Message to BIA: No land into trust for Cayugas
by Scott Rapp / The Post-Standard
Wednesday June 17, 2009, 8:08PM
SENECA FALLS, NY -- The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs got an earful Wednesday night on the Cayuga Indian Nation's bid to place about 125 acres of ancestral homeland in Cayuga and Seneca counties into federal trust.
Hundreds of people, possibly 1,000 or more, jammed into the athletic center at the New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls for the last hearing on the nation's bid to be awarded sovereign tax-free land from the BIA.
The message from those who spoke was clear and emphatic.
Speaker after speaker railed on the Cayugas' land-trust application and also took the BIA to task for declaring in its draft environmental impact statement that awarding trust land to the nation would not have a significant negative impact on Cayuga and Seneca counties.
In general, the speakers said awarding trust land to the Cayugas would give the nation's businesses an unfair competitive edge over area tax-paying merchants and unfairly burden property taxpayers.
"They can buy land and pay taxes like everyone else. Please do the right thing for Seneca and Cayuga counties and deny the land trust," implored Roberta Halden, of Seneca Falls.
Kevin Swartley, president of the Seneca County Farm Bureau, said granting trust land to the Cayugas would hurt local businesses and jobs, erode the tax base and harm the environment because the trust land would be free from environmental regulations.
"Land into trust is the wrong solution," Swartley said.
Speaking first, Clint Halftown, the Cayugas' federally recognized representative, said the Cayugas are entitled to the trust land because the parcels are part of the nation's original 64,015-acre reservation around the north end of Cayuga Lake.
The nation plans to reopen its Class II gaming halls in Union Springs and Seneca Falls if the 125 acres are put into trust, Halftown said.
"The acceptance of our lands into trust will enable our nation to generate revenues from our convenience stores (in Union Springs and Seneca Falls) and Class II gaming facilities ... to fund tribal programs and services," he said.
The Department of Interior is to make a ruling after the BIA issues a final environmental impact statement. The BIA will accept written comments up to July 6.
Halftown was the only one of 23 speakers in the first 90 minutes to favor the nation's trust application.
The hearing also afforded lawmakers from both counties and spokespeople for area state and federal representatives to weigh in. All but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, said they opposed the trust application.
"The negative impact of this action would be huge," Seneca County lawmaker David Dresser said.
Halftown said before the hearing started that he is confident the Cayugas will be awarded the trust land.
"Because it's our land legally and morally," he said.
Contact Scott Rapp at email@example.com or 253-7316.