Six nations meet, discuss ways to resist state intrusion

Representatives from all six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy emerged from a daylong conference here Wednesday to say they are forming a united front to resist state encroachment on their treaty rights.

The participants offered no specifics about the options they might employ to counter state attempts to tax cigarettes sold on reservation land and restrict their commerce in other ways—aside from the lawsuits the nations already have filed on their own.

For example, the Seneca Nation this week filed a complaint in U. S. District Court in Western New York challenging the underpinnings of the state’s plan to start collecting cigarette taxes from the tribes starting Sept. 1.

The Senecas have called on Gov. David A. Paterson and Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to delay the implementation until the matter can play out in federal court.

In response to a question from reporters about whether the violent confrontations of past years would be repeated on the interstate highways, Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. said, “I will do my darnedest to make sure there is peace” on the Seneca Nation territories in Western New York.

The Senecas helped organize the rare conference that drew together all six nations of the Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, and the participants preferred to highlight the historic nature of their assembly, in the Rochester Institute of Technology Inn and Conference Center.

The participants said it might have been the first event bringing together all six nations in at least decades, aside from a May event in Syracuse to support the Cayuga Nation as Seneca and Cayuga counties attempted to prosecute the tribe for failing to collect taxes.

The State Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, later said the counties could not prosecute the Cayuga Nation.

In a statement announcing their purpose, the participants said they “came together to reaffirm the ancient unity of the Haudenosaunee and with the common goal of defending our treaty-protected sovereign right to the free use and enjoyment of our lands . . . ”

“We are discussing issues of importance to each of our territories, not just the sale and taxation issue,” said J. C. Seneca, a Seneca Nation businessman and tribal councilor who heads the nation’s Foreign Relations Committee. “There are other issues in each of our communities that need to be brought out, that need discussion.”

He cited as an example state and federal efforts to monitor traffic through the St. Regis Reservation — Akwesasne. The reserve straddles the U. S.-Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River and allows foreigners an opportunity to bypass either U. S. or Canadian customs inspectors.

“The continued aggression from the state has to be met and dealt with by our people, by the Six Nations leadership. So if we are going to have a future we need to be able to come together, to build that foundation once again and to work together toward that common goal,” Seneca said.


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