Oneida and Madison County & Oneida Nation
May 18th 2012 · 0 Comments
For almost half-a-century the current struggles with Federal Indian Policy have been a part of the lives of the Mohawk Valley citizens. Since the foundation of the United States, the Federal Government has taken varying positions on their issues with Native Americans. There still seems to be much confusion with regard to the Federal Government and its involvement in the affairs of Oneida and Madison Counties and the Oneida Tribe of New York.
During the Revolution, the Tribes within New York were divided, some siding with the British and some with the colonists. Under the Articles of Confederation, the new government recognized the warring potential of those tribes and entered into treaties of peace with them. One of the first of those treaties was the 1788 Treaty of Fort Stanwix.
Treaties are an important item in the understanding of the issues at hand. They must, however be read and understood in their entirety. For instance the first entry of the 1788 treaty reads “The Oneidas do cede and grant all their lands to the People of the State of New York forever.” The second entry of that treaty reads “Of the said ceded lands the following tract to wit” followed by the description of 250-300,000 acres of land which the Oneidas claimed in Federal court in 1974.
This claim was recently settled by the courts in favor of the State and Counties. The second entry also included land for the Brothertown and a tract of six miles square for the Stockbridge Indians. This portion of the treaty is specific to the fact that the “Oneidas shall hold to themselves and their posterity forever for their own use and cultivation, but not to be sold, leased or in any other manner aliened or disposed of to others.”
In this second treaty entry, the State of New York established a “Use Right” for the Oneidas to part of the land which they ceded to the State of New York in the first entry. A Use Right is just that – the right for the Tribe to use the land until they choose to leave or in extinguishment by a sale of that Use Right to the State of New York.
The third entry established payment “In consideration of the said Cession and Grant, the People of the State of New York do at this treaty pay to the Oneidas two thousand dollars in money, two thousand dollars in clothing and other goods and one thousand dollars in provisions. ” The payment part of this treaty obligation was honored by the State fully.
The second treaty with the New York tribes that is of much interest is the 1794 treaty of Canandaigua. This treaty is a federal treaty signed after the establishment of the United States Constitution. By this time the State of New York had signed the constitution and was part of the United States.
The 1788 treaty of Fort Stanwix, however established the ceded lands of the Oneidas to the State of New York prior to that signing and therefore established the lands as part of the State of New York with no prior federal reserved rights. This is also an important treaty that must be read in its entirety.
Article 2 reads “The United States acknowledge the lands reserved to the Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga nations, in their respective treaties with the State of New York, and called their reservations, to be their property; and the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb them or either of the Six Nations, nor their Indian friends residing thereon and united with them, in the free use and enjoyment thereof. But the said reservations shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United States, who have the right to purchase.”
Noted Historian Francis Hutchins, in his book “Tribes and the American Constitution,” offers that ‘The ‘United States’ here meant the Federal Government.The treaty’s reference to “The people of the United States,” on the other hand, acknowledged that the Federal Government did not have “the right of purchase” which was held by New York State.
The Treaty did, however, declare the tribes’ State granted reservations to be the “property of the Oneida, Onondaga and Cayuga Nations” and implied that the Federal government intended in some manner to supervise their “free use and enjoyment thereof.”
Following, the 1794 Treaty of the Oneidas sold many parcels of their use right back to the State of New York. In 1970, the Federal courts accepted a claim against the State of New York by the Oneidas for 6 million acres of land located from the Canadian border to the Pennsylvania border. In 1988, all but the 250 to 300,000 acre claim was ruled against in the courts.
In the fall of 2012, this acreage claim was also denied by the courts. If the decisions of the courts had ruled in favor of the tribe, all of the land within the 6 million acres (including Utica, New Hartford and etc.) would be subject to possible eviction and or monetary payments. These last two remaining issues are now being heard by the courts.
The attempt by the Counties to foreclose for non-payment of taxes allowed to the taxpayers of Oneida and Madison Counties by the decision in the “Sherrill” case. The ruling in the Sherrill case indicated that the Fee to Trust process was the proper avenue for the tribes to establish sovereignty over their fee land. It was not a guarantee that they were entitled to trust land.
Today the biggest threat to Oneida and Madison Counties is from the Federal Government and the policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs – a bureaucracy of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Everyone rallied to stop the government from taking land for a power line but noone seems to understand that the Fee to Trust is also an overreach of the Federal Government into the lives of the people of the State of New York.
The above column holds the personal opinions of Maggie O’Shay, PO Box 1412, Vernon, NY 13476.
By Mark Ziobro