[Paleopsych] NYT: Tribe Lays Claim to 3, 100 Square Miles of New York State, but It Will Settle for Less

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Mon Apr 18 19:28:56 UTC 2005

Tribe Lays Claim to 3,100 Square Miles of New York State, but
It Will Settle for Less

    The Onondaga Nation, an Indian tribe based in upstate New York, filed
    a lawsuit yesterday claiming that it owns 3,100 square miles of land
    stretching from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Pennsylvania border and
    including Syracuse.

    The tribe contends that the State of New York illegally acquired the
    land in a series of treaties between 1788 and 1822 and has asked the
    Federal District Court in Syracuse to declare that it still holds
    title to the land, which is now home to hundreds of thousands of
    people and includes all or part of 11 counties.

    It is the largest Indian land claim ever filed in the state. The tribe
    said that it does not want all of that land, however, but that its
    principal intent is to gain leverage to clean up polluted sites in the
    land claim area.

    The lawsuit names as defendants the State of New York, the City of
    Syracuse and Onondaga County, as well as five corporations that, the
    nation contends, have damaged the environment in the claim area.

    Todd Alhart, a spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki, said late
    yesterday that the governor's office had not yet received a copy of
    the claim. "We will take whatever steps may be necessary to protect
    the interests of property owners and taxpayers in central New York,
    the Southern Tier and the northern New York region," Mr. Alhart said.

    Unlike other Indian tribes that have filed land claims against the
    state, the Onondaga Nation, which has about 1,500 members, is not
    seeking monetary damages or the right to operate casinos in New York.
    Instead, tribal representatives said, the Onondagas want a declaratory
    judgment saying the land, which they consider ancestral territory, was
    taken illegally.

    They then hope to use such a ruling to force the cleanup of sites in
    the claim area, particularly Onondaga Lake, a federal Superfund site
    and one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the nation.

    The Onondaga Nation has made the cleanup of the lake, which is 4.5
    miles long and one mile wide, one of its priorities. The tribe has
    lived near the lake for centuries and regards it as sacred land.

    Tribal representatives said yesterday that the nation would not sue
    individual property owners or try to evict them.

    "The nation has said flat-out that individuals have nothing to worry
    about," said Dan Klotz, a spokesman for the nation. The Onondagas, he
    said, "will not waver from that."

    Other pending Indian land claims in New York have not interfered with
    property transactions, experts on Indian law said.

    "They don't plan to press for eviction as a remedy and I don't think
    there's ever been a court that has seriously considered eviction,"
    said John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of
    American Indians, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for tribal
    governments. "I think that homeowners can rest easy."

    At the same time, however, tribal authorities said they were in the
    market for more land. The nation's reservation is an 11-square-mile
    parcel south of Syracuse. Joseph J. Heath, an attorney who represents
    the Onondaga Nation, said if the court rules in the tribe's favor, he
    expected that settlement talks with the state to follow, including
    discussions about expanding the nation's reservation and protecting
    ancestral burial grounds threatened by development.

    Mr. Heath said the tribe would try to buy land only from "willing
    sellers" and the government.

    Still, Mr. Heath and other tribal representatives emphasized that the
    tribe's main intent was to gain more influence over state
    environmental policy and push for environmental cleanups in their
    region. "They're sick of being ignored on environmental issues," Mr.
    Heath said.

    The tribe's elders have discussed filing suit for more than 50 years,
    they said in interviews yesterday. But as the pollution in the lake
    increased - and their own population expanded - they felt compelled to
    take legal action.

    Decades of industrial dumping left a layer of toxic sludge on the lake
    bottom and drove the federal government to place it on the Superfund
    list of toxic waste sites in 1994. Last November, state regulators
    announced a plan to require Honeywell International to conduct a $448
    million cleanup of the lake, including extensive dredging of the lake
    bottom to remove much of the 165,000 pounds of mercury and other
    toxins that have collected there.

    Honeywell is one of five companies named in the Onondaga lawsuit. It
    is responsible for the cleanup because in 1999 it merged with Allied
    Chemical, which owned a plant that was accused of being one of the
    lake's main polluters.

    The Onondagas have called the cleanup plan inadequate and say the
    state was legally obligated to consult with the tribe's chiefs but did

    Mr. Alhart, the governor's spokesman, rejected the nation's assertion
    that the state was being lax on the cleanup of Lake Onondaga or that
    it had ignored the nation.

    The lawsuit also names four other companies that operate a gravel
    mine, limestone quarry and coal-burning power plant in the region. In
    the lawsuit, the Onondagas also named Clark Concrete Company and a
    subsidiary, Valley Realty Development, which own a gravel mine in
    Tully, N.Y.

    The nation has accused the mine of polluting the Onondaga Creek, which
    runs into the lake. The nation also named Hanson Aggregates North
    America, the owners of a limestone quarry in DeWitt, and Trigen
    Syracuse Energy Corporation, a coal-burning power plant in Geddes.

    Attempts made late yesterday to reach officials with those companies
    were unsuccessful.

    Tribal representatives said yesterday that they were not seeking a
    casino as part of a settlement of the claim. Casinos are a central
    component of five Indian land claim settlement agreements that Gov.
    George Pataki announced in recent months.

    Michelle York contributed reporting from the Onondaga Indian
    Reservation for this article.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list