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Pataki breaks out-of-state rule

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New York Gov. George Pataki rolled dice last week when he announced the
settlement of a land claim and his approval of a casino deal with an
out-of-state tribe, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma. It was the first
deal of its kind within the state and it is full of potential pitfalls. For
one, nothing antagonizes established, in-state resident tribes more than
the idea of a governor going willy-nilly to out-of-state tribes over the
heads of their governments to force his terms and issues on them. The
governor risks the hostility of tribal governments as he gambles to wedge
land claims settlements with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Cayuga and
Oneida nations. Negotiating with out-of-state tribes has been also shunned
by governors from several other states, who criticize the option for
opening their own jurisdictions to such claims from numerous relocated
tribal groups.

The deal with the Seneca-Cayuga of Oklahoma must yet be approved by the
legislature and the federal government, but this might be a possibility
with the governor behind it.

Pataki has been desperate to close casino deals that he predicted will
bring substantial revenue to the state. It has been slow going. His
wondrous offer of three tribal casinos in New York state's Catskills
region, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from New York City, created
anticipation but has not in itself led to satisfactory claims settlements.
The three casinos have been too obvious as dangled carrots in Pataki's own
political requisite to settle the outstanding Indian land claims once and
for all. But settling 200-year-old disputes has been predictably
complicated. Particularly for the tribes with active land claims, Cayuga,
Mohawk and Oneida, the reality of settling their ancient claims to the
satisfaction of all tribal parties, has been seriously difficult. There are
myriad players and points of view within the tribes, let alone in the
attempt to settle with the state, the counties and local townships, where
all kinds of ideological, political and economic contentions arise.

But Pataki, after trying to fight the Indians and getting a black eye early
in his administration, and later caught between shrinking revenues and a
hungry populace, opted to challenge the tribes with his casino deals. He
promised his base this would pay their way and this has been his policy. To
be fair, he won some sympathy from the tribes this week for his veto of an
illegitimate bill that required him to start collecting taxes on tobacco
and gasoline sold by Indian vendors to non-Indians. He prefers cooperation,
he says, which does not keep him from playing hardball anyway.

The Seneca Nation of Indians moved early to secure three casinos from the
governor, all in Western New York. That process had steadied after early
questionable business decisions, with a high percentage of take skimmed off
by the state and its financier, nevertheless, two casinos are built and
operating. The Seneca Nation as a result is now a growing economic player
in Western New York and, provided reasonable leadership, could become a
major influence and a thriving nation again. In the way there is the Seneca
political system, with its two-year term elective structure, which is
notorious for disrupting smooth transitions and long-term strategies. A new
party slate now in power has mandated drastic managerial turnovers. The
best is hoped for.

The Oneida Indian Nation of New York (owners of Indian Country Today's
parent corporation Four Directions Media, Inc.), with a successful casino
and strong national and state presence, has negotiated with Pataki
intensely but the final deal to settle a land claim (and Catskills option)
and ratify the long-term pact with the state over their present casino has
eluded both Pataki and the Oneida leadership, which is also facing a legal
challenge at the Supreme Court. The case, Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation,
which deals with the extension of tribal sovereignty over tribal lands
identified in the claims, has extensive implications for tribes in New York
and perhaps throughout Indian country. The case concerns the Oneida
Nation's assertion of Indian country status on new purchases of ancestral
territory. The Oneida Nation of New York, as with the Cayuga Nation and
Seneca Nation and their Oklahoma counterparts, as well as the Mohawk tribe,
with several related communities in nearby Canada, intends to hold its own
as a resident, Aboriginal tribal government. Its contention is most likely
with the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, which has made its own overtures to New
York state and expressed its intent to re-establish land bases and business
operations in Central New York. The Wisconsin connection is a hand, if
real, that Pataki keeps close to his chest, while the Oneida Nation gains
by the week in the strength of its own consistent political leadership, its
de-facto operations' regional economic impact and its growing political
alliances.

The Mohawks of New York will soon be voting on their land-claim settlement,
which promises to double the size of the St. Regis reservation, with some
other welcome provisions for their growing population thrown in. While
trying not to mix the two issues of land claim and potential casino deal,
clearly the two resolutions go together and the Mohawk leadership intends
to move their financial development in the Catskills direction. The current
tribal chiefs are early in a three-year leadership period, which portends
growth and stability. However, like all land claims, the Akwesasne case is
deeply woven into community oral history, identity and cultural pride.
There is immediate negativity around any settlement, regardless if rational
or fair. A positive vote is not ensured. If the Mohawks falter in the
political process needed to wrestle a deal with Pataki, the governor will
be that much more self-justified in pursuing deals with out-of-state
tribes.

The Cayuga Nation earlier announced with Pataki a supposed sweetheart deal,
but it fell apart, as Cayuga leadership checkmated between pro-and
anti-gaming factions and dissonance around the Oklahoma involvement. This
was the broken deal that broke the New York governor's negotiating back.
Going out of state was his next tactic for spurring the deals along and he
is playing it out. It is Pataki's version of hardball with the Indians
except the ball could rebound just as hard. The risk for the governor is
that a reasonably steady if volatile playing field could explode into
chaotic free-for-all as a result of his active role in tribal
transplantation. This could hurt him politically if his dealings with New
York tribes get more contentious and costlier.

The deal signed by Pataki and Seneca-Cayuga Chief LeRoy Howard authorizes a
casino in the Catskills. As will happen with too obviously hungry tribes,
the state gets its way with them, thus lowering the negotiating bar for all
other tribes. Following the Seneca Nation precedent, the Seneca-Cayuga of
Oklahoma accepted a 25 percent of net revenue as payment to the state. And
unheard of among the Haudenosaunee nations within New York, they also
relinquished sovereign jurisdiction over their retail sales and other
tribal taxation powers and accepted local municipal regulations over
environmental issues, rather than insisting on writing their own codes as a
sovereign nation should. While, Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma leaders can
not be faulted in pressing any and all gains they can make for their own
people, given their long-distance status and near complete cultural and
political disconnect with their long unknown relatives, nevertheless their
deal complicates the issues for other, continuously established Indian
nations within the state.

Tribal transplantation issues affect at least a dozen tribes in areas of
New York, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Louisiana, Texas
and other states. Governor Pataki's move, truly problematic in New York
tribal affairs, cracks the door on a multiplicity of inter-state activities
by many tribes. The ensuing controversies will likely be heated.