Seneca Nation in Positive Mode, Despite Hack Attack

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The Buffalo News, a rich monopoly of a newspaper, recently launched a
cynical and trouble-baiting series ("Special Report: The Seneca Nation")
lambasting the Seneca Nation of Indians, its government and the very
potentials it might have to identify and resolve its own issues and
problems.

For all its hyperbole the work failed to meet expectation. In fact, on
matters of perspective and context we challenge the series in this issue
with some focused dedication to the Seneca Nation and its recent agenda of
economic advancement. While generally direct in the stories it chose to
present, The Buffalo News can be seriously faulted in its attitude; in its
lack of simple respect for a wide variety of Seneca people, its
entrepreneurs, professionals and journeymen, and those who make up the
government, its many departments, policy and action groups. The seemingly
blatant attack against the Seneca Nation in The Buffalo News follows the
example of other media that assume the worst of Indian nation strategies
that pursue political and economic advantages for their tribal enterprises.
We recommend to all Senecas to cast a wary eye on this piece of reporting.
Beware hatchet jobs that exploit whatever dysfunction they can find. While
the series may point out particular problems that need attention in your
nation and your government, the articles seek to indict, not to resolve
issues and problems facing Indian peoples.

Four Haudenosaunee nations in New York state are pursuing intense economic
and political strategies: Oneida, Mohawk, Seneca and, negotiating hard,
Cayuga. These governments are leading the charge to establish pragmatic
economic bases for their peoples. The Seneca Nation, Western Doorkeeper of
the Six Nations Confederacy, is going great guns behind an agreement with
New York state that opened the door for three Seneca casinos that will
essentially dominate gaming in the whole Western region of New York state -
that is already tapping into Canada's highly-populated region of Southern
Ontario as well as significant markets in Pennsylvania and Ohio. As you
will see reported in these pages (and in last week's edition), the process
by which Seneca Nation leadership pieced together and executed the strategy
that now fuels its enterprise is as fascinating and unrelenting as it is
incomplete. Whatever the pitfalls (and they are many) of nation building in
Indian country, and however the Seneca people ultimately deal with the
substantial potentials of their current agenda, we fully endorse the
positive nature and direction of the recent Seneca Nation protagonism.
After centuries of dispossession, nothing is more important to Native
peoples than governments and individual families that finally can move, can
accomplish by initiating large and difficult and ultimately necessary
actions. The launching of a major economic recovery by a long-disempowered
people is always a wonderful story for Indian country.

Painting darkly with a wide brush what many are seeing as a great success
story, the News would lead us to believe the Seneca Nation is mostly a
crime-infested, chaotic wasteland of a community, from which only trouble
and corruption can be expected. Inferring the wrongdoing of individuals and
their own misconceptions about American Indian rights to indict the whole
Seneca government, the loudly projected series by News reporters, Michael
Beebe, Dan Herbeck and Jerry Zremski is a nasty piece of work, clearly
intended to heighten tensions and disunity among the various sectors of the
Seneca people. But we're not buying it. The series comes lightly wrapped in
a couple of sympathetic profiles of individuals but any trained media
observer will see that the approach is fundamentally to malign the nation's
leadership and structure of government.

The style tells the perspective. Immediately, the News stresses the
contrast between a very successful Seneca millionaire and a very poor
Seneca man. Throughout the series, the authors identify poor or
disadvantaged Senecas, only to pit the emotion of the reader against the
success of what the News calls "a couple of dozen" but who in fact
constitute over 100 Seneca fuel and tobacco products enterprises.

We know this much: the Seneca Nation is on the move economically. True
enough, most of its businesses are based on tribal rights predicated upon
their own powers of taxation (or non-taxation) and other advantageous
tribal jurisdictional regulatory powers. Nevertheless, just the Seneca
trade and commerce in fuel and tobacco products generates over a thousand
jobs on and around the reservations. The News refers to "a couple of dozen"
such rich businesses; in fact, there are over 100, with a combined payroll
of $100 million and some $400 million in estimated purchasing. The resort
hotels and casinos development process now being brought online by the
Seneca Nation, which will add thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of
dollars to the regional economy over the next decade, the News attacks,
even as it just begins to grow. The necessary activities that come with
economic success - costly political lobbying, entertainment of high-rolling
clients (all standard industry operating practices) - the News dismisses as
a "spending spree" by the nation. As with the example of TIME Magazine and
The Wall Street Journal hatchet jobs on American Indian economic interests,
The Buffalo News chimes in with disparagement and seething negativity.

