After the Seneca County Board of Supervisors disagreed about how it should proceed with the Cayuga Nation and its debris-littered properties on the east side of State Route 89 in Seneca Falls, leadership has moved to go ahead with cleanup without the blessing of town or county officials.

More than a year ago a series of Nation-owned properties were destroyed as Nation leadership attempted to reclaim properties that had been occupied by an opposing faction. An internal leadership struggle has been well documented over the last several years, and according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was at least a contributor in last year’s denial of Land into Trust application on those properties.

Without the land in trust, the properties, known as fee lands, are held to the same standard as other taxed properties. Thanks to a local law on the books in Seneca County for years, taxes must be paid in-full for permits to be issued. 

In this case, the remainder of cleanup on the properties east of State Route 89, required permits, but could not be attained due to unpaid taxes.

Fast-forward to last week, and work to clean-up the property began. The Cayuga Nation’s back-taxes were not suddenly paid for, but work to clean-up started. Maria Stagliano, an account executive with Levick, who has spoken on behalf of the Cayuga Nation on matters related to the demolished properties in recent months, said the move came out of “deference to the Seneca Falls community.” “[The action was taken] under its authority as a sovereign Indian nation to issue these permits and begin the work needed to remove concerns regarding the debris.”

The Cayuga Nation, side-stepping Town and County officials, issued its own permits ahead of the clean-up project. The Nation had previously sought to work with County and Town officials in a meaningful way to get the properties cleaned up, but without issuance of those permits, common ground could not be found.

During the spring when this was debated, several supervisors seriously opposed granting the Nation an exception to the local law, citing it could be a slippery slope. One argument made during debate was if the local law needed to be re-evaluated then it should be evaluated on its own merits, not due to pressure from an issue marred by legal action.

“The Cayuga Nation has said repeatedly that it would remove the debris immediately after receiving a permit to do so,” Stagliano added. “By issuing its own permit pursuant to its sovereign authority, cleanup is underway.” 

Officials with the Cayuga Nation also noted  they were under no requirement to obtain permits, citing the fee lands as reservation status without having the land into trust application approved. They cited legal decisions from the mid-1990s as the driver for that logic and approach with these buildings.

To date, Seneca County has taken no known steps to stop or prevent the work from taking place.

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