By Nathan Mayberg
ALBANY April 19, 2005 New York State Governor George Pataki announced last week that he intends to renegotiate his latest casino deal with all of the competing Native American tribes, save one: the Akwesasne Indians (part of the St. Regis Mohawks), who plan to build a casino at the site of Kutshers Sports Academy on Anawana Lake Road in Monticello.
The governor is expected to introduce a stand-alone bill for the tribe as early as this week for a casino and land claims settlement deal.
The reason the governor decided to renegotiate a recent United States Supreme Court case (City of Sherill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York) ended in a ruling against the tribes right to consider much of its property sovereign land.
Pataki spokesman Todd Alhart said yesterday, In light of the United State Supreme Court's recent decision in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. (2005), it has become clear that certain provisions of the Oneida and Cayuga settlements will not be supported by the affected local governments or the State Legislature. It has become necessary for the parties to these agreements to have further discussions to re-evaluate these provisions, which relate principally to the jurisdictional status of settlement lands and the collection of sales, use and excise taxes on goods and services sold on or from those lands.
The Governor remains committed to the four other settlement agreements, which would each allow for casinos in Catskills. Nonetheless, in spite of his good-faith efforts to obtain legislative approval of these settlement agreements, it has become clear that it would not be productive to continue to advance the settlement legislation as proposed.
In light of the Sherrill decision, we have withdrawn the legislation to review and re-evaluate certain provisions of the agreements with the tribes and with the local governments. We plan on introducing new legislation once an agreement on revised settlement terms are reached.
It is clear, however, that the Sherrill decision does not affect the settlement agreement with the Akwesasne Mohawks, and the governor intends to submit a new bill to the Legislature in the coming days to implement the terms of that agreement.
The Oneidas of Wisconsin, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, and the Cayuga Nation of New York all made land claims pursuant to the treaty used by the Oneidas in the case regarding their land claims, according to Patakis Indian Affairs counsel Greg Allen.
But the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma is slightly different they dropped their land claims in return for a casino at the Concord Resort, so it was not clear exactly how the governor intended to proceed in any of these matters.
The Sherrill case essentially stated that the Oneidas do not have sovereign rights to land they long ago sold. Therefore, the rights of several of the tribes to lay claim to state land is in question, including by a number of state legislators, although the governor is currently stating that he supports a deal with all five tribes.
New York State Senator John Bonacic said he was supportive of a deal with the Mohawks and has been a supporter of all five casinos since the Sullivan County Legislature approved five casinos in the Catskills (all of them want casinos in Sullivan County).
The senator said he is still pushing for a community fund to help Sullivan County with the impact of at least one casino. Pataki had initially proposed a $50 million fund to protect open space in the region as a result of five casinos, but Bonacic wants the fund to include schools, roads, emergency services, health care, affordable housing, transportation and the environment. Since only one casino is being proposed right now, he said he would call for a fund of $10 million.
Bonacic said the Mohawk casino would be smoke-free and would pay hotel taxes and sales taxes on certain goods (but not its casino operations). The Mohawks also reportedly have an agreement to allow for workers to be unionized, as well as for the construction of the casino and a hotel to be done by union workers, according to Bonacic.
Alhart said the governor will review Bonacics community fund proposal. He noted the New York State Department of Transportation is working on a plan to widen Route 42, which is currently a regular source of heavy traffic congestion.
The Akwesasne Indians, part of the St. Regis Mohawks, reached an agreement with Pataki earlier this year which would provide them with two islands, $100 million and their casino, if approved by the State Legislature and United States Congress.
Another faction of the Mohawks has opposed the deal and the right of those who signed it to act as representativess of the nation. Their opposition delayed the signing of a deal late last year, but they have apparently since been bypassed.
The Akwesasnes would receive $30 million from the state directly and another $70 million from the New York Power Authority over 35 years.
The tribe would be granted the Long Sault and Croil islands in the St. Lawrence River, as well as 215 acres of land identified as the Massena Point East Parcel.