The Canandaigua Treaty is important today because it defines Seneca sovereignty specifically and Haudenosaunee sovereignty by implication. Specifically, the treaty says that the United States would "never claim the same [Seneca territory], nor disturb the Seneca nation . . . in the free use or enjoyment thereof; but it shall remain theirs until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United States" (Foster, 1984, 117).
To the Haudenosaunee, the important issues at Canandaigua were familiar: Several frontier murderers of Indians by whites were going unpunished.
Jurisdiction over major crimes was a common issue in treaty negotiations. The Iroquois also maintained that land cessions required by the Fort Stanwix treaty, negotiated in 1784, had been unfairly extensive, encroaching on their hunting grounds. The proposed settlement at Presque Isle was at issue as well. The Seneca insisted that the warrior chiefs who had negotiated the peace at Fort Stanwix had failed to submit the treaty to the Grand Council for ratification. Pickering proposed that the Seneca relinquish a strip of land four miles wide along the south of the Niagara River from Cayuga Creek to Buffalo Creek. Red Jacket replied that this was not acceptable because it would constitute a threat to Seneca fisheries and their settlement at Buffalo Creek. Pickering dropped the issue and settled for construction of a road, to be owned by the Seneca, from Fort Schlosser to Buffalo (Fenton, 1998, 695).
The negotiations continued until the parties achieved a general consensus that they had achieved all they could. On November 9, however, the Seneca Chief Cornplanter complained of past dealings with the United States and offered that the sachems alone, and not the warriors, should sign the treaty. Pickering was unwilling to do this. He felt that if the warriors did not sign, divisions would rise among the Indians that would undo the treaty (Fenton, 1998, 699).
Cornplanter's behavior significantly diminished his reputation as a friend of the United States in Pickering's eyes. The treaty was signed on November 11, 1794, and went into effect under U.S. law on January 21, 1795. The primary objectives of the United States were to settle the question of the Six Nations' claims to lands in Ohio and the Erie Triangle and to embark on a policy of sincere negotiations and fair payment in land transactions.
Today, the people of the Six Nations believe the U.S. government has not kept several promises made in this treaty. The Six Nations believe the United States recognized that the lands of the Six Nations belong to them, not to the United States. The U.S. and New York State governments have since acted contrarily to any reasonable interpretation of the promise not to claim the land or disturb the Six Nations in any way. And they do so despite the fact that the United States and New York State do not collect taxes or enforce a variety of laws and regulations on lands they have acknowledged as having status as a sovereign domain distinct from their own.
Finally, many Iroquois believe that the treaty recognizes parallel legal jurisdictions to a much greater degree than those that have evolved since 1794. The treaty states, for example, that in the event of a crime, the two parties will pursue prudent measures involving the president or the superintendent until some other "equitable" provision shall be made. Some U.S. representatives assert that transferring jurisdiction to New York State fulfilled the requirement for equitable or equal provision, involving both parties in resolution of problems. However, many Iroquois, most notably the traditional chiefs, have long complained that there was nothing equitable in either the spirit or practice of the U.S. legal system as it relates to this treaty.
The treaty, signed by George Washington on January 21, 1795, remains a seminal document in Iroquois–U.S. relations. Following the construction of the Kinzua Dam, the Senecas whom it displaced were compensated with $18 million because the eviction violated the Canandaigua Treaty. The Canandaigua Treaty was being used in the late twentieth century to prod federal government bodies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, to act on environmental problems that damage Haudenosaunee living conditions from sources in the United States. Pollution from off-reservation sources is most serious at Akwesasne, which has been ranked as the most expensive toxic cleanup in the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Senecas' Tonawanda reservation near Niagara Falls is close to Love Canal, one of North America's best publicized toxic sites. The Onondagas also invoked sovereignty guaranteed under the Canandaigua Treaty in 1983 when they granted sanctuary to American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks and his family as he was being pursued by federal law enforcement authorities.
Bruce E. Johansen
Fenton, William N.  1998. The Great Law and The Longhouse. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.; Foster, Michael K., Jack Campisi, and Marianne Mithun. 1984. Extending the Rafters: Indisciplinary Approaches to Iroquoian Studies. Albany: State University of New York Press.