The recent acquisition of a 1.19-acre portion of Finger Lakes Drive-In property by members of the Cayuga Nation — and the ensuing sale of cigarettes there — have no authorization from the nation's actual leadership, one of its attorneys and one of its leadership council members both said Thursday.
However, the Cayugas who acquired the land have, in turn, called into question the authority of that leadership.
Joseph Heath represents a faction of the nation's Bureau of Indian Affairs-recognized six-person leadership council that he referred to as the "traditional" council. Despite the ongoing dispute over the nation's leadership, Heath said, it is of no dispute that the party or parties who acquired the lot behind the drive-in do not represent the nation.
"Neither council, or any one of those six people, have authorized or sanctioned what's going on," he said Thursday. "They have no governmental authority and seem to be operating totally on their own."
One of the members of the leadership council from the other faction, Clint Halftown, issued a press release Thursday that also disavowed any affiliation with the activities at the drive-in.
"The Cayuga Nation is not selling tobacco products at the Finger Lakes Drive-in," the statement said. "The nation does not own the land on which this illegal business is being conducted. We don’t know who (Finger Lakes Drive-In owner Paul Meyer) conveyed this property to, but it was certainly not the Cayuga Nation.”
The Cayugas who acquired the land for $0 from Meyer are Dustin "Dusty" Parker, of the Heron Clan, and Jason Silversmith, of the Snipe Clan. The two are selling Seneca cigarettes from a shipping container on the lot, which can be accessed via an easement through the drive-in. They call it the Peacekeepers Tobacco Trail; signage advertising it and "Senecas sold here" are posted on a tent near the drive-in's entrance.
The two also say they are conducting an archaeological survey there, which they said is standard council procedure for any land that's part of the 64,000 acres the Cayugas consider its ancestral property. They're currently limited, however, by the lot's small acreage and overgrown grass.
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Parker and Silversmith acquired the land under the name "Cayuga Nation," according to Cayuga County property records. That potentially constitutes fraud, Halftown said in his statement. He and Heath have also accused Parker and Silversmith of illegal tobacco sale and taxation, and said they've expressed their concerns to federal, state and local law enforcement.
In response, Parker and Silversmith said their critics don't have the authority to say the two can't act on behalf of the Cayuga Nation. Instead, Parker and Silversmith continued, they answer directly to the nation's 10 titleholders, or chiefs, under the laws of the Iroquois Confederacy.
But Parker and Silversmith aren't out to flout the nation's factional leaders. Instead, they see their actions as an opportunity to resolve the leadership issues that have dogged the nation for about a decade.
"We're promoting that the circle of 10 chiefs sort out the issues of the Cayuga Nation so that all parties within the nation can achieve peace and prosperity," Parker said.
Parker and Silversmith aren't concerned about any potential law enforcement response, saying only the federal government has the authority to intervene in the sovereign Cayuga Nation's affairs.
Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould said Thursday that the office is communicating with attorneys representing both factions of the Cayugas, and reviewing local tax law. However, he stressed that the cigarette sales are not currently the subject of any investigation.
"Nothing's going to happen immediately," Gould said. "We're just making sure everything's being done properly, legally and safely."
Parker and Silversmith hope they're allowed to remain on the lot, both to continue the archaeological survey and to bring all of the Cayuga Nation's parties to the table.
"It's very complex, and I'm not expecting all of our people to understand it, but it is our way," Parker said. "And it's our right to stand up for it, too."