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Let the games begin

A new 'Townsend Act'

Students of North American colonial history will no doubt remember the Townshend Acts, enacted by the British Parliament in 1767 and named for Charles Townshend, the British chancellor of the exchequer.

Townshend exhibited a highly paternalistic attitude toward the 13 colonies. The recently concluded ''French and Indian War'' had left the Crown heavily in debt. Thus Townshend felt it was only fair to make the colonists, who benefited from the war, pay for it through taxes. The blatant money-grab represented by the Townshend Acts was decidedly unpopular with colonists.

To say the least, this haughty attitude on the part of the British had a lot to do with their eventual defeat in the American Revolution years later. Paternal arrogance led to several crucial political and military mistakes and miscalculations, the Townshend Acts being only one of many, which resulted directly in American rejection from British rule and to the formation of the United States.

The lesson? Arrogant paternalism in the search for money will get you nowhere.

The 'new' Townsend

Enter the new Townsend, sans ''h.''

Last March 23, Republican David Townsend Jr., a New York state assemblyman from Rome, N.Y., proposed legislation to create the ''Oneida Nation Turning Stone State Indian Reservation.'' With this flawed proposal, Townsend seems to be hypocritically positioning himself as both a humble benefactor for the Oneidas and, at the same time, some sort of savior of the economic engine they've created.

(Indian Country Today is owned by Four Directions Media, an enterprise of the Oneida Indian Nation.)

Townsend's bill, dubbed A10469B, would create a ''footprint'' underneath the Oneidas' Turning Stone Resort and Casino, specifically under its convention center, bingo hall and Class III casino gaming floor. To quote the April 13 edition of the Oneida Daily-Dispatch, ''Townsend said his proposed legislation does not hurt the Oneidas.''

''It helps them,'' Townsend told the paper. ''This is the only plan that protects the jobs [at Turning Stone] and also protects the local governments.''

The ''help'' to the state and local governments, in the form of tax revenue, is apparent. But there is no ''help'' for the Oneidas here; a look at the bill reveals only harm.

In the ''Justification'' section of the bill, Townsend offered some very selective reasoning: ''The Oneida Nation of Indians owns a tract of land in the Town of Verona and [is] currently operating a gaming operation named 'Turning Stone' upon that property. This kind of gaming operation is in violation of both New York State law and the state constitution, and technically ought to be shut down immediately.

'''Turning Stone', however, provides significant economic benefits to the local population, enough that it is not in the best interest of the State of New York to force 'Turning Stone' to cease its gaming operation if such may be accomplished in conformity with the law. ... [the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] permits Indian tribes to own gaming operations upon sovereign Indian reservations, and it is in the best interests of both the Oneida Indian Nation and the State to establish a sovereign Indian reservation upon the lands now being used to operate 'Turning Stone' as a way to allow the operation to continue without damaging local governments or making a mockery of the law. This approach is far preferable to any sort of plan to establish a 'land trust', as the state will be able to fully control any expansion of the proposed Oneida Nation Turning Stone State Indian Reservation.''

This supposed ''justification'' is fraught with paternal arrogance, the first example of which is placing the name of the Oneida resort, Turning Stone, in quotes. What purpose does this serve but to make a mockery of the OIN's lifeblood economic engine, one that has reaped great benefit both for tribal members and the surrounding non-Indian community?

Secondly, it appears that Townsend could use lessons in both history and contemporary reality. The current Class III compact between OIN and Albany was signed by former Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1993, after good-faith negotiations. At the time, the state Legislature failed to weigh in, and was not required to under IGRA.

As Turning Stone's economic strength became apparent, local and state politicians began to cast their greedy eyes on Oneida money. Lawsuits eventually led to a state court ruling that declared the casino illegal under state law. But the Oneidas assert that Turning Stone remains legal under IGRA, the federal law that governs Indian gaming operations on land that is recognized by the federal government to be Indian country. Townsend's bill would ''create'' a state reservation, which means nothing under IGRA.

Furthermore, and contrary to repeated assertions in area media, the U.S. Supreme Court's City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York decision of March 2005 did not refute Oneida sovereignty over the reservation lands claimed by the tribe. Instead, the court denied OIN's theory of relief, which argued that by re-acquiring the disputed lands in fee simple from willing sellers on the open market, fee title and aboriginal title are thereby united and the land thus reverts to ''Indian country.''

As we know, the court lamely invoked the mighty principles of ''laches'' and ''doctrine of discovery,'' and told the tribe to apply for land-into-trust status as the way to protect its sovereignty over its reservation. The court did not disturb a previous ruling that Congress never extinguished the original 300,000-acre Oneida Reservation. So, the Oneidas say, Turning Stone is not illegal at all.

'Helping' the Oneidas

Townsend's bill is a blatant attempt to do two things that do not ''help'' the Oneidas in any way. One, it seeks to force OIN to renegotiate a compact, presumably to include provisions for revenue ''sharing,'' which has already been negotiated and signed in good faith.

Secondly, it seeks to force OIN under the thumb of local governments, whose politicians' sole desire is to protect and enlarge their fiefdoms. Townsend explained to the Daily-Dispatch that OIN would have the ability to expand this state reservation, which could be accomplished by ''basically go[ing] before the Town of Vernon and Oneida County to explain why.''

Forcing the Oneidas to submit to local jurisdiction does not ''help'' them. This is not only an insult to Oneida sovereignty; it is but one more example of what power-hungry and paternalistic politicians see as their idea of a compromise - Oneida submission, subjugation and assimilation.

A glance at the state Assembly's Web site revealed that the most recent action on Townsend's bill was that it was ''held for consideration'' by the governmental operations committee on June 6. Perhaps (and hopefully) they've forgotten about it.

Let's try a lawsuit

But, undaunted, Townsend is at it again. On Dec. 14, he and others filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the Interior Department from taking land into trust for the OIN.

According to a report in the Albany Times-Union, another plaintiff is the paradoxically named Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, which favors anything but equality when it comes to Indians.

In the April 19 Times-Union, Townsend asserted that ''the feds ... don't have the right to come into New York, which is one of the original 13 colonies.'' Because New York is a former colony, Townsend argues that ''new reservation land can't be forced on the region.''

What? Didn't we already fight the Civil War over the ''states' rights'' issue? Is Townsend claiming that federal law somehow does not apply in New York? Or is that non-application limited only to laws that he and his anti-Indian cronies don't agree with?

Instead of thinking up new and ever more ridiculous ways to further subjugate Indians and steal their money, Townsend and his ilk would be much better served to drop the arrogant paternalism and work for a real compromise - one that takes Indian interests into account rather than just brushing them aside. Townsend's act is getting old.