Tag Archives: Tribal Wildlife Grant

The Great Hill People of the Beautiful River and Their Conservation Efforts

This story is a part of the Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage.

The Seneca Nation of Indians are the “Keepers of the Western Door” and are called the “Great Hill People” or “O-non-dowa-gah” in their own language. The Seneca people are culturally attached to their ancestral lands, and call the Allegheny River the “Ohi’yo” which translates into “beautiful river”. The Ohi’yo or Allegheny River joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio River, which then the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River. To many Seneca Native Americans, the Allegheny River and its connections are simply called Ohi’yo  River no matter what region it is in.

seneca territory

Currently, the Seneca Nation of Indians holds 53,884 acres of Tribal lands within two territories: the Allegany and the Cattaraugus, as well as the Oil Springs Reservation which is 640 acres in the state of New York.  Photo Credit: eSpatially New York, 2015

The Seneca Nation of Indians has a robust wildlife program and is undertaking many projects to protect and restore fish and wildlife cultural important to their people.  In 2015, the Seneca Nation of Indians were awarded Federal funding for a project titled “Conservation Management” through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant (TWG) program. The goal of the project is to increase stream and shoreline restoration within the Cattaraugus Creek, to benefit sacred fish species including the brook trout and steelhead fish. According to Seneca oral histories, the Great Spirit had caught and admired the beauty of the brook trout. The Great Spirit’s touch turned the black ebony color of the trout into silvery spots and halos. Since the brook trout had been handled by the Great Spirit and spared for its beauty to live on, the Seneca Nation of Indians do not eat brook trout, but hold it as sacred in the highest regard of fish (Indian Legend received by Larry Becelia).

Additionally, a freshwater hatchery in Cattaraugus Territory, which will also serve as an educational center for the community, is being created under management of Greg Lay, Fish and Wildlife Department for the Seneca Indian Nation. The hatchery will be used for Eastern brook trout. The Seneca Nation provides power to both facilities using solar panels and other sustainable methods.

Another project the Seneca Nation of Indians is working on is to stabilize the walleye population, which is a fish that is both a culturally significant and a subsistence food for the Seneca Nation of Indians, through establishment of a fish rearing facility in the Allegany territory. The rearing facility is managed by Shane Titus, the Fishery’s Manager and and Larry Becelia, the Conservation Manager of Seneca Nation of Indians Fish and Wildlife Department. The highland Strain of Walleye (adult male and females) are caught from the Allegany Reservoir during spawning season using an electroshocking boat. After the reproductive materials have been collected by the caught adults, they are released further up the Allegany River. This location is chosen in hopes that mature walleye will stay up river and spawn in the future to increase the upstream population. When the walleye fry hatch in the rearing facility, they are released where the Allegany reservoir and Allegany River meet.


Larry Becelia, Conservation Manager  of the Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife Department holding a walleye.

The Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife Department has also established a research program, in which walleye females that were caught, held, and released from the facility are tagged with URL links, identification numbers, and QR codes. This system is used in the hopes that future anglers can log the individual fish into the system and see where it has traveled on the map. One example of this form of “citizen science” was encountered when a fisherman caught a walleye female all the way in Pennsylvania! The Seneca Nation of Indians have also built a stocking pond near the facility for catch and release fishing of walleye, to ensure that traditional fishing activities are available for the Tribal community.



Shane and Larry also organize a youth program in the summer to create artificial habitat for fish. Eleven- to sixteen-year olds use recycled vinyl siding, quick cement, and pipes to create a resting place for spawning fish. Using grant funds, the Seneca Nation of Indians have also been able to order large boulders to be placed into the freshwater system to provide resting pools for fish. Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

In addition, the Seneca Nation of Indians is in partnership with Cornell University and the State of New York to research the chytrid disease in the eastern hellbender, a protected species of large salamander. Several individuals with the disease were unable to be cured, and thus, are unable to be released back into their natural system. Currently, the SNI resource managers, Shane and Titus, continue to take care of a handful of eastern hellbenders. Fortunately, several hellbenders without the chytrid disease were able to be released into their natural environment in the summer of 2017.

The O-non-dawa-gah or Seneca people have been conserving their lands for thousands of years. Through the tribal wildlife grants program, they continue to demonstrate their ancestral ties to the Ohi’yo River and its wildlife inhabitants, as well as the protection of species through their hatchery, stream-bank restoration projects, and species recovery programs. Tribal environmental managers pass on their traditional ecological knowledge and conservation skillset to Seneca youth each summer, so generations can continue O-non-dawa-gah traditions into the future.

