Indian land claims teach valuable lessons

Published July 1, 2001

Publisher’s note: Environment & Climate News often addresses the important role played by secure rights to private property in protecting the environment. (See this issue’s centerspread, for example.) A major dispute occurring in the property rights arena, and one that gets little attention from the mainstream media or property rights advocacy groups, concerns claims to “rent and damages” made by Native Americans.

While deciding the legitimacy of their claims is a difficult, perhaps unresolvable, question of law, what is undeniable is that Native Americans have suffered rough treatment by politicians and the federal government … not just a century ago but even today. In many ways, the abuse of power parallels what all landowners fear and many now face.

The Onyota’a:ka (better known as the Oneida tribe) oppose a proposed settlement to a land claim case, originally filed 21 years ago, involving a taking of land in upstate New York from the Oneidas, allegedly in violation of treaty rights. The description of the battle below comes from two pro-Oneida sources and originally appeared in the April 2002 issue of Shenandoah Newsletter (736 West Oklahoma Street, Appleton, WI 54914, subscription: $17.50/year) and is presented without editing or editorial comment.

Onyota’a:ka Statement on Oneida Land Claims

The Onyota’a:ka (People of the Standing Stone, or Oneidas) oppose any and all agreements which extinguish their aboriginal title to their homelands, territory given to them by the Creator, the resting place of their ancestors and the birthright of those yet unborn.

The Onyota’a:ka have taken a firm stand against Raymond Halbritter, the singular, self proclaimed Chief Executive Officer, as an individual kept in a position of authority by the United States and New York to serve their interests by alienating our land, compromising our national status and violating our treaty rights.

In May of 1993 the leaders of all the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) nations met in council at Onondaga to review Mr. Halbritter’s conduct including his signing of a secret casino compact with former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo. This compact, which was never reviewed or approved by the Oneida people, was but one indicator of Mr. Halbritter’s violation of Iroquois law.

The Haudenosaunee were informed by Keller George, Halbritter’s assistant, that the so-called men’s council was fabricated by the self-proclaimed CEO. The Haudenosaunee determined the men’s council of the Oneida nation of New York was not a legitimate agency of the Oneida people, nor was Mr. Halbritter a legitimate representative of the Oneidas.

This decision, initially acknowledged by the U.S., was overturned by the Clinton Administration at the express request of U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) resulting in Mr. Halbritter being sustained in power. Boehlert’s action, which was affirmed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, represented a clear intrusion by the U.S. into our internal affairs in breech of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.

The Onyota’a:ka have endured nine years of turmoil because they have pledged to uphold Haudenosaunee law. Because of this, they have been harassed, fired from their jobs, denied due benefits, arrested and assaulted at the hands of Halbritter’s non-native police force, which has attempted to enforce, upon Halbritter’s direction, New York State laws on sovereign Native territory. We are now faced with eviction from our homes.

Repeated appeals have been made to the U.S. Government including the BIA to remove its recognition of Halbritter; recognition is the only means by which he is able to remain in the position. The Oneidas have a strong democratic heritage which is best guaranteed through the revival of our traditional form of government, one which will protect, rather than extinguish, our relationship with the earth.

The public statement on the Land Claim Agreement made on February 16 clearly shows complete disrespect to Oneidas everywhere. It was the dream of May Winder Cornelius, who along with her sister Delia Waterman began the land claim process, to create opportunities whereby Oneidas may come home and live as one people. We honor the noble struggles of these two brave women by calling upon our relatives in Wisconsin, New York and Canada to return home to live in peace with each other on our aboriginal homelands.

Our ancestral homeland is more than a bargaining tool for additional casinos or cash settlements to which our people are opposed, have never been consulted upon and will not approve.

Mother Earth, the sustainer of all life, is not for sale.
February 26, 2002

For more information, contact:

Oneidas for Democracy
PO Box 555
Oneida, NY 13421 USA

Update on Oneida Land Fight

A U.S. Federal judge has granted New York State a stay in its payment of a $247.9 million Cayuga land claim award pending appeals.

New York State now has 60 days to decide whether it will file a notice of appeal. A Notice of appeal means being able to prepare to start an appeal.

In October, the judge added $211 million in interest to a federal judge’s previous $36.9 million damages award for the land’s current worth and the loss of two centuries of fair market rental value.

The parties can now proceed with their appeals in the 21-year-old land claim challenges.

U.S.A. District Judge Neal McCurn has upheld the validity of the Cayugas’ claim to 64,027 acres of land in Cayuga and Seneca counties in the State of New York. McCurn determined that the State of New York acquired the land illegally by entering into invalid treaties with the Cayugas without receiving congressional ratification, required by a 1790 law.

From: Indigenous Mama, March 13, 2002