A whole lot of people don't like the way Gov. George Pataki upset the
national applecart of tribal sovereignty by allowing "reservation shopping"
in New York state. In this practice, a governor unilaterally goes beyond
the established resident tribes of his own state, which have legitimate
claims to land and to sovereign jurisdictions, to make compacts with tribes
established in other states.
The intention, of course, is to force action out of the stronger
positioned, land-based instate tribes who still can challenge him. By going
around them to the more compliant and agreeable out of state tribes,
anxious for the chance to gain a foothold in New York's lucrative gaming
market, the governor keeps his dream of building an "Indian mini-Atlantic
City" just 90 minutes from New York City. He even gets to settle some
and/or, at least, confuse the land claims cases among other tribes.
What great sport it is to get the tribes to outdo each other, to pit each
against the other, biting for the chance to reach the dangled casino
Of course, it is all subject to approval by the New York Legislature and
the U.S. Congress, but what the New York governor is attempting -
completely reversing his previous officially stated policy - is like
cloning the worms in the proverbial open can: Once you go that route, it
may be messy traveling. It potentially unravels, for one thing, most of
Oklahoma Indian territory where numerous tribes were once removed to from
other eastern or southern states. Ditto for Florida, Kansas, Texas,
Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and so on. Considering the history of war and
relocation in the country's first 200 years, thigh-high boots may be
required to march through this mucky terrain.
In New York, as in California and elsewhere, governors are squeezed by
their own stalled and often mismanaged economies, mired in war and the
gutting of the public treasury via drastic tax cuts. Governors are
desperate for cash flow and in New York the future of the education system
is now pegged to the legal and gainful income derived by tribal governments
from resorts that offer gaming and high-quality entertainment. Never mind
that the tribes are increasingly picking up their own tab for the services
once promised by the federal government, somehow New Yorkers cannot afford
to pay for their education of their own children and must rely on the
legitimate and supposedly sovereign income of the tribes.
This is quite a bill, among others, for a sovereign government to present
to another. Considering the infrastructure buildup just beginning in New
York Indian country, as well as land recovery and full operating speed for
the various promising enterprises, powerful states such as New York and
California should really be ashamed to squeeze the tribes as if this was
the only way to save themselves from their own catastrophic economic
problems. Just the huge value of jobs created by Native tribal enterprises,
coupled to the huge influx of vetting in New York state, should be of
significant consideration by a state that would truly acknowledge and
respect tribal success. But the current reversal of New York's policy in
this area may well cause more problems than it seeks to resolve. It
certainly places in harms way those established Indian nations within the
state who have fought for generations to ward off state taxation and other
illegitimate encroachments upon Indian life and land.
Now, suddenly, to settle pieces of one or more land claims, Pataki has
created three new New York Indian entities, three new tribes, if the logic
carries, to set up businesses dutifully paying homage to New York's
department of taxation. Within the new surprise announcements, the idea
floated to expand the "Indian mini-Atlantic city" from three to five
casinos, a gaming destination and cash cow for the state's gasping economy
- "hundreds of millions of dollars for public education and the state
treasury ...," stated the Albany Times Union.
The new deals are tough and in some areas eliminate tribal rights. To deal
with Pataki, the out of state tribes:
Dropped lawsuits over the state's illegal taking of reservation land 200
Promised to share some 25 percent of gambling revenues with the state in
return for zero exclusivity (note that Pataki has already diluted the
gaming market by seeking an increase in the number of Catskills casinos).
Agreed to collect, remit and pay New York state taxes on cigarettes,
gasoline and other products sold at "Indian" businesses. Although
established Indian nations within New York, namely the Seneca, Mohawk and
Oneida, have fought this battle for generations, the new casino deals
violate this historic Haudenosaunee policy.
Within New York state, the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York agreed with the
out of state settlements, for now since the decision-making process of that
nation remains unclear. Landless and severely divided, it appears they
settled early and are trying to move ahead to build their own casino. They
may get up to 10,000 acres in their homeland and a Catskills casino. Three
out-of-state tribes, two from Wisconsin and one from Oklahoma, stepped in
to settle as well.
Seneca-Cayuga Nation of Oklahoma gets a Catskills Casino.
Wisconsin Oneida Tribe gets 1,000 Central New York acres and a Catskills
The state pretends the settlement ended all of the Oneida people's claims
to their 250,000 acres of treaty land in Oneida and Madison counties,
without consulting the established nation, the Oneida Indian Nation of New
York. The Thames Band of Oneida in Ontario, Canada, were also left out of
The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans of Wisconsin get 333 acres near
Monticello and a Catskills casino.
If Pataki were wrestling the collective Indian everyman this would be a
tripping take down from which the Indian opponent must break free or risk a
collective pinning. In any case, the fight is on. Both the Seneca Nation of
Indians and the Oneida Indian Nation of New York have vowed vigorous
opposition against the settlements.
Seneca Nation of Indians Pres. Barry E. Snyder Jr. demanded Gov. Pataki
reconsider the agreements with out-of-state tribes. "These deals ... pose a
threat to our sovereign rights," the newly elected Seneca Nation president
said. He added, "... out-of-state tribes are seeking access to business
ventures in our state that are based on establishing agreements that could
undermine the essence of our treaties."
The Oneida Nation has launched a vigorous television campaign, pointing out
the loss of New York state revenues to other states such as Oklahoma and
Wisconsin. (The Oneida Nation is owner of Four Directions Media, Inc.,
parent company to Indian Country Today.)
Within a California context, as Deron Marquez, chairman of the San Manuel
Band of Serrano Mission Indians, writes in this week's Perspectives page,
the issue involves "two tribal nations - the Timbisha Shoshone Indians of
Death Valley and the Los Coyotes Band of North San Diego County -
attempting to acquire land in Hisperia and Barstow for the purpose of
establishing casinos." This places the two tribes, Marquez writes, "on
ancestral lands belonging to his people, the Yuhaviatam, the "People of the
Pines." As he stated, "... it is wrong for a tribe to encroach on the
ancestral lands of another Indian nation. Not for gambling or any other
reason." The same may be said about rearranging the 200-year-old face of
Indian country within given states. Utmost care must be given such
momentous changes. Watch this issue gain prominence nationally as the slope
is already being watered in California and New York and will get very
Perhaps most clearly in recent years, the offices of the Governor and the
Attorney General of the state of New York, in a letter to the National
Indian Gaming Commission dated April 24, 2003, strongly argued against out
of state "reservation-shopping." If this "Pandora's Box" were opened, Gov.
Pataki's attorneys argued then, dealing directly with non-state tribes
would, "cause confusion and uncertainty for state and local governments,
forcing ... competing claims of tribal authority within the same geographic
area," and that the "potential for inter-tribal disputes and disruption in
the surrounding communities would increase exponentially." And more bluntly
relative to Oklahoma's Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, in that instance, the
Governor's attorneys argued the "tribe gave up any rights it had in such
reservation [New York] when it accepted its own reservation in Oklahoma."
New York's own offices of Governor and Attorney General made a forceful
case against the inclusion of out-of-state tribes into the established mix
of state and tribal relations - a case that is worth serious study by the
New York Legislature and the U.S. Congress.