SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ Attorneys for the state have asked a federal judge to dismiss a land claim filed last year by the Onondaga Indian Nation, saying the tribe waited too long to file its lawsuit.
New York Assistant Attorney General David Roberts also argued that any taking of property now would be too disruptive to residents and the government.
The Onondagas filed their lawsuit in March 2005, laying claim to 4,000 square miles in 11 upstate New York counties stretching from Pennsylvania to Canada and including Syracuse and other cities. About 875,000 people live in the claim area.
A lawyer for the Onondagas said Thursday that the state’s response is misdirected.
“Our lawsuit is one of healing, not disruption,” said Joe Heath, the tribe’s attorney. “It was the chiefs’ decision not to go after people or land. We just want recognition that we still possess title to these lands.”
In asking U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn for a dismissal, Roberts in a filing on Tuesday cited recent rulings by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2005, the 2nd Circuit Court set aside a $248 million judgment awarded by a lower court to the Cayuga Indians and then dismissed the tribe’s entire land claim, saying it had waited too long to file. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reconsider the Cayugas’ case.
Last year, in another case involving a New York tribe, the high court ruled that too many years had passed for the Oneida Indian Nation to claim that its reacquired reservation lands were again sovereign and tax-exempt.
The same arguments that doomed the Oneidas’ and Cayugas’ claim apply to the Onondagas, Roberts wrote.
The Onondagas must file a response by Oct. 16.
Heath disputed the state’s claim that the Onondagas waited more than 200 years to make their claim. It wasn’t until 1974 that Indian nations could bring their land claims to federal court, he said. Heath added that the Onondagas didn’t immediately go to court because they tried to resolve their grievance between governments.
“For the Onondagas to think about going to the court of another government is an act that’s against their sovereignty,” he said.
The Onondagas were the last tribe of the original Iroquois Confederacy to file a land claim alleging that New York state illegally took possession of its lands beginning more than two centuries ago.
Unlike the other tribes’ land claims, the Onondagas’ lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, eviction of residents or rental payments. The tribe wants a court judgment that New York violated federal law in acquiring the land and that the region continues to belong to the Onondaga Nation.
Onondaga leaders said they would use their land claim to compel the state to undertake environmental cleanup of hazardous sites like Onondaga Lake.