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Onondaga Indians Sue NY Over Land But Spurn Casino

Date: 14-Mar-05
Country: USA
Author: Joan Gralla

"It is the duty of the Nation's leaders to work for a healing of this land, to protect it and to pass it on to future generations," Sid Hill, the Tadadaho, or spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation, said in a statement.

Unlike other New York Indian nations, the Onondagas said they do not want a casino in exchange for dropping their land claims. They are also not asking for a cash settlement for their lands located in central and northern New York State, their spokesman said.

New York State for years has been trying to resolve land claims by other Indian nations that have sparked fears homeowners might be evicted and hurt property values.

"We will not displace any of our neighbours," Hill said in a statement. "We do not want to open or operate casinos." The Onondaga's values "do not allow for the harm that casino gambling can cause," Hill explained.

That is a major break with the approach New York's other tribes have pursued. Gov. George Pataki in February asked the state legislature to approve five land settlements that will let the Indian nations build casinos in the Catskills.

The Onondaga's decision to sue was sparked in part by the state's failure to clean up Onondaga Lake, according to Onondaga spokesman Dan Klotz.

The tribe said it was suing Honeywell International Inc. because the world's largest maker of cockpit electronics and its predecessors let their chemical plants turn the lake into "the most polluted body of water on this continent," the tribe said.

Victoria Streitfeld, a Honeywell spokeswoman, said the company had been working "dilligently" with environmental regulators and will continue to do so.

Mark Gilmore, a plant manager for Trigen Syracuse Energy Corp. said, "We're in the process of looking at what we're going to do."

Spokesmen for the other two companies named in the suit, Clark Concrete Company of Syracuse and Hanson Aggregates of Irving, Texas, were not immediately available.

"They should do the clean-up," said another spokesman for the tribe, explaining the Indians chose the biggest companies in the area to sue.

The land the Onondagas are seeking in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Syracuse is a 40- to 50-mile wide stretch that runs north from near the Pennsylvania border to the St. Lawrence River, said the spokesmen for the tribe.

The territory includes the city of Syracuse, located 250 miles northwest of New York City in Onondaga County, where nearly 460,000 people live. Both Syracuse and the county were named in the suit.

The Onondaga Nation says New York State broke the law by failing to get the federal government to approve a series of land treaties from 1788 to 1822.

Joe Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs predicted it could take three years for the federal judge to rule on the nation's request for a declaratory judgment. "I think we have secured a very formidable seat at the table," he added.

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