Contact: Gary Kuozak
The tragic death of James Spoon from Forestville yesterday in a highway accident on the Allegany Reservation underscores the critical need to resolve the conflict which has erupted between New York State and Native Americans on several reservations over the past few days, including the Tuscarora Reservation in my congressional district. There is plenty of blame on all sides to share for this incident, but what is most important now is that we bring order to this situation before it escalates any further.
The following is clear: Governor Pataki has entered into a temporary agreement with the legally recognized leaders of certain tribes to resolve long-standing tax issues. A long term agreement is expected in the near future. The Governor and the tribes generally have authority to enter into tax agreements, and the United States Supreme Court has been clear on the right of New York State to tax its non-Indian citizens for purchases they make of certain goods on Indian lands.
On the other hand, dissident Indians from tribes which have signed the Interim Agreement, as well as Indians from tribes which have not signed, raise important legal and procedural questions: Is the Interim Agreement, as drafted, constitutional and legal? Should the federal government be involved in reviewing it? What exactly, did the chiefs sign--and which chiefs?
All of these questions could be answered simply by reviewing a copy of the Interim Agreement--but I have been amazed to find that New York State has chosen to make the document completely unavailable to state legislators, the media, or anyone else. I contacted both the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior and the Tribal Justice Division of the Department of Justice on Monday and Tuesday of this week and was shocked to find that even they have been unable to obtain a copy of the Agreement. I have personally been absolutely stonewalled by the Governor's Office, despite the fact that I am a member of Congress representing constituents who reside on and around the Tuscarora Reservation.
This conflict should not be permitted to escalate. Obviously, any violence, intimidation, or violations of the law should cease immediately. Indian business leaders and their followers should seek any redress they think is appropriate in the courts, not on the streets or highways.
And the Governor's Office should immediately release this Interim Agreement to the public and adopt a more forthcoming, open, and inclusive process. These steps will help mitigate confusion and conflict, and prevent further unnecessary tragedy.