Skip to comments.Bad day in court and Congress for tribe
Posted on 09/26/2003 1:26:52 PM PDT by Kudsman
Bad day in court and Congress for tribe
By Erik Sorensen / Staff Writer
SYRACUSE - When the state of New York asked U.S. District Judge Neal McCurn three weeks ago to allow it to discuss the history and lineage of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, the judge flatly refused.
But when the Cayuga Indian Nation requested the tribe's background be examined in a motion filed Monday, McCurn reversed his stand and announced to a crowded courthouse Thursday there will now be five-month timeframe for the tribe and the nation to present evidence about the history of the Seneca-Cayugas.
"I do think, at this point, the court should consider issues of historical proof for the land-claim area," McCurn said.
The situation makes for strange bedfellows. Still embroiled in a bitter dispute over a land claim that affects about 65,000 acres in Cayuga and Seneca counties, including the town of Aurelius, the Cayuga Nation and the town are now wary partners in the fight to stop the Seneca-Cayugas from building a $25-million bingo hall.
Seneca-Cayuga representatives were angry the project had, once again, been delayed.
"It's disappointing," said Glenn Feldman, one of the tribe's lawyers. "The judge had indicated on Sept. 8 that he wasn't going to do this. But, of course, everybody has the right to reconsider their thoughts."
Feldman said it is "impossible" to know if McCurn changed his position because the Cayuga Nation filed a motion Monday to intervene in the matter, or if he simply had a change of heart.
"It's hard to say. I wouldn't guess about that," he added.
The Seneca-Cayugas want to build the bingo hall on 229 acres in Aurelius they purchased in November. The land has been partially excavated and leveled. Immediately after the sale, the tribe claimed the area to be sovereign territory.
A temporary bingo hall is planned as the first phase, and it could be built in less than a month. But construction will not begin until mid-March at the earliest after both sides - the town of Aurelius and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe - agreed to abide by a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Local tribal representatives Jerry Dilliner and Jay WhiteCrow, along with Chief LeRoy Howard, met with their legal team during lunch break. Although WhiteCrow and Dilliner were upset with the judge's decision, they decided it was prudent not to antagonize the judge by trying to fight the TRO.
One of the tribe's attorneys, David Cherubin, said the group "reluctantly consented" to extend the TRO. WhiteCrow agreed, frowning as he talked with the media after court recessed around 3 p.m.
"We're just disappointed," he said. "But we felt we couldn't do anything differently. We felt there was nothing to gain by objecting. The project is on hold until next spring."
Thursday's hearing was held at the James H. Hanley Federal Building in downtown Syracuse. Among those in court was former New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, a lobbyist for Wilmorite, the Rochester-based mall developer who is funding the Seneca-Cayugas' bid to build a $25-million high-stakes bingo hall.
Attorneys have until March 1 to gather evidence. McCurn will hold a hearing on March 17. He will hear the case, denying the town's request to have the matter decided by a jury.
Representing the Cayuga Indian Nation in court were spokesman Clint Halftown and attorney Raymond Heslin, among others.
Heslin said McCurn based his earlier rulings on the federal government having formally recognized the Seneca-Cayugas, without looking at how their bloodlines have changed over 300 years. He said the tribe is made up mostly of Senecas, intermingled with many other tribes.
"We've never determined who the Seneca-Cayugas are, and I don't think they know who they are," Heslin told McCurn.
Halftown says attempts by the tribe to exert sovereignty in New York is unprecedented. "It's unacceptable, he said. "Nowhere in Indian Country has that been done."
Feldman said the tribe's resolve to see the bingo hall project through has not diminished.
"No, not at all," he said. "It delays the effort, but it certainly hasn't reduced their desire. They are committed to what they believe they have the right to do."
Heslin insisted the Seneca-Cayugas legal team will have the "burden of proof" when the Seneca-Cayuga's legitimacy is examined, but Feldman said that who will bear that burden has yet to be determined.
"That's a legal issue the judge will have to decide eventually," he said.
Feldman said it will be proven the Seneca-Cayugas are a legitimate successor to the Cayuga Indian Nation, and have a legitimate legal standing to be part of any final landclaim settlement.
"It's clear. Geographically, the two groups have split," he said. "But we don't need to prove we have a current relationship today with somebody in New York state. What we have to prove is that we were a part of the Cayuga Nation back in 1795 and 1807" when two key treaties were signed with New York.
There is a considerable amount of work ahead over the next five months, Feldman said.
"There'll be a lot, unfortunately. This is going to be very fact intensive, and there's going to be a lot of requests for information," he said. "We're starting from scratch as of 3 o'clock this afternoon."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Another madness that needs to stop getting a little brighter. Strange ways. A modern day miracle? Other explanations entertained here. Just deposit $.02 please. BBS.
Why? What is Judge McCurn afeared of? Emotional reactions from both parties I imagine.
I see some very dirty behind the scene politics.
No you think? Money talks. This is also the reason RinoRep Boehlert is against the Seneca-Cayuga's. Bought and paid for I'd imagine. I really don't know what to think of this whole mess. I do find it deliciously ironic that the indigenous folks have turned the tables on using the white man's addictions against himself though. Smart Indian, dumb white man.