Structures were damaged by The Cayuga Nation in a dispute with the Unity faction of the nation.

Courtesy of Cayuga Lake Trading Post

Structures were damaged by The Cayuga Nation in a dispute with the Unity faction of the nation.

February 26, 2020

Cayuga Nation Leadership Standoff Culminates in Late-Night Building Demolition, Sparking Backlash From N.Y. Officials

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The Cayuga Nation Council seized and demolished 12 buildings at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning in Seneca Falls, New York – the result of a dispute between two tribal factions, both claiming to lead the Cayuga Nation.

In a press release sent later that morning, the council, led by the Halftown faction, stated, “the Cayuga Nation has employed tribal law to detain persons who have violated that law, and the Nation has retaken possession of its properties.”

The properties, which included a gas station, an ice cream stand and a daycare center, were being operated by members of the Unity faction, which claims to be the traditional leaders of the Cayuga tribe and reject the council.

Last October, the New York Court of Appeals refused to rule on which faction had jurisdiction over the properties after the council sued to recover them, arguing that the dispute was out of the court’s jurisdiction, The Citizen previously reported.

The council police force, which was established only a year ago, reportedly found methamphetamine, marijuana, guns and ammunition on the properties. The Cayuga Nation Council said it demolished the buildings “to eliminate certain public safety issues,” and to prevent them from becoming “a target for any further friction in the community.”

In June 2019, the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a letter to Seneca Falls law enforcement recognizing the Cayuga Nation Council as the official leadership of the Nation.

This memo was used as justification for the council’s actions on Saturday, in lieu of a ruling from the State Court of Appeals: The Nation stated in its press release that its actions were “in accordance with authority expressly recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs”. 

Joseph Heath, legal counsel for the Unity faction, referred to the demolition as “viciously unlawful,” the Ithaca Times reported. Heath referred to the Cayuga Nation Council as a “newly concocted government, which was created with the illegal, backroom assistance of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Seneca County officials have strongly objected to the bulldozing of the properties, calling on both Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and New York’s two Senators to halt federal funds to Cayuga Nation until the conflict is resolved. The incident is now being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Marshall Service.

“We do not support this kind of violence that’s gone on there,” said Supervising Chair Robert Hayssen (R-Varick), who likened the actions to “domestic terrorism,” according to the Daily Messager.

Saturday’s disruption has attracted attention statewide, with political leaders weighing in on the disputed leadership. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for a federal investigation by the Department of Justice and the Interior Department.

“What happened was awful,” Schumer told reporters. “[It] cannot go unpunished.”