Saturday, June 02, 2007
By Mike McAndrew
A judge has postponed a hearing on a motion to dismiss the Onondaga Nation’s land claim suit because the federal government has not decided if it will join the case.
New York wants U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn, of Albany, to dismiss the suit because it says the state is immune from such a case unless the United States is a plaintiff.
A hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss was scheduled June 19 in Albany. Kahn plans to meet that day with the lawyers for the Onondaga Nation and the state. But he postponed arguments on the motion.
The United States intervened as a plaintiff in the Cayuga, Oneida and Mohawk land claims. But it has not done so in the Onondaga Nation’s case, which was filed in March 2005.
Interior Department lawyer David Moran notified the Onondaga Nation’s lawyers May 17 that the United States needed more time to decide if it will sue New York. He asked the Onondaga to provide the Interior Department with copies of historic documents related to New York’s purchase of the disputed land.
In their suit, the Onondaga have asked the court to declare that New York illegally acquired from the Onondaga approximately 4,000 square miles in five treaties negotiated between 1788 and 1822. The Onondaga asked the court to declare the nation holds legal title to a strip of land up to 40 miles wide stretching from Pennsylvania to Canada. The cities of Syracuse, Oswego, Fulton, Watertown, Cortland and Binghamton lie within the disputed territory. The Onondaga said they would not try to evict anyone living in the disputed territory.
Onondaga Nation lawyer Robert Coulter said he viewed Kahn’s recent ruling in the Oneida Indian Nation land claim as good news for the Onondaga. Kahn ruled May 21 the Oneida nation can’t take back land it sold more than a century ago, but the Oneidas might be entitled to profits the state made when reselling that land.
New York plans to appeal Kahn’s ruling on the Oneidas’ compensation.
Mike McAndrew can be reached at mmcandrew@syracuse. com or 470-3016.