Statement by Sidney Hill, Tadodaho, Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs
“The Onondaga Nation strongly takes exception to the Appeals Court decision to throw out the Cayuga Nation’s land claim. To us, it seems strange that a Federal Court would so casually re-write Federal laws, treaties, and the constitution of the Unites States, the supreme law of the land.
“In taking the land from the Cayuga, Onondaga, and other Haudenosaunee nations, New York State knowingly violated federal law: the Trade and Intercourse Acts, which specifically prohibited states from taking territory from sovereign Indian Nations without federal involvement and approval. The Appeals Court decision does not contest that Federal Law was violated; it instead contends that there is no point in remedying this violation.
”Earlier this year, the Onondaga Nation filed a land rights action asking Federal Court to rule that New York State took the Nation’s land illegally. Both the Onondaga and the Cayuga are not responsible for delay or ‘laches.’ Two hundred years ago, the Cayuga, Onondaga, and other Haudenosaunee nations could not take New York State to court. These nations were the victims of constant political, social, economic exclusion and oppression. Most of the leaders spoke little or no English, they had virtually no money, and they had no way to get an attorney. The United States Government had also promised repeatedly in federal treaties that the federal government would protect their lands.
”In the 1920s an effort was made by the Haudenosaunee to take the New York Indian land rights cases to court, but the federal court decided that such suits could not be made in the federal courts. That decision prevented these cases from being considered for another 45 years. Only in 1974 did the U.S. Supreme Court change the rule and open the court house door. It was not until 1985 that the Supreme Court ruled that such claims are valid.
“The recent U.S. Supreme Court’s Sherrill decision did not reject the land claims but only said that the Oneida could not buy back their historic territory thereby take it off the property tax rolls of our upstate neighbors. In exploring how to address century-old crimes done to sovereign Indian Nations, all parties would benefit by exploring ways to redress these wrongs so that all people living in Central New York will benefit. Ignoring these historic wrongs and injustices does not work.”
“Yesterday’s decision, if it is not reversed, would mean that, although the Cayuga’s land was taken illegally, they would be left with no remedy at all. This decision is not final. We expect that the Cayugas will try to reverse this decision by asking the full court, and if necessary the Supreme Court, to review it.