Decades of disputes in the form of contentious lawsuits and an overall feeling of animosity came to a close on March 4, when United States District Judge Lawrence Kahn approved the historic agreement between the Oneida Indian Nation and the state of New York.
“After years of investing in local communities and developing enterprises that sustain thousands of jobs, we are pleased that the State of New York has become a formal partner in our continuing efforts to strengthen this region’s economy and that we have settled all of our legal disputes between our peoples once and for all,” Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network said in a statement shortly after the announcement.
The historic deal that resolves all disputes between the state government and the sovereign Indian nation over land rights, tax issues, gaming and law enforcement began on April 25 of last year when New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo personally contacted the Oneida Indian Nation as reported by ICTMN at the time. From that point the deal took less than a month to put together before being announced.
Prior to the Judge’s approving signature, the agreement was approved by the Oneida County Board of Legislators on May 28, followed by the Madison County Board of Supervisors on May 30. The agreement was also approved by the New York State Legislature.
Anthony Picente, Oneida County Executive, called Kahn’s sign-off “historic,” according to The Utica Observer Dispatch.
“March 4 will be remembered as the day when all the past tensions between neighbors have finally been laid to rest,” Picente said in a statement. “With this approval in federal court, the final hurdle has been cleared. We are all partners as we work together to grow this community; economically and culturally.”
One of the original steps in the process involved consideration by the Department of the Interior of the agreement following its passage within the counties and state. But, the DOI decided there was no need for them to review the agreement, considering there was no change to the original 1993 gaming with the state according to a Capitol Confidential blog.
The agreement gives the Oneidas rights to land, no more than 25,000 acres within the two counties, while halting any lawsuits that may have dealt with this or taxation.
The parties also agreed to the following resolution of other disputes among them:
--The Nation-State Gaming Compact is ratified by the State Legislature;
--No future property taxes would be assessed against Nation lands up to a cap of 25,370 acres;
--Removal of all existing tax liens on Nation properties;
--State agrees the Oneida Reservation was not disestablished and that the Reservation is reservation land for purposes of state and federal statutes;
--The State and Counties will not oppose certain future trust transfer of Nation land;
--With respect to reacquired land not yet held in trust, the Nation would adopt, in lieu of the laws and regulations generally applicable to non-Nation properties, ordinances that meet or exceed standards that otherwise may govern land use, building codes, zoning, health, safety and environmental matters, and weights and measures;
--The Nation will share 25 percent of its net slot revenues to the state (which will be split between Oneida and Madison counties as well) as a settlement payment for all of the elements of the deal in full resolution of all the disputes among the parties to the Settlement Agreement.
Other provisions of the agreement include:
-- Placing a permanent cap on the amount of land the Oneida Indian Nation can request to have put into trust;
-- Exclusive gaming rights in a 10-county area of central New York;
-- An agreement to impose a sales and excise tax equal to or greater than New York state and counties’ taxes on cigarettes, motor fuel and other items sold by Indian retailers to non-Indian customers and to abide by the state’s minimum pricing standards on cigarettes;
-- A formal Oneida County-Oneida Nation Special Deputization Agreement that will deputize qualified officers of the Oneida Nation Police Department to enforce state laws on Oneida Nation land located in Oneida County, including at Turning Stone Resort Casino.
In addition, the Oneida Nation agreed to waive the gaming exclusivity provision with respect to the Cayuga Nation conducting casino gaming (pursuant to IGRA on lands within the boundaries of the area claimed by the Cayuga Indian Nation to constitute its reservation acknowledged in Article II of the Treaty of Canandaigua) or to bar the State from negotiating with the Cayuga Nation with respect to such gaming.
“This agreement is a product of the hard work of those like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and county leaders who believed that we have far more to gain when we reject divisiveness and embrace a spirit of collaboration,” Halbritter said. “In advance of today’s announcement, we have been making special investments in our enterprises that aim to continue producing the public revenues, job growth and economic development that we have been generating for the last two decades. With New York state as our partner, we are excited about beginning a new era of shared prosperity.”