JC Seneca Foundation
Earlier this year, J.C. Seneca decided to put together a health and healing expo at his Tallchief Outdoor Events Center, set on greenspace alongside his Native Pride Travel Plaza. His idea was to help the WNY Community find ways to heal in body, mind, and spirit by bringing together a collection of traditional and Native care providers to share their practices and wisdoms. He also planned to begin the event with the sacred Native tradition of a Talking/Healing Circle. His intent was to help the community discuss and deal with a racist on-air incident earlier this year, when a radio show host openly denigrated, African American woman. What was not part of Seneca’s original plan was expanding that Talking/Healing Circle to address a series of more disturbing and deeply discriminatory acts.
“I wanted to sponsor an event that was more than the standard health fair,” Seneca stated. “That’s why we invited a variety of care providers in the fields of healthy minds and bodies. It’s also why I thought it was important to incorporate a Talking/Healing circle to address the many forms of racism that exist in our community---to try and provide peace among us. What I didn’t anticipate was the continuing stream of stories out of Canada, along with U.S. Interior Secretary Haaland’s recent announcement of her investigation, all focused on the ‘mass grave’ remains of Native children being found on the grounds of former Indigenous boarding schools. It is a disturbing story that rings true for many Native people whose grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, were taken from their families and placed in such government-run institutions, with the goal to strip them of their identities, cultures, traditions and languages, and assimilate them into white society. Many Native children were abused mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually at these militaristic schools. Over 80% of them were sexually abused. The current spotlight on these stories is dredging up painful memories for Native people around the world. They are also informing a large number of non-Natives who have been unaware of these schools and the tragedies that occurred there. One such school existed for 100 years on the Cattaraugus Territory of the Seneca Nation. Many of our Seneca children endured the hardships and trauma of terrible abuses within the confines of this institution, known as the Thomas Indian School. Many other native children from the northeast region of the United States were taken from their families and endured tragic lives at this school as well. Now we are haunted by the questions of how many of these children never made it back to their families? How many may be buried on the former campus of the Thomas Indian School? With the launch of Secretary Haaland’s investigation, we may soon find out. That’s why, I feel it is important to expand the focus of our Talking/Healing Circle to help all of us try and make sense of these senseless tragedies.”
The Tallchief Health & Healing Expo will take place on Saturday, July 31st from 10am to 3pm. The Talking/Healing Circle will begin that morning at 8 am, led by Seneca Nation Member, Dennis Bowen, from the Allegany Territory. Bowen is a former president of the Seneca Nation (1994-96.)
Both events are free and open to the public. For more information: https://bit.ly/HealthHealingExpoFB
About J.C. Seneca
J.C. Seneca is a member of the Seneca Nation and owner of Tallchief Territory, Home of Native Pride Travel Plaza, located on the Seneca Nation in Irving, NY. He started his business career in 1987 as a young entrepreneur with big dreams. By 1995 he had developed his own truck stop business and spent the next 25 years building a successful 22-pump gas and diesel service area complimented by a diner, a 24/7 convenience store and shower and lounge services for professional truck drivers. In 2019, Seneca was recognized as a Top 50 Native Business Entrepreneur by Native Business Magazine, a national publication based in Bellevue, WA. In 2020, he was presented with the Native Business Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2021, Buffalo Business First announced Seneca as a Power 250 Honoree, as one of the city’s 250 “Most Powerful People.”
Seneca’s civic leadership is reflected in the creation of the JC Seneca Foundation, a nonprofit corporation with a mission to advance healthy living in body, mind, and spirit for the people of the Seneca Nation and surrounding communities. Backed by a quarter century of goals and achievement, in 2020 Seneca made the decision to reformat his Native Pride Brand by incorporating it with his family’s Seneca Nation Heritage. It is a heritage tied to his great, great, great grandfather, Tallchief, who claimed the land where Seneca began his entrepreneurial journey and today continues to grow his business, now known as, Tallchief Territory Home of Native Pride.https://www.tallchiefterritory.com/
About the Tallchief Outdoor Events Center
The Tallchief Outdoor Events Center is a peaceful and welcoming greenspace highlighted by a 24 by 12 stage and a full speaker sound system. Seating is comprised of VIP sections of tables and chairs for up to 150 with tableside service, as well as a general admission area that can accommodate up to 400 (providing their own seating), with access to food and beverage vendors. More information about the Tallchief Events Center and the upcoming schedule of events is available at https://www.facebook.com/nativepridetravelplaza.
About the Talking/Healing Circle
Deriving from practices of Native Americans, First Nations, and indigenous peoples, the Circle Process allows for the formation of relationships, the honoring of voices, and the creation of unity. The process is, at its essence, a story sharing process, which brings together people as equals to have open exchanges about difficult issues or painful experiences in an atmosphere of respect and concern for everyone. The key principles of the Circle Process are to: honor the presence and dignity and value the contribution of every participant, emphasize the connectedness among people, support emotional and spiritual expression, and give equal voice to all. Confidentiality is also key, to ensure openness and emotional safety. Participation is voluntary. No participant is required to share. The use of the Circle Process has grown in recent years and is now being used in many settings, including neighborhoods, schools, prisons, workplaces, families, and marriages. There are many different types of Circles, such as healing, conflict resolution, community building, and celebration.
About the Thomas Indian School
The Thomas Indian School, also known as the Thomas Asylum of Orphan and Destitute Indian Children, was founded in 1855 by Presbyterian missionaries on the Cattaraugus Seneca Reservation in Western New York. It was taken over by the state in 1875 and closed in 1957. During its existence, it served 2,470 students who came from predominately Native families living in dire poverty all over the state and beyond. Discipline at the school was sometimes harsh, and there were many runaways. Racial prejudice and the lack of anything “Indian” in the curriculum led to students coming away with the idea there was something wrong with being a Native. Most students leaving Thomas were prepared to take only menial jobs, at best. Ultimately, petitions circulated by Native parents helped lead to the school’s closure.