During the autumn of 2021, community advocates and representatives of a particular leadership faction within the Cayuga Indian Nation sought Enfield’s help. They sought to advance the position that the so-called “traditional” faction within the Cayuga Nation truly represents the majority of Cayugas.
The matter is complex and defies a full explanation in these few paragraphs. Nonetheless, a revised Resolution was presented before the Enfield Town Board November 10th, 2021 that would have the Town Board advise the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs of the leadership dispute and of the Town’s highly-nuanced opinion toward its resolution. The Town Board adopted the November Resolution unanimously.
First, transcribed here, is the relevant portion of my report on that Town Board meeting of November 10th; followed by an explanation of my vote on the Board’s Resolution and a transcription of my statement to the Board in explaining and qualifying my vote.
From the News Report:
Cayuga Nation: Brought back for consideration for a second straight month, the Town Board adopted, unanimously, a much-revised Resolution that stepped only as far as the Board dared go toward endorsing Chief Sachem George’s “traditionalists” in their ongoing leadership dispute for control of the Cayuga Indian Nation.
Though other lawmaking bodies—most notably the Tompkins County Legislature—have declined to touch the issue that Enfield tackled head-on, Enfield lawmakers found themselves lobbied heavily by local activists; their group, Anti-Racists in Enfield; and Sachem George himself.
The heavily-reworked Enfield Resolution, adopted Wednesday, urges the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to “take a proactive role in protecting the traditional Cayuga Nation’s citizens, by undertaking a thorough investigation” into the February 2020 property destruction at the Cayuga’s’ Seneca County properties. It further urged federal authorities to commence “reassessing the competence and effectiveness” of Clint Halftown’s rival faction that now controls the Nation as its “Federal Representative.”
Councilperson Lynch, who’d declined to commit himself prior to Wednesday, acknowledged he’d endured “agony” this past month in deciding his vote, “torn in different directions,” he said, between respected constituents who saw the destructive acts as warranting intervention and those, equally persuasive, who’d warned Board involvement itself could break the law.
“If I were acting in a vacuum,” Lynch told the Board, “If I were the Town of Enfield Board by myself, I probably would say I’ve got to stay clear of this because it’s really outside our borders.” “And if we start dealing with issues that lie outside our borders, he added, “pretty soon we’ll be dealing with the Wiegers in China and the Palestinians in Gaza and people in Texas who want an abortion. And we really can’t do that. We have to pay attention to Enfield matters.”
Yet Lynch admitted he doesn’t act in a vacuum, but as one Board member of five. And he relented to make the vote unanimous because, he said, the Board “should speak with one voice.”
But what followed that vote, no one but Lynch had expected. The previous holdout Councilperson next introduced a second, more pointed Resolution. It sought to join Seneca County’s own call for a State Attorney General’s investigation, including appointment of a special prosecutor, to probe both a Grand Jury’s indictment of a non-Indigenous resident stemming from an altercation with Cayuga Nation police, and also the February 2020 bulldozing of those Cayuga Nation buildings. The Resolution would perhaps extend the appeal to Albany beyond what even Seneca County Supervisors had requested.
The surprise Resolution caught many at the meeting off-guard. Members at times voiced sympathy for the unexpected initiatives; but at other moments, feared overreach. Councilperson Lemke questioned whether outside authorities could even enforce New York law on Cayuga Nation land.
“In my opinion,” said Lynch, “the Seneca County law enforcement community and its leaders have been so woefully negligent in this matter.” Lynch, a paralegal, said a felony charge of criminal mischief, second degree “fits like a glove,” and that “any layperson” could find probable cause to indict.
Monday, November 8th, Seneca County District Attorney Mark Sinkiewicz confirmed to Lynch directly that “There was not a Grand Jury action taken for the February destruction of the buildings.”
“It should be prosecuted. It was not prosecuted, and I think the Attorney General has to become involved,” Lynch told the Enfield Board.
On November 4th, David Ettman, Seneca County Attorney, at the County Board of Supervisors’ request, wrote Attorney General Leticia James, stating, “The Board seeks an independent review of all the facts and circumstances related to both February 2020 incidents, and the interaction with the federal, state, and local officials, which has apparently led to only one local prosecution and no action by the Cayuga Indian Nation.”
