the pine tree to welcome the return of their people to their home territory.

In December 2005, the S.H.A.R.E. (Strengthening Haudenosaunee-American Relations through Education) Farm (including a house) was signed over to the Cayuga nation by United States citizens who had purchased and developed the 70-acre (280,000 m2) farm in Aurora, New York. This is the first property which the Cayuga Nation has owned since after being forced to cede its lands after the Revolutionary War. It is the first time they have lived within the borders of their ancestral homeland in more than 200 years.[5] The Cayuga continue to debate having the Bureau of Indian Affairs take this land into trust for them. They have been developing projects featuring indigenous planting, cultivation of herbs and medicinal plants, wild plant collection and a seed saving program.

The Nation

The Cayuga Nation focuses on Land Rights and Economic Development. The Nation continues to be challenged on its Treaty Rights and its established reservation. Its businesses also are challenged and are currently in litigation in New York State courts. The Nation has approximately 493 enrolled members who primarily live in Western New York, but also can be found throughout the United States. Land acquistion continues to be a primary focus within the Land Claim area both in Seneca and Cayuga counties. The Nation currently holds approximately 824 acres in its land portfolio inside the land claim.

The Nation also operates several business. Lakeside Trading and Entertainment, Pullens, Harford Glen, Cayuga Corner, Gakwiyo Garden and LVCC (Lake View Cattle Company) are currently being operated by the Cayuga Nation.


The Seneca–Cayuga Nation is one of three federally recognized tribes of Seneca people in the United States. It includes the Cayuga people and is based in Oklahoma, United States. The tribe had more than 5,000 people in 2011. They have a tribal jurisdictional area in the northeast corner of Oklahoma and are headquartered in Grove. They are descended from Iroquoian peoples who had relocated to Ohio from New York in the mid-18th century.

Notable People

  • Ourehouare, (died 1698) was a native American leader of the Cayuga people
  • Gary Farmer, actor
  • Jenna Clause, actress
  • Robbie Robertson
  • Joseph Jacobs (Cayuga) sculptures and bronze castings
  • Annessa Hartman, American politician and activist serving as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives for the 40th district.
  • Tammy Rahr, a Cayuga bead artist
  • Deskaheh (also known as Levi General), Cayuga (Gayogohó:no') chief and speaker of the Six Nations Hereditary Council. A member of the Longhouse religion, Deskaheh insisted that the Six Nations retain their languages and distinctive culture.

Photograph of Deskaheh from The Graphic (a newspaper), 1922