The dark tone of The Buffalo News, symbolic of so much knee-jerk coverage
of the Indian process these days, is in itself a predictable, misguided
approach to the growing strength of Indian peoples as nations and as major
economic players. The economic revolution in Indian country is a great
story, we believe, and rather than negative, the metaphor that truly
describes it should be positive. In the scope of two to three years, the
long-impoverished Seneca Nation has fielded an efficient, decisive team and
has emerged as a major economic and political player in Western New York.

Who would have thought this achievement possible when set against the
limitations of single two-year terms of office for its presidential
administrations? But what the Seneca have lacked in constitutional
structure it has more than made up through adherence to forward-thinking
policies shared by several successive presidents - including Cyrus
Schindler, who forged the gaming compact with New York Governor George
Pataki in August 2002, and Rickey Armstrong, who is currently overseeing a
dramatic expansion of the nation's enterprises. Their efforts, and those of
the council and professional staff, is setting the table for a Seneca
future based upon opportunities for all who pick themselves up and work
hard.

Regional power brokers are well aware of this new reality. Lobbying,
working and allying with key politicians, fielding media campaigns - most
of it as expensive as it is necessary given the historical reality of
anti-Indian backlash - has now become an essential component of the agenda
for any responsible Indian government. These activities, all legitimate and
quite normal for tribal governments and their corporations, The Buffalo
News besmirches as somehow dishonest or unethical, again, since so many
Seneca are impoverished. Of course, they know and the Seneca leadership
knows, the game does not work that way. A people on the move must lobby and
do public programs and contribute to political campaigns and all of it must
be done when needed without fail.

Curiously, since the News could apply this standard to any successful
American business as well, the three reporters single out one thriving
Seneca businessman, Barry Snyder, and critique him (as symbol of other
Indian businessmen) for running a profit-making enterprise by using nation
sovereignty advantages, while other Seneca people (they note a Mr. Skip
Gates) are poor. Therein our question: whatever his motivations, is Barry
Snyder a bad guy because he allegedly has not donated to this poor man, to
whom readers will of course be sympathetic. The implication is that Mr.
Snyder is actually responsible for the fate or financial state of Mr.
Gates. Buffalo State College Journalism Professor Michael Niman notes in
these pages, however, that by its own logic, the News might demand the same
of its owner, Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the world. Writes
Niman: "Yes, the current distribution of income in the Seneca Nation is
inequitable. But consider this - The Buffalo News' owner, Warren Buffett,
"earns" more per year than all of the workers in Buffalo combined." So, who
can claim the seat of perfection? Moreover, how is this one man's poverty
attributed to the financial success of another? Entrepreneurial
opportunities exist for all Senecas who are so inclined. And if not
inclined, thousands of jobs have already been created in Seneca territories
with thousands more on the way. The Seneca Nation already has in place an
active recruitment and employment program for its citizens needing
employment.

No doubt, as The Buffalo News so willingly bemoans, there are many
disparities and economic problems in the Seneca communities of Cattaraugus
and Allegany. The business sector has grown quickly and powerfully and
would do well to strive for an image and reality of magnanimity and
generosity toward the more disadvantaged in their midst. This is simply
good human being culture and certainly within the superlative teachings
found in Seneca tradition. As the government gains strength, which would be
greatly aided by a constitutional referendum extending the elected term of
Presidential service to four years, it will become increasingly empowered
to institutionalize and enforce its own policies.

We report elsewhere in these pages that the nation leadership is quite
aware of the need to lead in this respect. Contrary to the condescending
tone in The Buffalo News, much is in the offing to tackle the grave
housing, educational and health issues that have plagued the Seneca
population for centuries. The News makes much of the alleged fact that
while the Seneca government has attempted to tax or assign tribal fees to
their business sector it has not been able to enforce these laws. But this
issue, too, requires more accurate investigation. Tribal officials dispute
the assertion stating that what the News article describes does not match
up with their legislative and law enforcement history. In the meantime, the
nation supports its citizens' businesses as they remain competitive in
regional markets - to the apparent chagrin of The Buffalo News and its
perceived constituency.

Increasingly educated and progressive, the Seneca Nation leadership has
conducted a major campaign for its 7,300 members over the past several
years. A strong economic framework, staffed with an increasingly educated
professional base of talented and dedicated Indians, is the remedy for
inefficient or weakened Indian governments. We caution the Seneca people,
stalwart guardians of the Western Door, to not succumb to the inducements
of those who would exacerbate tribal dysfunction and assign failure at a
time of success, great hope and opportunity. The problems pointed out by
The Buffalo News are quite old. The solutions must be new, and must come
from the inside. We are confident the Seneca Nation and its people face
wonderful, challenging and productive days ahead.