It was a shocking move that left families scrambling for answers within the Cayuga Nation, as a wrecking crew led by the Clint Halftown faction of the group demolished more than a half-dozen full-structures along State Route 89 in Seneca Falls.
It ignited a long-standing internal struggle for leadership within the Cayuga Nation. And by Sunday, hours before the Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting, protesters lined up along Route 89.
"The Cayuga Nation has employed tribal law to detain persons who have violated that law, and the Nation has retaken possession of its properties," leaders with the Halftown faction said in a press release over the weekend. "In taking these actions, the Nation has acted in accordance with authority expressly recognized by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in a letter to Seneca Falls Chief of Police Stuart Peenstra in a letter dated June 17, 2019. In that letter, the BIA declared that the Cayuga Nation has 'inherent sovereign authority to enforce its own laws inside the Cayuga Indian Nation Reservation boundaries through a law enforcement program' and that 'the Cayuga Indian Nation may enforce its own criminal laws against Indians within the boundaries of the Reservation'."
They said demolishing the structures involved, which included a convenience store, gas station, ice cream stand, school house, and daycare were all necessary actions to "eliminate certain public safety issues." The Nation added, "[We do not] want these buildings to become a target for any further friction in the community going forward.”
Meanwhile, many in attendance of that special, emergency meeting of the Board of Supervisors, were concerned about the safety of the general public. The Board watched footage of Cayuga Nation Police entering a property owned by the Cayuga Nation with guns drawn, wearing tactical gear.
"I want to know that residents in Seneca County are going to be safe," one speaker at the meeting said. "People live around here, regular every-day citizens who want to know that there isn't the risk of harm to them or their families."
District Attorney Mark Sinkiewicz addressed the board publicly, assuring residents that any spillover would result in tough prosecutorial action.
“Residents need not fear,” he said. “The matter is being given great attention. Law enforcement agencies are aware of what’s going on.” Speaking to concerns for U.S. citizens, he added, “They will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” if property of persons are harmed.
For his part, Sheriff Tim Luce said law enforcement was first notified of a takeover in the week leading up to that night. “During the week of February 17th the Seneca Falls Police Department received credible information that the Clint Halftown faction was planning a takeover of the Lakeside Trading Property located on Route 89, at Garden Street Extension,” he said. “This take-over was scheduled for 2 a.m. on Saturday, February 22.”
Sheriff Luce said Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuart Peenstra requested assistance from the New York State Police and Seneca County Sheriff’s Office. “A unified command was established and an operational plan was developed,” Luce added. “Officers from the SFPD, NYSP, and Sheriff’s Office were dedicated to the detail.” He said that federal authorities were also notified of the planned takeover.
Among the actions that were taken as part of this effort, roving unmarked patrol cars monitored the involved areas throughout the duration of the event; a drone was deployed to also monitor the incident once it began; and informants were utilized to maintain intelligence on-site. The Sheriff said that special ‘response teams’ were organized and staged to respond to complaints or issues in the involved area, and traffic post teams were setup to respond if it became necessary to close roads surrounding the involved area. Emergency medical, communications, and fire services were also staged in the area.
“No non-Indian citizens or children were involved,” Sheriff Luce added. “Several buildings on the Lakeside Trading property were rendered ‘inoperable’ by the CIN using heavy equipment.”
Meanwhile, an attorney representing the Unity Council faction, called for a federal investigation. Joe Heath, who has been involved in various legal matters involving the Cayugas since 1975 said the opposition group was targeted. “What kind of government tears down a daycare center for political reasons?” Heath asked the supervisors. “Leaders have not been selected through a correct or legitimate process,” he said. “It is not a traditional government. It is not a legitimate government.”
When Halftown's legal representation was given an opportunity to speak, they were not in attendance of the meeting. Board Chairman Bob Hayssen called the entire ordeal an instance of 'domestic terrorism' that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The Board of Supervisors passed three resolutions unanimously at the meeting. The first called on federal representatives to freeze all funds to the Cayuga Nation. The second, requested continued deployment of the U.S. Marshals Service to Seneca County. And the third, requested federal prosecutors to investigate 'recent conduct' of the Cayuga Nation.