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Legislation proposed to prevent tribes from shopping around

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Five New York politicians are spearheading congressional legislation to prevent Indian tribes from exercising political jurisdiction in states other than where their reservations are located. The timing of the announcement, which referred directly to the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and came on the same date as a hearing involving that tribe legal action against the Town of Aurelius, leaves no doubt as to the proposal's target.

"We find it curious and interesting that this happens today," said Jay White Crow, Seneca-Cayuga member. White Crow spoke to reporters at the federal building in Syracuse after Judge Neal P. McCurn granted the parties six months for further discovery in the case.

"As we have seen with the Seneca-Cayuga Oklahoma Tribe's efforts to open a new bingo hall in Cayuga County, some tribes are attempting to exploit historic Indian land claims by claiming a right to exert governmental jurisdiction over lands located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from the states in which they reside," said Governor George Pataki in a Sept. 25 press release. "This federal legislation would put reasonable restrictions in place to prevent out-of-state tribes from constructing or operating illegal enterprises such as unregulated gaming facilities or tax-free smoke shops."

The bipartisan group, which includes Gov. Pataki (R), Senators Charles Schumer (D) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), and Congressmen Sherwood Boehlert (R) and John McHugh (R), will introduce the legislation "later this week."

In the press release, Sen. Schumer characterized Seneca-Cayuga efforts to build a Class II gaming facility on tribal land within the 64,000-acre Cayuga land claim area as "flaunt[ing] the wishes of the citizens of a community" while Sen. Clinton said that the tribe was not "going through the proper administrative process."

The Seneca-Cayugas, along with the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York, were awarded some $247.9 million in compensation in 2001 in the Cayuga land claim case. That decision and award are currently under appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Thus, the tribe believes it has the right to exercise political jurisdiction over a 229-acre tract acquired in the land claim area. Such jurisdiction disregards state boundaries and would include the right to open the gaming center without local or state approval or interference.

"Tribes are not from states," said Jerry Dilliner, former chief of the Miami, Okla.-based tribe. "We're from our own territory. Treaties say that we'll never be part of a state."