Land case untested

May 23, 2006 3:44 AM

Well, that settles it: The Supreme Court has proven that going to a higher power for help does not necessarily get you what you want. Such is the case for the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma. The tribes, along with the federal government, asked the court to reverse last year’s decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the tribes’ land claim and nearly $250 million judgment. The court refused to consider it.

The land claim dates back to the early 1990s when a federal judge ruled that the state of New York had entered into invalid treaties with the Cayugas in the late 1700s and early 1800s and illegally acquired more than 64,000 acres of tribal land. The tribes were awarded a total of nearly $250 million in damages by a judge and jury in 2000, but the state and county challenged the ruling and judgment.

The Court of Appeals ruled last year that the tribes had waited too long to reclaim sovereign title to their lands. After the ruling, the New York Cayugas applied to put the 125 acres they own in Seneca and Cayuga counties into federal trust. The two bingo halls located on the land are currently closed.

New York officials were celebrating the Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the case. "We’re ecstatic," said Seneca County Attorney Steven Getman. "This land claim has hung over the heads of our citizens for 26 years ”¦ this is the end of the road. It’s over."

Cayuga attorney Dan French told the Associated Press that the tribes never cared about the monetary damages. "It’s been about the land," he said.

The Supreme Court may have just set a precedent in motion. Time will tell how their inaction affects other land claim cases nationwide.

"Our history has taught us to expect little," said New York Cayuga representative Clint Halftown, "and today’s decision confirms what we always suspected — that we can’t and should never have trusted this process."


In California, the San Pasqual Indian band is suing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Gaming Control Commission for depriving the tribe of slot-machine licenses, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

In the lawsuit, the tribe contends that its 1999 compact entitles it to 2,000 slot machines. They currently have just 1,572 at their Valley View Casino. The tribe is in the midst of a $100 million expansion of the facility.

But state regulators say the pool of slot licenses available under the 1999 compacts has been depleted, leaving new and expanding casinos high and dry.

Tribes Unite Efforts

Three Nebraska tribes are taking matters into their own hands in an effort to bring legalized casino gambling to the state. Members of the Winnebago, Santee Sioux and Omaha tribes have banded together as the Nebraska Tribal Self-Reliance Initiative, and are launching their campaign with a petition. They hope to get enough signatures by July 7 (they need around 115,000) to get their proposal put on November’s general election ballot.

The petition calls for one off-reservation, tribally owned Class III casino. (Class III gaming is currently illegal in the state.) In return, the tribes would not build casinos on their reservations.