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Seneca-Cayuga Claim Legitimate

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  • Seneca-Cayuga Claim Legitimate

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    Let the games begin: Seneca-Cayuga Tribe has legitimate claim

    Oklahoma tribe´s sovereignty and gaming rights still undecided; revenue
    sharing proposals in Min

    Posted: September 14, 2004 - 10:39am EST
    by: Tom Wanamaker / Correspondent / Indian Country Today

    The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma got some good news on Sept. 1 when U.S.
    District Court Judge Neal P. McCurn, sitting in a Syracuse, N.Y. courtroom,
    ruled that the tribe is indeed a "successor-in-interest" to the historic Cayuga
    Indian Nation. This means that the Seneca-Cayugas retain a legitimate interest
    in the outcome of the Cayuga land claim case, be it litigated or settled out
    of court.

    The Cayuga land claim area is a 64,000-acre chunk of former reservation land
    illegally acquired by New York state in the early 1800s, for which the
    Oklahoma tribe and the Cayuga Nation of New York in 2001 were awarded $247.9 million
    in damages. That case remains under appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of

    In the case of the Seneca-Cayugas, Judge McCurn must still decide two issues.
    One is whether or not the tribe´s 229-acre parcel in Aurelius, N.Y., on which
    the tribe has proposed a Class II gaming hall, is in fact "Indian country."
    The second involves whether or not local municipal governments have any role in
    regulating or overseeing construction and operation of such a facility.

    The pending Supreme Court review of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Nation, a
    landmark case involving a city government´s attempts to tax land owned by the
    Oneidas within their land claim territory, will have implications throughout
    Indian country and will certainly influence McCurn´s decision. Unlike the Cayuga
    land claim case, the Oneida land claim remains at an unsettled impasse.

    Complicating matters for the Seneca-Cayugas is the fact that the tribe is
    recognized in Oklahoma but is attempting to assert sovereignty over land within
    New York state; no tribe has successfully crossed state lines for gaming
    purposes. Seneca-Cayuga efforts to open the Aurelius bingo hall have been stymied by
    legal action from town and county officials. The Cayuga Nation has however,
    opened a pair of small Class II casinos on land it purchased in the claim area.
    As descendants of Cayuga Indians who never left New York, the nation´s
    sovereignty over land claim territory faces a lesser degree of challenge.

    McCurn´s ruling comes on the heels of a surprising offer by the
    Seneca-Cayugas to pay the land claim award for the state in return for a Class III casino
    in the Catskills. In late August, the Seneca-Cayugas offered to pay the entire
    judgement amount in the land claim case and would cease their Class II efforts
    in Aurelius. If the 2nd Circuit Court raises the $247.9-million award, the
    tribe says it is prepared to pay even more, up to an undisclosed cap.

    The Seneca-Cayugas are indeed moving aggressively toward acquiring rights to
    one of three potentially lucrative Catskill casinos authorized by the New York
    State Legislature in October 2001. On Aug. 20, the tribe announced a casino
    development agreement with Empire Resorts, Inc. of Monticello, N.Y. This is the
    same company with which the Cayuga Nation signed a similar agreement in April
    2003. The Cayugas have protested that their deal with Empire is exclusive,
    while company officials insist that their deal with the Seneca-Cayugas is

    A little over a month ago, it appeared that the New York Cayugas had the
    inside track on a Catskill casino. But two factors - the collapse of their June
    memorandum of understanding with Albany to settle the land claim in exchange for
    a casino and continued pressure by the Oklahoma tribe - seem to have derailed
    their aspirations, at least for now.

    Keep an eye on Upstate New York. This one´s far from over.

    Revenue sharing in Minnesota

    Meanwhile in Minnesota, the issue of casino revenue sharing has once again
    come to the forefront. Unlike last February, however, when Republican Governor
    Tim Pawlenty all but demanded that the state´s 11 gaming tribes fork over some
    cash, this time the initiative comes from Indian country.

    In an Aug. 26 letter to the governor, Melanie Benjamin, chief executive of
    the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, outlined a series of proposals as a starting
    point for negotiations and potential cooperation.

    "Many of the political leaders who have tried to address gaming issues with
    the tribes have done so in a way that has hardened tribal leaders and created
    an environment of mistrust," Benjamin was quoted by the Associated Press. "We´
    ll see where this discussion leads us. Anytime we can sit at the table as
    sovereigns and come up with an agreement, it´s good for all involved."

    The compacts between Minnesota and the tribes, signed in 1989 and 1990, do
    not contain revenue sharing provisions, although the tribes do cover regulatory
    expenses incurred by the state. Commercial gaming interests, who would of
    course pay state taxes, have been pushing for inroads into the Minnesota market,
    which caused Pawlenty to speak out earlier this year about forcing the tribes
    to renegotiate their compacts.

    In her letter, Benjamin put forth several ideas, including using casino
    revenue to fund a new stadium for Minnesota´s pro sports teams, allowing more
    casino games and simulcast horse racing, challenging federal laws banning sports
    betting and establishing a charitable foundation to assist local governments and
    other tribes. In return, the state would likely be expected to limit or
    prohibit commercial gaming.

    According to the AP, Benjamin said that the renegotiation of current compacts
    or the reduction of monies currently used to fund tribal programs are not on
    the bargaining table. She also said that she spoke only for the Mille Lacs
    Band and not for the state´s other tribes.

    "Because of the growing political pressure to expand gaming and the seeming
    stalemate between the tribes and state, now is the time for a new course,"
    Benjamin said.

    An August poll conduced by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association showed
    that support for expanded gambling in the state may be on the decline. By letting
    the threat of commercial gaming "percolate" as he termed it at the time,
    Pawlenty apparently hoped to strong-arm the tribes into ceding casino funds.

    The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act makes no mention of revenue sharing, but the
    concept has evolved into a quid pro quo - a slice of Indian casino revenue to
    the state in return for something of value to the tribes. Now that Benjamin
    has put some new ideas on the table, it remains to be seen whether Pawlenty
    will bargain, government-to-government, in good faith.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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