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Bureau of Indian Affairs Confirms Cayuga Traditional Council

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has endorsed a resolution by the Cayuga Nation Council to remove Clint Halftown and Tim Twoguns as the nation’s federal representative and alternate representative, and has recognized the council’s appointment of new members, including two new federal representatives. Halftown says he plans to appeal the decision.

On August 19 Franklin Keel, director of the BIA’s Eastern Regional Office, wrote a letter to attorneys Daniel French and Lee Alcott, who represent Halftown, and to attorney Joseph Heath, who represents the newly reconstituted unity Cayuga Nation Council, recognizing and accepting the provisions of the council’s Resolution 11-001 of June 1, which ousted Halftown and Twoguns. Keel accepted the resolution’s recognition of Sachem Chief William C. Jacobs of the Heron Clan and Sachem Chief Samuel George of the Bear Clan as the new federal representative and alternate, respectively. He acknowledged that Gary Wheeler, another representative and a Halftown ally, was removed from office on May 31. Wheeler was removed by Turtle Clan Mother Brenda Bennett, who assumed the role August 2010 when the previous Clan Mother passed away. He recognized Justin Bennett and Samuel Campbell as Turtle Clan representatives on the council, and Karl Hill, Faithkeeper, as the duly recognized Heron Clan Representative.

Based on a review of documents submitted by Halftown and the council, including sworn statements from the nation’s three clan mothers, Keel wrote, “I conclude that the source of the changes (in federal representatives and council members) was the action of each clan mother in carrying out her traditional clan responsibilities. I would be remiss if I failed to recognize the results of this exercise of ancient traditional authority by the Clan Mothers … By Haudenosaunee tradition, the Clan Mothers are the persons tasked with the responsibility of appointing representatives of their respective clans to serve on the Nation Council. Therefore, for purposes of the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Cayuga Nation, I recognize the Nation Council as set out in Cayuga Nation Resolution 11-001.”

Keel’s acknowledgment culminates a leadership dispute between Halftown and traditionalist Cayuga leaders and citizens that began in 2004, a year after Halftown was appointed as the nation’s temporary federal representative by a consensus decision, sitting in for the then-ailing Chief Vernon Isaac, who passed in 2004. The reconstituted unity council has accused Halftown of abusing his power to benefit his family, of dictatorial behavior, of excluding the council from attending meetings and conducting the nation’s business, and of firing and threatening to fire employees and evict people who oppose him.

In a press release following Keel’s announcement, the Cayuga Nation Council said, “This is an historic day for the Cayuga Nation and the unity that was shown in the June 1, 2011 Unity Resolution. The Cayuga Nation Chiefs, Clan Mothers, Faithkeepers and representatives look forward to restoring the traditional government of our Nation, so that we can better service the needs of the Cayuga citizens.”

Halftown issued an unsigned statement from the “Cayuga Nation” indicating that he will not step down. Noting that Keel’s decision will not take effect for 30 days or more if there is an appeal, Halftown said, “As the incumbent recognized leadership, we intend to fully avail ourselves of these appeal rights and continue to believe that the best interests of the Cayuga Nation would be served by maintaining the current leadership structure which has enabled the Nation to regain its ancestral homelands and grow its commercial enterprises to the point where the Nation now owns 1,300 acres of land and operates 12 different business (sic). The group which this decision has chosen to recognize opposes these important efforts – efforts which are vital to our Nation’s economic viability and the welfare of our citizens.”

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In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Hill said that Halftown’s unsigned statement is typical of the leadership style council members and citizens oppose. “A lack of transparency, a lack of accountability and a lack of fairness. If this is coming from him, his attorney or their offices, why isn’t it signed on their letterhead, why aren’t there signatures attached to it? It’s almost like a smokescreen – they want to stay behind the scene and yet perpetuate their motives. It’s typical of the way he’s run the nation the last few years,” Hill said.

Hill said Halftone’s argument that his opponents object to the economic development program is baseless. “Yes, Clint has developed an economic platform for the Nation. We don’t dispute that and we’ve never disputed that, but we do dispute the manner in which he created it and the manner in which he maintains them (the businesses) without the consensus of the full Nation Council. It was very unilateral, very dictatorial and that’s what we oppose,” Hill said.

Halftown told ICTMN in July that the unity council has no authority to oust him. “I was put in this position through a consensus and until the consensus has changed – that means everyone who signed that paper changes their mind on that and agrees to have somebody else do it – it’s the only way I can be removed,” Halftown said. The original consensus document appointing Halftown as the nation’s federal representative was signed by Twoguns, Wheeler, Jacobs and himself. Jacobs, a Heron Clan member like Halftown, now supports Halftown’s removal from office.

“But all those other names (on the unity council) are brand new people because they have now dreamed up this new council which they call this historic Cayuga Nation Council when me, Tim and Gary are sitting here and we’ve always been on the council, we’ve always had the council, we didn’t have to go out and promote ourselves as some historic Cayuga Council or whatever crap they tried to do,” Halftown said.

Twoguns and Wheeler have not always supported Halftown. In 2005 the two men asked the BIA to remove Halftown from office after he unilaterally signed and then withdrew from a deal with then New York Gov. George Pataki to settle the nation’s land claim in exchange for a casino. Twoguns and Wheeler said at the time that Halftown lacked the power to terminate the proposed settlement without prior council approval, although they had not objected to his signing the deal without council approval. The two men later reconciled with Halftown. In 2006, a unity resolution calling for Halftown’s removal fell apart after Twoguns and Wheeler were “bought off by Clint Halftown,” the new unity council said in a statement in July.

Keel said in his decision that Halftown asserts that previous BIA decisions in 2006 acknowledging his leadership “are essentially permanent. That view would appear to ignore the right of the Nation, in following its customs and traditions, to choose or change its leadership at any time in response to changing circumstances.”