Oneida Leader Sounds Off on Catskills Casino


In a recent interview with The Post-Standard, Oneida Indian Nation leader Ray Halbritter condemned Gov. David Paterson's negotiation tactics with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, regarding the proposed land-claim agreement and related Catskills casino, and vowed to fight the pending settlement in court.

Paterson announced the deal on Monday, Nov. 22, potentially permitting the Wisconsin-based tribe to build a $700 million casino in the Catskills in Sullivan County -- a 90 minute drive from Manhattan -- in exchange for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band relinquishing its centuries-old claim to 23,000 acres in Madison County. The agreement still faces state and federal approval, which requires the Obama Administration reverse the Bush-era policy against casinos proposed outside of reservations.

Halbritter criticized Gov. Paterson's covert deal-making. "There was not one public hearing; there was not one public discussion; there was nothing. ...You don’t do things in secret unless you’ve got something to hide,” Halbritter said.

The Oneida Indian Nation leader doubts the Catskills casino -- which would be developed by the team behind Mohegan Sun in Connecticut -- will pass the necessary hurdles. But he intends to fight the proposed agreement and the Stockbridge-Munsee, who Hallbritter says are "willing to sacrifice their principles just for money."

The proposed Catskills development would also operate within a couple-hours drive from the Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Casino in Verona, which is more than four hours north of Manhattan by car.

"If it is an in-state Indian nation, we do not oppose [the opening of a casino in New York State]. It’s an out-of-state tribe that has been gone for nearly 200 years coming back to (take) an opportunity out of our state -- that we oppose," Halbritter told The Post-Standard.

Paterson's decision comes as a surprise this late in his administration, considering recent casino discussions focused on in-state tribes, particularly the recently federally-recognized Shinnecock tribe in the Hamptons, reports the New York Times.

Halbritter thinks the government is attempting to pin Indian Nations against one another. "I think the state is trying to tell the Indian nations to some degree that, ‘If you don’t sell your souls to us, we’re going to get people who will sell their souls to us,’ and that’s why we just won’t do it," he said.

The bottom line for Halbritter is his affirmation that the Stockbridge-Munsee don't have legal rights to New York State land. "It’s just curious that the state would be negotiating an opportunity like this with a group that doesn’t have a valid legal claim with this state and give away an opportunity that they could have used to help bring about a fruitful resolution to issues that have divided (New York’s) Indian nations and the state for many years," Halbritter said.