CATTARAUGUS INDIAN RESERVATION - The Seneca Nation began shutting down all but essential government operations yesturday, declaring a state of "economic disaster."
Unpaid Seneca Nation deputy marshals walked off the job yesturday.
And on Monday, the nation will close down educational programs, including preschool and language courses, as well as garbage pickups and other "non-essential" programs. The only exceptions: health care and emergency services, Tribal Councilor Susan Abrams said.
There are about 3,000 reservation residents who will be affected as well as some of the 4,000 tribal members who live near the reservation. Most school-age children attend public schools off the reservation that will remain open.
The economic crisis threatened to unravel an uneasy truce between Native Americans and State Police, forged after a violent clash last weekend that shut down the state Thruway and left scores of police and Native Americans injured. Native American leaders blame their crisis on a state embargo that blocked the deliveries of petroleum and tobacco products to the reservation.
Gov. George Pataki imposed the embargo April 1. That means the reservation's three government-run gas and tobacco shops have not had products to sell. Abrams said her government has lost millions in gross sales.
The state blocked the shipments because the Senecas refuse to sign a state tax agreement, which they say violates their federally guaranteed sovereignty.
"We are in an absolute economic crisis because of what the governor has done to us," Abrams said yesturday. "We have had to eliminate more than 100 jobs, and many more people are out of work" at the reservation's 42 non-government tobacco shops and gas stations, she said.
Mike McKeon a Pataki spokesman, yesturday said that the Senecas have "chosen" the economic crisis as the only alternative to the governor's plan to collect an estimated $300 million in sales taxes from Native American businesses that had been exempt.
Pataki's plan calls for turning the money back to tribal governments. The economic crisis "is an unfortunate choice that they (Native Americans) have made," McKeon said. "The way to correct it is to have good faith negotiations."
At tribal headquarters and in homes on the Cataraugus and Allegany reservations, a cautious optimism that had prevailed earlier soured yesterday over state reports that the governor had denied making a "verbal agreement" on Wednesday with Seneca President Michael Schindler.
Schindler and Abrams said the governor had apparently reneged on a promise he made to accept a face saving "letter of understanding" in lieu of a formal signed "agreement" on the tax plan. They say Pataki also reneged on a promise not to require them to share information on reservation businesses with state auditors.
"The governor seems to be a man who doesn't keep his word, and that is very upsetting to our people," Schindler said.
"In 200 years, nothing has changed," added Abrams. "The white man speaks with forked tongue."
McKeon refused to comment on what Indians say was the verbal agreement Pataki made with them personally and through Secretary of State Alexander Treadwell and other state officials who met with Indians near the reservation Tuesday.
Meanwhile last night, tribal officials were desperately seeking volunteers to be deputized as marshals and enforce a peace that had prevailed since a Tuesday truce.
Disappointed by the state's apparent change of heart and the lack of money to pay them for their time, many of the estimated 50 marshals sworn in Tuesday walked off their posts yesturday, tribal spokeswoman Rosemary Patterson said.
"We are worried about what might happen on the reservation this weekend, and the State Police are back watching the roads and bridges because we have lost our peacekeepers," Patterson said.
Abrams, Schindler and Patterson said they fear that anger of reservation residents over being forced out of work by the state embargo will spark a resumption of tire burning, road blockages and other protests that have resulted in confrontations with police.
Individual shop owners say they have been hit hard with the embargo.
"My husband and I had to close our business two weeks ago because we couldn't get products," said Paula Gates, who with her husband, Randall, has operated the R&B Smoke Shop for three years.
"It's tough," Gates said, "We got four kids to support."
Senecas say the state action will destroy their tribe's fledgling economic independence.
"What the governor is doing," Abrams said, "is destroying our entire economic base.
This is devastating the Seneca Nation's ability to improve our commerce and develop a stable base for economic self- sufficiency."
From: "Paula M." email@example.com
Date: Sat, 26 Apr 1997 21:51:40
Subject: Re: Pataki reneges on agreement
brothers and sisters all,
this is outrageous and cannot be tolerated! we need to hear from our elders who can advise us, on how best we can help. i ask this respectfully. meanwhile, i will continue trying to get through to the media out here. they just are not going for it. either that or they say they will do it, and never do.
even my neighbors have heard nothing about our brothers and sisters in NY, and want to talk about other things. i have drawn the line. i may not have the words i once had, but am ready to battle with whatever i have.
our brothers and sisters are being systematically lied to and economically plowed under. this is typical third world treatment....not befitting the sovereign first nation, first people, of turtle island!
in the struggle and in spirit,