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"Peace Camp" grows around condemned trailer

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ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N. Y. ? Multi-colored pup tents are springing up around the condemned trailer of Danielle (Shenandoah) Patterson at the end of Territory Road, as outside observers answer a call from the Shenandoah family to help resist the court-ordered demolition of the home.

The Oneida Nation Court has ordered the trailer to be vacated and the demolition effected "at a mutually agreed time on or prior to Sept. 15, 2002." The order, issued Aug. 8, followed a hearing in which Nation Public Safety Commissioner Arthur F. Pierce defended his earlier finding that the trailer was "badly deteriorated and in such an overall dilapidated condition that [it] is not fit for human habitation." Tribal Court Judge Stewart F. Hancock, Jr. wrote that Pierce's findings "are fully supported by the evidence."

Judge Hancock devoted one page of the 11-page ruling to urging attorneys for the two parties to work out an agreement on the removal of the trailer. "The Court is confident," he wrote, "that these experienced counsel ? in the exercise of their responsibility as attorneys to further the public good by fostering peaceful relations among nation members ? will be able to arrive at an agreement." He appointed Tribal Appellate Judge Richard D. Simons to be available to help resolve issues over the order.

The designation of Simons, he said, was a substitute for further judicial action, which he wrote was neither "necessary or warranted." He also said it was an act of his discretion in view of the unsuccessful attempt of Patterson's attorney, Barbara Olshansky, to have him recuse himself from the case.

Diane Shenandoah, sister of Patterson, said they would instead attempt to bring the case to federal court, although they faced many time-consuming obstacles. In the meantime, she has circulated an email appeal for "observers and good-minded people [to] come to Oneida territory to witness and or 'sit as peaceful observers.'"

Their mother, Maisie Shenandoah, is a long-time critic of Nation Representative Ray Halbritter, her nephew. The Shenandoahs charge that the Men's Council and Clanmothers government led by Halbritter as well as the Tribal Court are illegal "under traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) laws."

The Shenandoahs occupy several trailers on Territory Road, heart of the 32 acres of Oneida homeland which have remained the longest in the Nation's hands. They charge that the Housing Ordinance is a ploy to evict them from the 32 acres. Because they "lost their voice" in the Oneida Nation years earlier after a protest against Halbritter, they say they are not eligible for Nation housing funds that would allow them to rebuild on their present site.

Diane Shenandoah said her sister had spurned an offer of a substitute home in the Nation's nearby White Pines housing because it would make her a tenant of the Halbritter government.

So far a "Peace Camp" of maybe half a dozen pup tents has grown up around the Patterson trailer. One of the arrivals, Anne Herman, told Indian Country Today she was a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a program of Brethren and Mennonite Congregations and Society of Friends (Quaker) Meetings. The group, she said, seeks to defuse potentially violent situations and currently has teams in Hebron in the West Bank and Colombia. The group visited the Oneida Nation in February and met with Halbritter.

In response to Shenadoah's appeal, Nation spokesman Mark Emery said, "It's never helpful for outside agitators to be part of any situation."