Seneca Children Learn to Preserve Culture

Almost forty years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam in northwestern Pennsylvania. Hundreds of Seneca Indians lost their land, homes and traditions to the dam’s reservoir. Now a new generation of Senecas is trying to preserve a way of life that many believe was nearly inundated by this federal project. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray has this story:


Almost forty years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam in northwestern
Pennsylvania. Hundreds of Seneca Indians lost their land, homes and traditions to the dam’s
reservoir. Now a new generation of Senecas is trying to preserve a way of life that many believe
was nearly inundated by this federal project. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray
has this story:

(students playing outside school)

It’s a sunny day in Salamanca, New York. Young Seneca students lurch and lunge in a game of
keep away.

(students playing game: “Let go! Let go!”)

Although they look like any group of kids
at recess, they share a big responsibility.

(kids playing ball outside)

“My Indian name is Gayanose. My English name is Brooke Crouse- Kennedy. I’m here because
I’m trying to be one of the ones to preserve our culture and just learn.”

Brooke and 12 other students are here at the Faithkeepers School to learn the Seneca language
and the teachings of the Longhouse religion. The health of these cultural benchmarks declined
after the Kinzua Reservoir flooded one-third of the Alleghany Reservation and scattered tribal
families. The cedar wood school now rests on the upper reaches of the reservation – a narrow strip
of land that follows the Allegheny River from Pennsylvania to New York.

(Dowdy and kids in classroom)

“What kinds of things do you need that’s growing on earth?”


This morning, longtime teacher Sandy Dowdy, works with very young students. In 1998, she and
her husband Dar rallied the community and started the school. They’re two of only 200 Senecas
who can still speak their language.

“Now do you see why Yoedzade is so important? Everything we need is on Yoedzade.”

Thanking Yoedzade, the earth, and its creator for the bounty of nature is the building block for
learning the Seneca language and ceremonies. Today, this handful of students learns a shorter
version of the thanksgiving speech. The speech stresses the interconnection between the natural
world and the well being of individual people.

(Dowdy and kids recite thanksgiving speech in Seneca)

“We cover just the ceremonial part and the giving thanks part in the morning and then in the
afternoon, we study things. We look into erosion and pollution and all of those things
that we can do to protect those things we just gave thanks for.”

These lessons have a real life application in the school’s small gardens. The early Senecas
depended on gardens to survive. Fruits and vegetables were so important to the tribe’s existence
that they appear in many of their stories and ceremonies. Senecas continued to farm until their
fertile bottom land was flooded by the Kinzua reservoir.

Following the traditional cycles of their
ancestors, Landon Sequoyah and the other kids now help with planting and harvesting.

“The corn’s right there. A long time ago they used to have big things of corn and beans and squash. That’s the Three
Sisters. That’s the Three Sisters. Guindioth and the Three Sisters. He was going back
up to the Skyworld and they grabbed onto his legs and they told him not to go or
they could go with them but he was like,’No, you have to stay down
here to feed our people.'”

Murray: “If you hadn’t been in school would you ever had a garden?”

“I don’t think so cause I was going to a public school and I didn’t know hardly anything about our

Many Senecas on the Alleghany Reservation believe their culture was nearly lost when the
Kinzua Dam was built. The Senecas and others strongly protested this project. But their
arguments were turned down in the courts and the U.S. Congress. Tyler Heron is an elder and
Seneca historian. He says that the Canandaigua Treaty of 1794 guaranteed that Seneca land
would remain untouched by the United States government.

“But the politics change over 200 years. We weren’t the threat. We weren’t the political power
any more. The threat, I guess, was the river itself to Pittsburgh …the flooding. It was the
threat to the economy.”

Major floods along the lower Allegheny prompted the federal government to act. To make way
for the dam, 600 Senecas were moved from their homes along the riverbanks. In 1964,
contractors burned and bulldozed Seneca houses, trees and public buildings. Churches and
cemeteries were moved. Heron, who was 17 at the time, says life as he knew it has changed.

“Even the ecology of the river itself has changed. My wife, for instance, used to make her extra
money as a teenager by catching soft-shelled crabs and selling them to the bait companies
but I don’t think there’s a soft-shelled crab in the river anymore.”

Aquatic plants were lost as well. The reservoir also inundated hardwoods used for carving
ceremonial masks and many medicinal plants. Heron, whose grandchildren attend the
Faithkeepers School, says these children are learning to identify the remaining plants. They’re
learning to speak the language and lead the ceremonies and carry on for a community that lost its
ancestral home along the Allegheny.

“Our existence is dependent on us …dependent on us only. And we have to keep our identifiers.
How do we keep our identity? Well,language. It starts right here.”

