Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the Catskills and the Binghamton area today as a victory tour over the passage of Proposition One: Casino Gaming. He talked about the potential for jobs and increased revenue for the state and local governments. He did not spend much time talking about the resolution of Indian land claim issues that are part of the casino deal he struck in May.
Oneida Nation representative Ray Halbritter was the negotiator who cemented the Turning Stone Casino and Resort's rights to exclusive control over casino style gaming across a ten county Central New York region. One of those counties is Cayuga which happens to be home to the Cayuga Indian Nation.
In the weeks that followed the initial agreement the Cayugas commenced legal action claiming the deal violated its rights to negotiate its own Tribal-State compact. Today the federally recognized leader of the Cayugas issued a statement after a wide reaching Indian organization condemned the governors plan to strip away the Cayugas rights to a gaming agreement. "We are united on this important principle that each Indian nation has inherent sovereign rights, recognized by the Constitution and federal law," said Clinton Halftown. ??The governor??s plan is an unprecedented attempt by a state to ignore both this principle and the law.??
It would be difficult to imagine how this Federal legal case could be more complicated. It began in 2008 with New York State filing suit because it was not happy with the Oneida Nation making a move to put its land into a federal trust that would keep it from being taxable or subject to state law in the future. This suit involved NY and the Oneidas, but also the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice.
More than five years later the parties on opposite sides of the suit have reached an agreement, but players on the fringes of the case are not happy. That includes the Cayugas. In June, they requested to intervene in the land into trust suit.
In September the Stockbridge-Munsee community , Band of Mohicans also got involved. They cite late 18th century treaties that have not fully been litigated. If the Cuomo/Oneida Nation deal is approved the Stockbridge are concerned their Mohawk Valley acreage will be unjustly folded into Oneida lands which would be put into trust.
Even though the deal was signed, the legislature passed it and the voters approved it New York is not yet ready to hand out casino licenses. The Bureau of Indian Affairs still must approve the agreement and the U.S. District Court Northern District of New York must approve the May 2013 agreement and then dismiss New York's legal challenge of the land into trust for the Oneidas.
Unlike a good game of blackjack where winners and losers are obvious in a few hands - the only obvious winners in this land claim, casino deal are the attorneys who will continue to bill and brief for a long time to come.
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