The Seneca Indian Nation’s conservation management projects were made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Seneca Nation of Indians, other partnerships, and the Tribal Wildlife Grants program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tribal wildlife grants are funded through an annual appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These grants have awarded more than $77 million to Tribes since 2003, which provide support for approximately 444 conservation projects throughout Indian Country. For more information about tribal wildlife grants please visit https://www.fws.gov/northeast/nativeamerican/index.html

The Penobscot’s Original People Promote Atlantic Salmon Restoration

This is a first in blog series observing National Native American Heritage Month through November.  I am Zintkala Eiring, Junior Native American Liaison, and I will be sharing stories of Native American efforts in conservation. 

The Penobscot Indian Nation is a federally recognized Native American Tribe in Maine.  The Tribe possesses 200 islands within the Penobscot River, which accounts for 6,000 acres of reservation land. “Nə̀pi”, or “water” in the Penobscot dialect of the Eastern Algonquian language, is very important to the Penobscot people who live in the Penobscot River Watershed, the largest watershed in the State of Maine. Surface waters include 1,224 lakes, 188 rivers and streams which total 7,127 river miles (Penobscot Indian Nation, 2017).

The Eastern Algonquian language is common to coastal river communities from Nova Scotia to North Carolina. The East Branch is named Wassategwewick for its fishing, and it is critical for restoring populations of Atlantic salmon. The Picataquis, meaning “little branch stream,” is very important to the Penobscot people as it is a travel route that has spawning habitat for Atlantic salmon.The lower Penobscot is where the name of the “Penobscot” came from, but the river is now dammed. Photo Credit: Atlantic Salmon Federation

The Penobscot River was first inhabited by the ancestors of the Penobscot Indian Nation. Archaeological evidence shows native inhabitants fished American shad 8,000 years ago and sturgeon 3,000 years ago from the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River is still the largest Atlantic salmon run remaining in the U.S., with 1,000-4,000 adult salmon annually, compared to 50,000 adult salmon historically (Penobscot River Restoration Trust, 2017).

Mattamiscontis means “a fishing place for alewives”. It is the stream that enters the west side of the Penobscot River above Howland, Maine. Migratory fish, including alewife, would fill the Penobscot River by the millions until dams were constructed in the 1830s and later. Traditionally, native peoples of the Northeast, including the Penobscot Indian Nation, used stone weirs along streams to harvest migratory fish. Atlantic salmon have not been able to be harvested because of the lack of sea-run fish above the Veazie dam. However, a wooden weir exists today in the Penobscot River drainage to capture adult American eels as they migrate to the ocean to spawn (Penobscot River Restoration Trust, 2017).

The Atlantic salmon was listed as endangered in 2011. The decline in the population was mostly from lack of habitat and connectivity of rivers used by spawning fish. For example, The Milford dam, West Enfield dam, and Weldom dam decrease the chances of connectivity for Atlantic salmon near the Penobscot Indian Nation’s territory. Additional riverbed damage occurred in the 1980’s from timber harvesting activities, destroying small protective pools for spawning fish.

The Penobscot Indian Nation applied to the Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grants (TWG) program and received funding for their 2017-2019 plan to increase the health of the culturally significant Atlantic salmon. The Tribe has been involved in the relicensing process for local hydropower dams, and in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) meetings. Additionally, the Penobscot Indian Nation has delivered several projects to restore stream connectivity in the Mattamiscontis River.

Daniel McCaw, the Fisheries Biologist for the Penobscot Indian Nation, has been leading the aquatic efforts. In fact, McCaw hopes to see a significant increase of blueback herring and alewife in the Mattamiscontis outlet, East, and South Lake.

Wildlife Sports Fisheries Restoration (WSFR), TWG Administrator, Richard Zane (left) and Dan McCaw, Tribal Fisheries Biologist for Penobscot Indian Nation (right) viewing stream bank restoration site

The Penobscot Indian Nation’s Atlantic Salmon Enhancement project has created passages for spawning fish that haven’t existed since the Penobscot River was rerouted by roads and logging enterprises. The project has included the installation of arch culverts to increase stream connectivity and natural flow passages to improve migratory fish passage. “My five-year dream is to have tribal gatherings here with smoked alewife,” says Daniel McCaw, Tribal Wildlife Biologist.

The Atlantic Salmon enhancement project has been visibility successful by reconnecting the Penobscot River to its natural route. In Mattamiscontis stream, Atlantic salmon parr (juveniles) have been found. They were taken to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery to increase the population for release back into the watershed.

The Atlantic Salmon Enhancement project was made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Penobscot Indian Nation and the Tribal Wildlife Grant program of the Service. For more information on the program, please contact Richard Zane, richard_zane@fws.gov (the Northeastern TWG program coordinator) or Timothy Binzen, the Native American Liaison for the Service’s Northeastern and Southeast Regions timothy_binzen@fws.gov.