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Seneca President and Council Announce Reconciliation, Council Chairmanship Remains Unclear

The Seneca Nation president and council appear to have resolved an internal power struggle that threatened to paralyze the government’s functioning.

Late Thursday, November 17, Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter and the council released a statement saying they are “committed to a new working relationship built upon mutual respect and cooperation.”

Last Saturday, the council voted 10-6 to remove Porter as the Nation’s Chief Executive Officer. The following day Seneca Nation Clerk Diane Kennedy Murth issued a certified document saying the vote was illegal. She cited a section of the Nation’s Constitution that says the clerk must certify all actions by the council and that “the Nation’s Ethics Law prohibits Nation officials from acting upon matters in which they or their family members have a personal interest.” The motion the previous day to oust Porter as CEO and appoint Councilor Michael “Spike” John to the position was made by Councilor J.C. Seneca and seconded by Councilor Donald John. Donald and Michael John are brothers. Based on Murth’s finding, Porter issued an executive order directing all Seneca Nation government agencies and employees to ignore any orders from John.

The president and council announced in their statement Thursday that after several days of “intense discussion,” the council had rescinded its resolution to remove Porter as CEO.

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“As we have seen in other governments throughout the United States and the world, sometimes political officials disagree so intensely that normal governing process is disrupted,” Porter said. “For my part, I want to apologize to my colleagues and the Seneca people for my part in participating in this disagreement. Words were said by me that, upon reflection, were hurtful and unnecessary. I respect the Council’s authority and I am committed to improving our government and will continue to advocate strongly for what I think is best for our people and Nation during my remaining year in office.”

J.C. Seneca also apologized for his part in the dispute. “I was the original sponsor of the motion to remove President Porter [as CEO], and I apologize for the harm that this action has caused him and the Seneca people,” he said. “Discussion is always better before action, and this cardinal rule should always be followed. The Council stands with President Porter and supports him in his work on behalf of our Nation.”

What remains unclear is the chairmanship of the council. On Tuesday, November 15, a joint statement was issued by Porter and “new Council Chairman J.C. Seneca,” announcing that the president and council were meeting for ongoing discussions and were committed to finding a resolution to their disagreements. No mention was made about how it came about that J.C. Seneca had replaced Council Chairman Richard Nephew. In Thursday’s statement, J.C Seneca is referred to as “Councilor J.C, Seneca,” not chairman. The statement did not say whether Nephew has been reinstated as council chairman.

The statement also said, “There will be no additional comment on this matter and no interviews at this time.”