|It may be said that former New York Governor Mario Cuomo was one of the worst when it came to the state's relations with the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois).
Mario Cuomo adopted a 'divide and conquer' strategy with the Iroquois, electing not to deal directly with the Confederacy on issues such as trade and commerce, the land claims, competing jurisdiction or treaty rights. He, like all governors before him, decided that he would ignore the Confederacy and channel his "Indian" policies through those Native entities which were not part of the Haudenosaunee: the state created St. Regis Tribal Council, the Seneca Nation of Indians (which separated from the Confederacy in 1848) and the Oneida Nation of New York (established in circa 1992 and subsequently condemned by the Confederacy's Grand Council in 1993).
It was under his tenure that the Haudenosaunee experienced deadly internal turmoil which could have been prevented had he been more directly involved with the Confederacy on the unregulated gambling and illicit commerce issues which were tearing the Iroquois apart.
Cuomo's response was to create the Office of Indian Relations but instead of retaining a Native director or staff he gave the job to a former member of the New York State Police. In a statement from the Onondaga Nation and printed in the Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter in April 1995, the Council stated:
"Governor Cuomo's agenda was to bring high stakes gaming to New York and he was using Indian nations as the Trojan horse. He told us directly at a meeting on October 15, 1990 that "we were going to get gaming whether we liked it or not." To this end he established unilaterally the Office of Indian Relations (OIR), financing it from his discretionary funds and appointing Leigh Hunt as its director. Leigh Hunt was a retired state trooper with a history of hostility to the traditional leadership of the Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee protested this act to no avail."
Cuomo was a bully when it came to the Iroquois. He swept aside the state's obligations to abide by the terms of the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua which, he realized, would compel him to acknowledge the state's deliberate strategy to destroy the Iroquois as distinct nations and thereby freeing Albany from its greatest fear: that the Haudenosaunee held valid claim to most of the state and any just forum or court would have no choice but to hold New York liable for the greatest theft in American history.
Mario Cuomo decided to bypass the Confederacy and deal directly with the weakest links among the Iroquois, offering lucrative gambling compacts in expectation that the pro-gambling factions would cede land, jurisdiction and tax exemption status. Cuomo proposed that Governor George Pataki follow suit in 1994 which the incoming governor did. Over the strenuous objections of the Confederacy the state used gambling to undermine the land claims, a tactic which proved successful when the US Supreme Court issued its devastating City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York decision in 2005 which effectively gutted Native land reclamation efforts across the nation.
The current Governor Cuomo has proven to be a keen student of his father. He too has elected to ignore the Confederacy in favour of dealing with those factions which he has found easiest to manipulate. This was highly visible when, in his 2014 State of the State address, he cited leaders of those factions seated before him rather than invite representatives from the Confederacy itself. Perhaps Andrew Cuomo was feeling self satisfied knowing his May, 2013 agreement with the singular "representative and CEO" of the Oneida Nation of New York had given him everything he wanted.
That contract will prove to be the death of whatever is left of Iroquois sovereignty. It surrenders for all time any and all rights the Oneidas have to their 3, 500,000 acre homeland. It gives New York State 25% of all slot machine revenues from the Turning Stone Casino-pegged at $50,000,000 annually (In its annual report the Oneida Nation of New York has never given an independent audit of its gambling revenues to the Oneida people). It required the Oneida Nation to waive its sovereign immunity forever over any lands outside of a highly conditional 25,000 acre US federal trust area which the Oneidas must buy back from willing sellers.
And any such land purchased by the Oneidas will, under US law, restrict them to occupancy privileges only. It stomped on the aboriginal claims of the Mohawks, Onondagas and Cayugas by giving the Oneida Nation exclusive gambling rights in areas which are outside of their historical boundaries. It mandates that the Oneidas will pay taxes on all fuel, tobacco and product sales to non-Natives and requires them to charge prices equal in taxes to the surrounding county rates. It gives enforcement powers to the US federal courts with New York State retaining ultimate approval authority.
To date, the Oneida people have not seen, debated or sanctioned the May 17, 2013 compact. The lack of such an endorsement on issues of profound impact to the Oneidas does not seem to bother Governor Cuomo or the Oneida Nation "representative and CEO" at all.
And for this New York state pays nothing, gives up no lands, admits no wrongdoing, ignores any and all treaty obligations. Governor Cuomo may be smug knowing that despite any objections by the Confederacy or any legal challenge the compact with the Oneida Nation will not only be upheld by the courts but will be used as a model for any and all subsequent negotiations with Native entities. He has also cleared the table of the Iroquois enabling him to realize another of his father's goals and that is the expansion of casino gambling throughout the state by using the Natives as bait.
The Haudenosaunee may reverse the above beginning by supporting a change in leadership among the Oneidas with those who truly represent the people and are prepared to reject the May, 2013 compact since it violates the most critical elements of aboriginal self governance, exclusive jurisdiction and the rights of those yet unborn. Our moral, cultural, spiritual and legal obligations to the seventh generation require no less. Andrew Cuomo must not be allowed to extinguish the fires of the world's oldest democracy, the planet's first confederacy of nations.
Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the
Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. A former member of the Board of
Trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian he resides in Oneida
territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.
More from Doug George-Kanentiio:
Mohawk names grace state of New York (04/02)