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The Kinzua Dam near Warren, PA
The Kinzua Dam near Warren, PA

Senecas seek dam to redress "historic injustice"

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Forty-five years ago, the federal government built the Kinzua dam on the Alleghany River, just south of the New York border in northwestern Pennsylvania. The government said it was needed to control flooding in the Pittsburgh area.

150 families from the Seneca Nation were forcibly removed from the area. Their homes were burned and bulldozed. Their sacred longhouse and burial grounds were flooded by the rising waters.

This week, the Seneca Nation made a bid to become owner of the Kinzua dam. The federal license of the current operator, FirstEnergy of Akron, Ohio, expires in 2015. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will decide who gets a new 50-year license.

Robert Odawi Porter is the Seneca Nation president. He told David Sommerstein granting the Senecas the license to operate the Kinzua dam would correct what he calls a "grotesque injustice."

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Seneca Nation president Robert Odawi Porter

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An Ohio company's license to operate the Kinzua Dam expires in 2015. Seneca president Robert Odawi Porter says the Nation has been planning for this moment for years.

Y'know, I can't say that revenge is out of the minds of many Senecas.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the dam in the 1960s to control flooding along the Alleghany River. The government forcibly removed 150 Seneca families from 10,000 acres of fertile land in the 1960s. Their homes were burned and bulldozed. The rising waters behind the dam also flooded burial sites and a longhouse.

Porter says transferring ownership of the dam to the Senecas would "right an historic injustice" and help the local economy.

This is a rural area. Low-cost power is an important agreement in an economic development strategy. We would like to use that as a magnet to help stimulate more business enterprise in our area.

FirstEnergy Corporation of Akron makes an estimated 13 million dollars a year in profit. The company has also put in an application to run the dam for another 50 years. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington will make the final decision.

For National Native News, I'm David Sommerstein in Canton, New York.

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