ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N.Y. - Those who follow politics at any level are
certainly familiar with "spin," the art of twisting language in order to
create a specific image, bolster a candidate or promote a point of view. In
the world of spin, truth and accuracy rarely matter. Instead, "spin
doctors" seek to create a credible myth, to paint a believable picture that
can be easily understood and taken as gospel by persons too partisan,
gullible or disinterested to question what they are hearing or seeing.
The creators of the "Swift Boat" myth successfully used spin to torpedo
Sen. John Kerry's presidential aspirations in the 2004 campaign. As the
Indian gaming industry has grown, so too has the degree and vehemence of
anti-Indian spin. Such spin is working all too well for opponents of the
Oneida Indian Nation in central New York.
With the growing popularity of its Turning Stone Resort and Casino and
associated amenities, the Oneida Nation has become a powerful economic
engine in a region long mired in job loss and fiscal malaise.
Notwithstanding the nation's philanthropy or its creation of thousands of
jobs, local politicians and the anti-Indian group Upstate Citizens for
Equality (UCE) would have us believe that the presence of the Oneida Nation
and its multiple business enterprises has actually damaged the region's
economy. Sadly, many otherwise intelligent folks are falling - hook, line
and sinker - for this illogical tripe.
In its surprising March 29 decision in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian
Nation of N.Y., the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federally recognized
Oneida Nation must pay taxes on property owned within its land claim area,
overturning several lower court decisions to the contrary. The decision
also appears to fly in the face of the court's previous ruling that the
Oneida people have a legitimate claim to some 250,000 acres of land
illegally acquired from them by New York state in the late 1700s and early
While no one knows for sure whether the nationwide growth of anti-Indian
spin influenced or even reached the ears of the Supreme Court justices, it
is quite possible that their shocking ruling could destroy or severely
damage one of New York state's few viable economic forces north of the
In the wake of Sherrill, officials in Madison County, one of the two
counties in which the Oneida land claim area lies, are moving aggressively
to collect approximately $3 million in back property taxes they claim the
Oneida Nation owes on its properties in that jurisdiction. The town of
Verona asserts that the nation owes it $8.7 million in taxes. The nation's
contribution to the region far outstrips these alleged tax bills.
Officials in Madison and Oneida counties also bemoan the fact that Oneida
Nation retailers do not collect the state's high taxes on fuel, tobacco and
other products on sales to non-Indians. A portion of that revenue would go
to localities if in fact a sovereign Indian nation were legally obligated
to collect taxes for a state government. But nothing in Sherrill or any
other federal law requires the nation to act as an agent for state tax
collection, although the spin doctors would like us to believe otherwise.
Most Native societies, including the Oneida, adhere to an ancient belief in
sharing whatever they have, both within the community and with outsiders;
the nation does this today through philanthropy and job creation. Those who
claim that the Oneida Nation is a detriment to the regional economy are
wearing blinders. Such intentional disregard for the nation's obvious role
as an economic force for growth is irresponsible, mean-spirited and
indicative of a lack of respect.
In measuring the Oneida Nation's economic contribution to the surrounding
vicinity, the place to begin is a February 2005 study published by the
Upstate Institute at Colgate University. Highly regarded academically,
Colgate is located in Madison County; this study offers an independent and
non-partisan examination of the employment effects of Oneida Nation
The Colgate researchers report that during fiscal year 2004, nation
employment reached 4,215, of which 3,613 resided in the three counties of
Madison, Oneida and Onondaga. The second number represents 1 percent of the
total work force in the three counties, while the first makes the nation
the third largest employer in central New York.
Nation employment is expected to reach 5,000 sometime this year, boosting
it to number two regionally. Approximately 97 percent of Oneida Nation
employees are state income tax-paying non-Indians, and the nation is the
largest employer in both Madison and Oneida counties.
"In a time when many potential employers are unwilling to invest capital
into upstate New York, the Oneidas have invested over $350 million in
construction spending alone over the past three fiscal years, an indication
of their commitment to the area surrounding native Oneida lands," the
The researchers concluded that "through the multiplier effects of the
nation's employment, as well as increased final demand resulting from the
Oneida's capital projects" an additional 3,570 jobs were created in
companies providing goods and services to the nation, and other ancillary
businesses. Including this tangible effect, the nation can be deemed
responsible for the creation of 7,155 jobs in central New York.
Nation employees (both direct and indirect) in FY 2004 are estimated by the
Colgate researchers to have generated approximately $49 million in federal
and state taxes. Of this amount, $24.7 million in payroll taxes came from
direct employees - $11.5 million in state and federal taxes and $13.2
million in Social Security and Medicaid taxes. In that same year, the
Oneidas paid $109 million in wages and compensation to its direct
employees, much of which is spent locally. Payments to vendors in New York
state totaled $342.4 million, while $59.8 million of this money went to
companies and individuals in the three-county area.
In light of said spending levels, job creation and generation of tax
revenue, how can the Oneida Nation possibly be a detriment to the regional
The Oneidas offer philanthropic donations and in-kind contributions to
deserving charities and other non-profit organizations through the Oneida
Nation Foundation, with a specific emphasis on "youth, health, education,
the environment and the central New York community." In 2004, the nation
donated $185,000 to "a broad spectrum of charitable and civic
organizations," according to its Web site. The foundation receives some
3,000 requests annually and does not donate to individuals, community
chests or political action committees.
As of last January, the nation has disbursed almost $8 million to seven
local school districts since 1996 through its Silver Covenant Grant
Program. The formula used in calculating the amount of each district's
grant compensates each district "well over and above" the assessed value of
nation properties owned within those districts. In 1998, the program
expanded to include jurisdictions entering a government-to-government
relationship with the nation. Since 2002, the nation has granted $623,000
to two local governments which have used the monies to lower tax rates,
improve infrastructure and acquire equipment.
Under Silver Covenant, the nation also offers college scholarship monies to
promising high school seniors. Since 2003, $300,000 in scholarships has
been awarded to 60 aspiring area students.
Are there any other entities or organizations in central New York this
DON'T BELIEVE THE SPIN
Once a bastion of manufacturing and industry, central New York today
remains largely mired in a decades-long economic slide - businesses
continue to flee the state's oppressive tax burden or collapse under it
while longtime residents continue to move elsewhere in search of
employment. Between 1999 and 2003, the Oneida Nation grew its employment by
a "staggering" 66 percent, a rate unheard of elsewhere in the region.
Syracuse University was second among large employers at 21 percent growth -
only four other major employers posted double-digit increases, while four
others on the list in 1999 had fallen off it by 2003.
Ironically, it was during this same period that virulent anti-Indian
sentiment began to grow both in the area and nationally. The anti-Indian
crowd claims that it is not in fact "anti-Indian" but simply wants
"equality" in taxation responsibilities. If that is true, then why haven't
they denounced New York's Empire Zone Program (a loophole-ridden scam that
gives employers generous tax breaks often for only creating a few
low-paying jobs) with the same vehemence with which they attack Indian
Don't believe their spin. The philanthropy and economic prowess of the
Oneida Nation have been instrumental in sustaining a moribund economy
otherwise hemorrhaging jobs and residents. The claim that the Oneida Nation
is somehow a detriment to the regional economy defies explanation, logic
and common sense.