Cayuga Indian Nation’s Big Casino Dreams Shattered

An internal dispute has caused the Cayuga Indian Nation big money after the authorities declined to issue the required permissions to the body. 

A leadership dispute took a major turn in February 2020 when nation leader Clint Halftown took the bold step of sending bulldozers to destroy buildings including a store, daycare center, and schoolhouse.

The decision, which came about 15 years after the tribe took the first step to apply to have land taken into trust, is a major one as it nixes the council’s ambitions to elevate its bingo operations into a full-blown casino resort.

Land into trust is a term used to describe a legal process that involves the federal government taking land through voluntary transfer and converting it into tribal territory. 

As a result, the land stops being a part of the state’s jurisdiction. This is mandatory to establish a tribal casino as explained in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988).

The DOI, however, isn’t in a mood to listen. It sent a letter to the leader Clint Halftown in July, which was received only a few days ago, to announce the decision.

According to Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, the February 2020 incident played a major role in this decision.

More About the February 2020 Incident

Halftown orders the local police to bulldoze several buildings controlled by ‘the Unity Council’, a rival faction that doesn’t recognize Halftown.

According to the witnesses present at the scene, the police threatened to shoot security guards if they interfered. 

Things continued to escalate and the two groups were often pitched against each other.

According to the Unity Council, the clan mothers chose its members in 2003 after the untimely death of a previous leader. This is the same year Halftown became a representative of the tribe – a position the Unity Council declines to recognize.

They are against Halftown’s plans to build a casino as they wish to maintain traditions. The Cayuga Nation was earlier in the news for suing the Showtime network for presenting it in a bad light.

While it lost the case, the legal battle brought the situation to the limelight.

What the Letter Said 

“The destruction of property – including a day care and schoolhouse – and significant acts of public violence are serious matters, and they weaken the trust that the Nation’s government can operate at this time in a harmonious manner with the other governments and law enforcement officers that share the same geography as the Nation’s reservation,” said the letter.

“Taking the Property into trust at this time could heighten the current tension between the Nation and its neighbors, further complicating and exacerbating an already inflammatory situation,” it added.

Reaction to the Letter

Halftown was quick to react to the letter. The official statement called the decision “arbitrary and irrational,” and bashed the DOI for not having the “courage to overcome local political pressure, much of it racially motivated.”

“The Department abdicated its legal responsibility to the Nation for 15 years and continues to do so,” he said.C

We might not see another tribal casino anytime soon, but fans of gambling can turn to Alberta as VLTs are coming back to the state.

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