Old New York State Route 17, on the Allegany Territory of Seneca Nation of Indians in western New York, has been abandoned by the state for a half century.
Even so, a few cars bump along it on a recent August evening. A heron stands watchfully a few hundred yards away in the Allegheny River. In the distance, trucks cross the I-86 Bridge, high above the water.
The scene is serene, but what one can’t see is sobering: Submerged in the river is land that once was a farming valley, home to several hundred members of the Nation until they were forcibly relocated several miles away to much smaller plots in the mid-1960s.
The impetus for their removal was the U.S. government’s construction of the Kinzua Dam upriver in Warren County, Pennsylvania. Flooding caused by the dam destroyed 10,000 acres of the 31,000-acre Allegany Territory—and has led to generations of loss and emotional, psychological, physical, and environmental trauma.