The non-Indigenous man prosecuted, Charles Bowman, attended Wednesday’s Enfield online meeting. He spoke briefly, endorsing Lynch’s call for an A.G.’s review. But some on the Town Board were hesitant.
“I’m not familiar enough to really comment on this or am I prepared to vote,” said attorney Lemke. “It was action on Cayuga Nation land by Cayuga citizens. I’m not sure what authority the Seneca Police would have, given that it’s a sovereign nation”
“I see a grave injustice here,” Lynch responded. “I regard people who are Native Americans as American citizens. I presume they do have the right to vote. If they have the right to vote, they are American citizens and should be subject to American law.”
“Actions on that February day were just incredibly repulsive and damaging,” said Councilperson Bryant. But Bryant also warned, “I’d hate to create a firestorm” by the Resolution’s adoption.
“I am equally appalled with the actions of this police force,” Supervisor Redmond agreed But she, too, urged delay to allow “various groups to have a moment to review this.”
Lynch’s Resolution to refer the matter to the A.G. was then tabled until at least December.
Now, my comments:
Why I voted as I did
Posted November 14, 2021
Wednesday, November 10th, at our Town Board meeting, I joined my four colleagues in supporting a revised Resolution requesting the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), in the Board Resolution’s words, “take a proactive role in protecting the traditional Cayuga Nation’s citizens, by undertaking a thorough investigation into [recent acts of destruction on Cayuga Nation property in Seneca County], and reassessing the competence and effectiveness of its designated ‘Federal Representative,’” namely, Clint Halftown and his allied faction.
Some say I voted wrongly, that I stuck my (and our Town’s) neck out where it didn’t belong. You may be right. But holding public office often demands tough decisions, votes that may, in retrospect, not always prove correct.
I offered my own Resolution that night after the Board’s measure passed unanimously. Mine urges a State Attorney General’s investigation into the alleged criminal acts themselves. It steers clear of Cayuga Nation leadership issues, as I believe it should. My Resolution was tabled. We’ll revisit it another day, and in another posting.
For now, let me quote you the words I spoke to our Town Board November 10th. It explains why I voted as I did:
“Before I cast my vote I want to say a few things, and I want to explain on the record why I’m going to vote the way I am going to vote and the agony I’ve been going through on this in the past month. And it has been because I’ve been torn in different directions by very persuasive and very convincing people and very knowledgeable people. And they’re people I respect. And they have different opinions.
“And the one side says, the Enfield Board has to do something. Bob, you have to do something because of the horrendous actions that were taken in the Cayuga Nation by a purported leader of that Nation. You have to do something.
“On the other side, there are people who say, but it’s a legal question. And constitutionally, we can’t get involved. It’s not legal for us to intercede between the Cayuga Nation and the Federal Government. And I respect that point of view as well.
“I like this Resolution a whole lot better than I did the [one] last month, and I’ll also tell you why. The last month’s meeting I felt was pushing us to, basically I’ll be blunt, flaunt our white privilege to try to tell an Indian nation how to govern itself. And I really felt uncomfortable about that, ethically. And this Resolution does not do that. So fortunately that is behind us.
“If I were acting in a vacuum; if I were the Town of Enfield Board by myself; I probably would say I’ve got to stay clear of this because it’s really outside our borders. And if we start dealing with issues that lie outside our borders, pretty soon we’ll be dealing with the Wiegers in China and the Palestinians in Gaza and people in Texas who want an abortion. And we really can’t do that. We have to pay attention to Enfield matters.
“But I don’t operate in a vacuum. I operate as one Board member of five. And I have a pretty good sense that a majority of this Board, probably every other Board member, is going to support this Resolution. And I believe that when we deal with outside parties, we should speak with one voice. So tonight, with that qualification—and one further—I will vote in favor of the Resolution.”
[My second qualification was that I submit the Resolution calling for an Attorney General’s Investigation; a matter reserved for a later day.]
This discussion may continue.