In central New York, as in other places, some types of media continue to
throttle the Indian perspective on issues while giving the anti-Indian
forces a disproportionate voice in the discussion on the affairs of Indian
New York state is playing cutthroat hardball with the Native nations that
pressed their land claims against the state. The fundamental pursuit of
justice represented by the tribal claims to lands lost illegally through
malfeasance by the Eastern states, particularly New York, is obvious to
many learned people. These historic claims, upheld time and again by the
highest federal courts, were thwarted by New York for more than 30 years --
until the state's interests were finally championed by a shifting high
court, now apparently intent on moving aside the difficult and
truth-forcing Indian cases.
As the nations -- particularly Oneida, Cayuga and Mohawk -- each moved in
their own ways to solidify their legal gains in the federal courts with
serious land transactions and purchases, plus the development of business
ventures, a large but quiet portion of the public supported or had no issue
with the rights of the Indian nations to an economic recovery. However, a
core of die-hard anti-Indian folks raised a hue and cry, threatening and
cajoling their way into the public limelight as a dominant voice.
Anti-Indian rallies, newsletters and lawsuits followed. A few years ago,
unfulfilled threats to "kill an Indian every three days" made headlines.
That the U.S. Supreme Court has moved to limit American Indian tribal
rights was once again obvious in its decision earlier this year in City of
Sherrill v. Oneida Nation of New York, which negated the possibility of an
Indian nation's right to buy its own land back into its own jurisdiction.
The court invoked its weapon of last resort against the Indian nation --
the doctrine called "laches" -- to assert that the Indians had waited too
long to bring the suit. However, the court guided itself, in large measure
by the cacophony of voices that raised the anti-Indian volume, in
newspapers and state discourse.
It decided nearly unanimously that the remedy that could give justice to
the Indian nation, its wish to buy back its own lands according to its
capacity, was too "injurious" to the non-Native jurisdictions surrounding
the recovered tribal lands. The decision not only pummeled the hopes of the
Oneida Nation to sustain full jurisdiction over its rightful homeland: it
set a sought-after precedent to kick the teeth out of Indian justice
required on land claim cases.
Shortly after the Sherrill decision, the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York
claim fell to another painful court decision that gutted its right to any
meaningful remedy. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the
previously decided $248 million award to the Cayuga. The reasoning in this
opinion cited Sherrill. For the Cayuga, the only Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)
nation without a recognized land base in its ancestral territories, it was
a near-genocidal blow.
Across the state, the Pataki political apparatus continues to help the
anti-Indian sentiment along. Another lawsuit, decided against the Oneida
only last week, was designed by the regional anti-Indian group, Upstate
Citizens for Equality, to damage the long-standing Oneida Nation gaming
compact with the state. There are two sides to this story, of course, but
you would hardly know it by reading the official New York state Legislative
Gazette. In its reporting on the case, the Gazette reporter lets the lawyer
for the UCE dominate his story.
Of interest, too, while the two contending parties in the Sherrill case
have been working out their tax and fees issues, UCE leaders continue to
attack any and all efforts toward reasonable dialogue, insisting that the
issue involves racial preferences and denying the property rights and
treaty issues involved. Even Ira Sacks, lawyer for the city of Sherrill,
who vigorously fought the Oneida at the Supreme Court, blew up in
exasperation at the continuing UCE attacks. Sacks called UCE to "examine
whatever hidden agenda it has with respect to these issues."
While some politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, join the attacks
on the Indian causes (he commits to fighting even the high court's
suggestion to place the Indians land in question into federal trust),
happily championing the concerns of the so-called "local populations,"
others, such as California Rep. Richard Pombo, are calling for hearings to
more justly settle land claim matters at the federal level. Pombo, a
Republican who chairs the House Resources Committee, accuses New York
officials of neglecting to settle the Indian land claims and is drafting a
bill to impose a settlement on all parties. "These land claims have gone on
too long," said the congressman. Indian tribes have "no just resolution,"
while property owners' titles go cloudy.
We are glad to see the "hidden" and not-so-hidden agenda pursued by the UCE
(and many other anti-Indian groups) pointed out even by antagonists of the
Indian cause. We hope the hearings suggested by Pombo will bring some just
and equitable resolution to the Eastern tribes' historical quest.