What Did the Seneca Indians Eat?

The Seneca enjoyed a diverse diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish and game. Their annual menus primarily included corn, squash and beans, which they called the “three sisters” or Deohako, “the life-supporters.”

The Seneca, the largest of the five original nations that comprised the Five Nations or the Iroquois League, enjoyed berries and nuts. They prized certain plants for their medicinal powers, and they raised and consumed domesticated fowl like turkey.

Women shouldered most of the agricultural duties of growing and harvesting. Seneca women were also the sole owners of their land and homes. Men hunted deer, the black bear and the passenger pigeon; what they captured served as their major contribution to their family’s subsistence.

The Cornplanter band of Seneca conducted annual fish drives. They used horses to pull a giant rake that gathered fish into a V-shaped fence called a weir. Once the fish were trapped, the men speared the fish. The waterways of the Eastern Woodlands teemed with brook trout, sturgeon, shovelnose, walleye, and white and yellow bass, all of which the Seneca relished.

Each year when the passenger pigeons of the Eastern Woodlands returned to their nesting grounds, Seneca men hunted the young pigeons, or squabs, leaving their parents to breed again.