(Kids playing in front of Faithkeepers school. One child speaks in seneca. Fades into traditional
Seneca chant.)

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ann Murray.

Bringing the Farm to the City

There’s a new kind of farmer being trained… city farmers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ben Calhoun has the story of someone who has dedicated his life to training them:


There’s a new kind of farmer being trained…city farmers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ben Calhoun has
the story of someone who has dedicated his life to training them.

Will Allen has been farming all his life. But ten years ago, he decided he wanted to do
something different. So he started ‘Growing Power.’

You’ll find Growing Power’s Farm on a busy street on the northside of Milwaukee. It’s in
the middle of a row of houses and for a farm its pretty small.

Most days you’ll also find Will Allen there. Today, Allen’s giving a tour of the place. He
leads the group through Growing Power’s four green houses. There are rows of herbs,
eggplants, compost heaps, and boxes filled with worms.

“And where do you set the worms?”

“The worms, we started out with 35 pounds of worms some five years ago. Now we
have millions of worms.”

“I see.”

There’s a lot to see here.

Allen pulls together a lot of pieces to make his organization work.

Growing Power has been finding people to start urban farms for more than ten years –
something Allen says is actually harder than most people think, because he says farming
is harder than most people think.

“And when I sit down with kids’ groups I tell ’em, I say, ‘ Look at my hands. If you guys
are gonna do this work, your hands are gonna look like mine, if you’re truly gonna do it.’
I’m not talking about going into a class and growing a bean in a cup. I say, ‘You’re
gonna get hot, you’re gonna get sweaty, you’re gonna get dirty, you’re going to get
frustrated sometimes.’ But I say when you grow something, it’s gonna take all that pain

Allen’s found a lot of people who want to do that type of work.

Farming projects launched by Growing Power are scattered across the Midwest.

About 80 miles southwest of Chicago is the kind of place that Allen builds – it’s called
‘Growing Home.’ Growing Home is a farming project started by Chicago’s Coalition for
the Homeless. The Coalition buses homeless people here to grow corn, beans, and

Here Milton Marks sweats as he pulls black-eyed pea plants out of the dirt. Marks used
to be an auto mechanic. And he came to the project through a city job program. Marks
says it took a while to get used to working here on a farm.

“You know, at first it put me in mind of that picture, ‘Children of the Corn.’ (laughs)
So uh, I was kinda careful when I went up in the corn field – you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, I was kinda careful. But it was interesting and I liked the concept.”

Marks isn’t working alone, and just a few bean rows over, Ron Carter is stomping a
pitchfork into the ground.

Ron became involved through a homeless shelter in Chicago. He says he’s found a new
niche for himself working here on the farm.

“I love it, I love this type of work. You know, but at first, not in my wildest dreams.
Thought that I would be interested in this type of work. It’s been an overwhelming
feeling. It’s been really, really overwhelming.”

Carter’s spent his whole life in Chicago. He says the people he knows in the city, they
just don’t farm.

But in Chicago’s Southside Woodlawn neighborhood there’s another project actually
bringing farming into the city. Right in the middle of the residential neighborhood is
what looks like a home garden – maybe 50 feet by 60 feet. It’s filled with vegetables.

Carol Hughes started this space. As we walk around the plot of plants, she describes
what she thinks is already making her project a success.

“There’s a certain serenity about being in this space. Can’t you feel it? You know, even
though you’re here and there are cars swishing by on either side of us, and other elements
of the community are out (laughs), it’s just, there’s a serenity here, there’s a quiet here,
there’s the greenery. And I love seeing that light, I love seeing things grow.”

Hughes says right now most of the people working on her project are kids. But she says
the farm is getting lots of interest from all parts of her community.

Will Allen says that’s the kind of excitement that makes a project a success. He also
says it’s something that keeps him going.

“I see it happen, every year, year after year. But to see somebody else’s face . . . ‘ I can’t
believe I grew these peppers, or tomatoes, or corn.’ You know, that’s a beautiful thing.
That’s another one of the things that keeps me doing this.”

Allen says Carol Hughes’ project will be four times bigger next year than it is this year.
He says they’ll work to purify the soil so they can use all their land. All together,
Growing Power will continue working with about 35 projects starting up throughout the
Midwest. And they say they expect five more to be up and running by next season.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ben Calhoun.

EPA Re-Examines Effects of Pesticides on Children

For the past few years, environmentalists have been warning consumers that pesticides applied to fruits and vegetables could be extremely dangerous to children. Soon, the Environmental Protection Agency will tackle the issue. Armed with a new federal law, the EPA is taking a fresh look to see if pesticides applied to produce carry health hazards. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Edelson Halpert has more: