Seneca Nation Leaders Meet With Gov. Cuomo's Staff

February 22, 2011 Updated Feb 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM EDT

By WKBW Programming

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Seneca Nation Leaders Meet With Gov. Cuomo's Staff

February 22, 2011 Updated Feb 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM EDT

ALBANY, NY, Feb. 22, 2011 – (release) Seneca Nation of Indians President Robert Odawi Porter and other Seneca leaders today met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff in Albany in the first face-to-face meeting on issues dividing their governments.

Porter, along with other Seneca leaders and the governor’s staff, met for 95 minutes at the Capitol.

“We had an interesting first meeting. We committed to meeting again. We discussed the multitude of issues that confront the Nation and invited further dialogue. We explained to the governor through his key staff that our treaties and sovereignty will not be compromised,” Porter said.

“Our message to the governor was: What’s good for the Seneca Nation is good for Western New York and, ultimately, the state as a whole.”

Also attending the meeting was Council Chairman Richard Nephew and Nation Chief Counsel Chris Karns. Prior to meeting with the executive branch, the Seneca leaders also met with staff of the Senate Republican majority. Secretary to the Governor Steve Cohen attended part of the meeting, which was with Counsel to the Governor Mylan Denerstein.

“The Seneca Nation is fully committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue with the governor on these very important issues, which extend beyond the longstanding tobacco tax dispute,” said Nephew. “This is also yet another opportunity for the Seneca to educate and inform the leaders in New York State on the significant treaty relationship we have with the United States, to remind them what those obligations entail and to revisit the more contemporary agreements that have been made with the Seneca. It goes without saying that those agreements – the treaties and compacts – must be honored and fulfilled.”

Porter today also released contents of a letter he delivered to Gov. Cuomo’s staff when the two met briefly in Jamestown after the governor’s speech there Jan. 13. The letter basically outlined the agenda and subjects for discussions at today’s meeting.

In the letter, the president called for working together for the future growth and success of Western New York.

Porter, elected the same day as Cuomo last November, wrote:

“The lesson of the Nation’s success is simple – when the state accepts and recognizes the Nation’s sovereignty and treaty rights, good things happen for both Senecas and non-Indians alike. Conversely, when the state pursues short-sighted policies that disrespect the Nation’s unique status, both our governments suffer,” Porter wrote in his 3½-page January letter.

In the January letter, Porter listed “The Challenges,” and “The Opportunities.”

The challenges include: Violation of treaty-protected rights; taxation of commerce with non-Indians; violation of “exclusivity provision” under Nation/State Casino Compact; illegal use of Nation lands by New York State Thruway; Southern Tier Expressway “Unkept Promises;” New York State Police and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board Regulatory Overcharges; West Valley Nuclear Contamination; New York State Criminal and Civil Jurisdiction; Ganondagan State Historic Site, near Rochester.

For opportunities, he listed the potential benefits on the regional and upstate economies of long-term agreements. Porter concluded:

“By definition, the Seneca people are permanent residents of what is now called Western New York. Since we anticipate that New Yorkers will also remain resident in our area for quite some time, we therefore have a long-term interest in the future growth and success of this region – an interest that I know you and I have in common.”

Specifically on the challenges, Porter wrote:

· Violation of treaty rights: “In 2010, Gov. Paterson and the State Legislature initiated a new effort to assess state excise taxes on the tobacco commerce occurring on Nation lands. The Nation views this effort as an affront to our sovereignty and a violation of our treaty-protected right to the ‘free use and enjoyment of our lands.’ In addition, the state’s effort violates the Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1842 that expressly recognizes our immunity from the application of state taxes in our territory.”

· Casino compact: The Nation requests that the state withdraw its recently filed arbitration request to allow for a discussion of this dispute between the two sides.

· New York State Thruway: In 2007, the Nation cancelled the state’s 1954 easement to a three-mile stretch of the Thruway on Cattaraugus Territory land in Irving due to state non-compliance, and instituted toll charges. Those now total $75 million, which the state Thruway Authority has ignored. The Nation requests discussions begin about the balance owed and fulfillment of state commitments.

· Southern Tier Expressway: The state failed to meet obligations to the Nation set out in 1976. Discussions should begin to settle these failed promises.

· State gambling regulation charges: The state overbilled the Nation since the start of the compact, now overcharging the Nation $48 million. On Dec. 22, the two sides reached a conceptual agreement on a settlement. This should be finalized.

· West Valley. The state and the Nation should work together to move the U.S. Government to ensure a healthy environment for everyone living in the area potentially affected by radioactive contamination.

· Criminal and civil jurisdictions. The Nation would like to begin a dialogue with the state about criminal jurisdiction and civil lawsuits in state courts involving Indians. This frustrates Nation self-government and costs the state extra money.

· Ganondagan. The state operates a historic site near Victor, NY that is the historic birthplace of the Seneca Nation. The Nation, state and private parties contributed funds -- $2 million in the Nation’s case – to build an interpretive center on the site. The Nation would like state commitment for operating support and a role for the Nation in perpetuity.

In his first letter to the governor, Porter said:

“As you take office, I wanted to offer you the opportunity to establish a peaceful, long-term relationship between the Seneca Nation and the state. While our treaty relationship is with the United States government, not the state, I believe that the reality of our daily interaction is such that it is important for the Seneca Nation to have a direct and productive relationship with state officials as well as federal officials. I hope you agree.”