Column: Cayuga land claim settlement a good deal

"In April 2005, the Cayuga Indian Nation (CIN) applied to the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to have property it owned in Seneca and Cayuga counties placed into federal trust. If approved, the land will become sovereign Indian territory, not subject to property taxation or local and state regulation. The CIN could then immediately (re)open Class II gambling establishments and with the revenue from them continue to expand its reservations via trust applications.

Against this backdrop the State of New York retained attorneys to represent Seneca and Cayuga counties in negotiation with attorneys for the CIN. On May 22, the attorneys presented a settlement proposal that appears to be in the best interests of the counties and the state.

It provides for annual payments substantially in excess of property taxes that would be due to the counties and their affected municipalities and schools. Those funds would come from the proceeds of a Class III casino, to be located in New York, but not in Seneca or Cayuga counties unless approved by that county. The CIN has agreed not to operate any Class II gambling establishment in either county without the approval of that county. No more than 3,333 acres in Seneca County and no more than 6,667 acres in Cayuga County would be taken, those acres being in no more than three clusters of contiguous land in each county, and they would be held in restricted fee status rather than in trust. Limited waivers of sovereign immunity would be signed to ensure that terms of the agreement could be enforced. The agreement would not take effect until the United States Congress ratified the settlement, thus ensuring its finality.

Because these guarantees hold the counties and the state harmless, and because this agreement would once and for all bring closure to the 27-year-old Cayuga land dispute, I support this proposal. Given the open-ended nature of the federal trust process and the absence of any compensation for lost taxes and regulatory control when land goes into trust, we really have no good alternative. This proposed agreement provides an essentially win-win outcome for the counties and the CIN.

I do not personally support sovereignty or gambling, but as public policy these matters are beyond our counties' control. I have met several times with Sen. Charles Schumer, Congressman Michael Arcuri, members of Sen. Hillary Clinton's staff, Gov. Eliot Spitzer's Special Counsel, and officials of other counties, and I believe that this is the best possible resolution of the trust issue that we can achieve. We cannot blame the Cayugas for seeking sovereign land when federal laws and statutes provide for it."

Get the Story:
David L. Dresser: Time has come to shake hands on land dispute (The Ithaca Journal 6/5)

Cayuga Land Claim Decision:
Cayuga Nation v. New York (June 28, 2005)

Relevant Links:
Indian Nation Fee-to-Trust Land Acquisition Applications in New York State -

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