Six Suits Filed Against Oneida Land-into-Trust Decision

July 21, 2008

By Gregory, Traci

VERONA – Including Gov. David Paterson and National Grid, more than a few groups have filed lawsuits to block the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) from placing nearly 13,004 acres of Oneida Indian Nation-owned land into federal trust.

On May 20, the DOI announced its decision to place the land into federal trust, a move that would eliminate state and local taxes on and regulation of that land. Information about the DOI’s decision is online at www.oneidanationtrust.net.

Through June 20, six different lawsuits opposing the DOI’s decision were filed by the state, Gov. Paterson, Oneida and Madison counties, the towns of Vernon and Verona, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans, and National Grid.

Each of the suits, for various reasons, seeks an injunction against the United States from taking land into trust.

The land the DOI intends to take into trust contains 80 Nation- member residences, the majority of government services, Turning Stone Resort and Casino, all five golf courses surrounding Turning Stone, four SavOn gas stations, 9,789 acres of agricultural lands, 3,076 acres of hunting and fishing lands, and 2,274 acres of wetlands.

Each of the lawsuits lists Dirk Kempthorne, secretary of the DOI, and P. Lynn Scarlett, deputy secretary, as defendants. Others listed in various suits include the DOI; the Bureau of Indian Affairs; U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey; DOI Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason; and Franklin Keel, regional director of the Eastern Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Nation has declined to comment on the individual lawsuits, but did release the following statement.

“The United States government has made its final decision following unprecedented levels of participation by our community. The matter is now over. The State and the counties, however, feel compelled to sue the federal government. Unfortunately, the people of Madison and Oneida counties are now stuck paying the lawyers’ fees for both sides of the case – the federal government on one side and the state and counties on the other side. In this economy, the last thing our community ought to be doing is footing the bill on both sides of a costly lawsuit that benefits nobody.”

Lawsuit breakdown

* State of New York, Gov. David Paterson, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Madison County, and Oneida County – Filed June 19 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The suit “is brought to overturn the extraordinary and unlawful decision of the Secretary of the Interior to take into trust for the Oneida Indian Nation 13,003.89 acres of land scattered over a two-county area in Central New York.” The suit alleges the determination is “unauthorized by law” and the DOI is “heavily biased” in favor of the Oneida Nation and seeks to prevent the DOI from taking any of the land into trust.

* Upstate Citizens for Equality, Inc. – filed June 16 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The suit claims the DOI acted “in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right in taking any land identified in the Defendant’s notice of intent into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.” The suit asks the court to declare the Indian Reorganization Act as unconstitutional and asks that no land be taken into trust.

* Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation (d/b/a National Grid) – filed June 19 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. According to the suit, National Grid supplies gas and electricity to a majority of customers in the area in question through its utility infrastructure. National Grid contends that placing the land into trust would “interfere with National Grid’s use of existing utility easements, rights of way, and franchise rights.” The suit seeks either a permanent injunction against the United States from taking any land into trust or the ability to effectively enforce protection of easements, rights of way, and franchise rights.

* City of Oneida – filed June 19 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The suit alleges that taking the land into trust would “deprive the City of Oneida of certain property rights and tax revenue, would result in increased costs to the City, and would threaten the health and safety of the City’s residents.” The city requests a permanent injunction against the United States from taking any land into trust.

* Town of Verona, Town of Vernon, Abraham Acee, and Arthur Strife – Filed June 19 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. This action seeks a declaration that the Defendants’ decision to acquire 13,003.89 acres of land into trust for the benefit of the OIN [Oneida Indian Nation] is illegal and it also seeks to enjoin the Defendants from implementing their challenged actions, together with an award of costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees.”

* The Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians – Filed June 17 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit alleges that a portion of land indicated to be taken into trust by the DOI is claimed by the Stockbridge-Munsee band and that taking the land into trust would breach the Department’s trust duties to Stockbridge under federal common law.

Copyright Central New York Business Journal Jun 27, 2008

(c) 2008 Business Journal – Central New York, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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