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Hundreds fight for Cayuga Nation land trust

Updated: 06/18/2009 06:05 AM

By: Kat De Maria
SENECA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Plans like this have a lot of steps and one of the things that has to happen is there has to be a study of whether a change would have an impact on the environment.
The government released a draft statement saying the 125-acre land trust would not negatively affect the environment. Wednesday night's meeting was to get public input about that.
Judging by the hundreds of people who packed the meeting room, there is fierce opposition to this proposal, environmental and otherwise, and opponents wanted to make sure their voices were heard. The crowd of people, from Cayuga and Seneca counties, is fired up.
“These particular counties are extremely hostile toward any action the Cayuga Nation attempts to take,” said Lee Alcott, Cayuga Nation Attorney.
Hundreds of people come out to voice their opinion, mainly their opposition, to a proposal to put more than one hundred acres of Cayuga Nation land into trust. Our Kat De Maria was at Wednesday night's public hearing.
The Cayuga are asking for 125 acres of their land to go into trust and become sovereign.
"The nation needs to have its land sovereign so it can reopen its business, which are essential to its economic well-being and the operation of its tribal programs,” said Lee.
Hundreds of people whose homes and businesses surround the Cayuga land attended a public meeting to tell the government the nation's well-being could come at the expense of their own.
"We could have a tax situation. We could have an infrastructure situation. We certainly can have an environmental impact and certainly the playing field is not level once land gets put into trust,” said Richard Giovannini, a Fayette resident.
Sovereignty would exempt Cayuga from paying taxes on their land and the goods they sell on it.
"Near 200 year ago, I felt bad for the Indians. But now, it's supposed to be equal, everybody's supposed to follow the same laws. What makes them so special,” asked Star Gregor, a Waterloo resident.
"They can have land. But they have to act like any other citizen. They can't get any special privilege,” said Charles Carroll, a Waterloo resident.
The Cayuga's attorney says actually, they can.
"When it comes to issues of whether the Cayuga Nation is sovereign or not, it's a matter of federal law. And some of these issues are simply not open to opinion or debate,” said Lee.
Still, many are hoping a debate, spirited or otherwise, will lead to a solution everyone can tolerate.
"I just want to see everybody settle this in an amicable way. We want to have everybody work together. We want a peaceful solution,” said Fran Emerson, a Waterloo resident.
What happens next is the draft statement, Wednesday’s comments and responses to those are made into a final environmental impact statement.
Comments can be sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs through the beginning of next month.