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News Release

Mothers of the Seneca Nation of Indians

Mothers of the Nation submit petition to the Department of Interior, requests federal intervention and swift review of revenue sharing payments

A group of Seneca women, the Mothers of the Nation, gathered today on the Allegany territory (Ohi:yo’) to oppose Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels’ January 12 settlement agreement with New York State. The Mothers of the Nation are calling upon Council to halt over $800 million in disputed payments to the state.

The Mothers of the Nation, who are recognized under the Seneca constitution of 1848 to approve treaties, organized a petition drive and gathered signatures of Seneca women who deem the settlement agreement invalid. The petition has been submitted to the Department of the Interior requesting immediate intervention and swift review of the legality of the payments. Seneca women call the president’s surrender of the disputed payments weak and ill-advised and proclaim that the fight is not over until all federal remedies have been exhausted. In September 2021, federal gaming officials announced they had opened an investigation into the matter, which is on-going. 

On January 12, 2022, President Pagels entered into a settlement agreement with the state to end the gaming compact dispute, pledging to release approximately $540 million of disputed payments held in escrow. The Mothers note that the amount of money at stake is far more than the reported $540 million – totaling over $800 million through 2023 – which is 50% of the monies paid to the State during the 14-year Compact term. In return, the state offered to commence good faith negotiations for a new compact, which concedes nothing, since any state is obligated to enter compact negotiations when asked under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Despite having met in a regular session of council on January 8, neither the Seneca Nation Council nor the Seneca people approved the settlement agreement. In fact, no notice was given about the proposed settlement agreement. President Pagels issued a video announcement to the general public in the late evening of January 12 via social media.

The Mothers of the Nation maintain that the settlement agreement and the sizable expenditure is an action that requires Council approval under the Nation Constitution for it to be valid. Two community members have filed for injunctive relief to halt the payments in the Nation’s Court.

In 2016, Nation officials made the decision to stop paying the State because the terms of the seven-year compact extension were silent on further payments. The Interior Department has twice written that it agrees with this interpretation, including the Biden-Haaland administration, as recently as September 2021. In addition, on September 16, 2021, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) stated that it considers additional revenue sharing payments a significant question requiring review. Further, a September 15, 2021 letter from Assistant Secretary of the Interior Bryan Newland expressed “serious concern” that further payments to the State may violate the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Marie E. Williams, former executive director of the Seneca Gaming Authority and a Cattaraugus community member, is one of the petitioners arguing that President Pagels violated Seneca legislative protocols by failing to obtain Council authorization and follow regulatory procedures prior to the settlement agreement. Williams further argues that President Pagels has committed payments to the state beyond what he is authorized to make and are not part of the arbitration decision.

“There are multiple issues at play here,” said Williams. “What we have is a president that is making decisions, entering into agreements of tremendous magnitude, committing monies beyond the scope of arbitration, all with a lasting and profound impact on the Seneca people. He has acted without proper Council authorization and without the informed consent of the people,” said Williams.

Jody Clark, a signatory to the Mothers of the Nation petition and a resident of the Allegany territory, underscored the need for federal and National Indian Gaming Commission determination. “President Pagels has ignored the pending National Indian Gaming Commission review of the legality of the payments and forged a settlement agreement before obtaining a full and complete federal review. His actions are short-sighted and premature,” said Clark.

Gloria Gordon, a grandmother and resident of the Cattaraugus territory, explained the important role of the Mothers: “The Mothers of the Nation is important historically. In the late 1830s, the Seneca people faced removal to Kansas. But the Mothers stood up and said ‘No, we won’t go,’” said Gordon. “Again in the 1960s, the Seneca fought removal from our Ohi:yo’ homelands in Allegany due to the Kinzua Dam construction. The Mothers of the Nation were instrumental in opposing the dam. While efforts to prevent the dam from flooding our territory failed, the Mothers were successful in ensuring a significant settlement. Today, the Mothers are fighting again — this time to protect the Nation’s assets and to remind our officials of their sworn oaths of office to uphold Seneca Nation laws.”

Jody Clark, a signatory to the Mothers of the Nation petition and a resident of the Allegany territory, underscored the need for federal and National Indian Gaming Commission determination. “President Pagels has ignored the pending National Indian Gaming Commission review of the legality of the payments and forged a settlement agreement before obtaining a full and complete federal review. His actions are short-sighted and premature,” said Clark.

Gloria Gordon, a grandmother and resident of the Cattaraugus territory, explained the important role of the Mothers: “The Mothers of the Nation is important historically. In the late 1830s, the Seneca people faced removal to Kansas. But the Mothers stood up and said ‘No, we won’t go,’” said Gordon. “Again in the 1960s, the Seneca fought removal from our Ohi:yo’ homelands in Allegany due to the Kinzua Dam construction. The Mothers of the Nation were instrumental in opposing the dam. While efforts to prevent the dam from flooding our territory failed, the Mothers were successful in ensuring a significant settlement. Today, the Mothers are fighting again — this time to protect the Nation’s assets and to remind our officials of their sworn oaths of office to uphold Seneca Nation laws.”

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