A federal judge has dismissed an effort to overturn a U.S. Department of Interior determination about who is in charge of the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York.
In a 43-page decision issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the interior department's Bureau of Indian Affairs properly recognized Clint Halftown and his council as the nation's leaders in a December 2016 determination. That BIA ruling was meant to end a longstanding dispute between Halftown, his followers and a group of chiefs and clan mothers formerly known as the Unity Council.
The council had filed a federal lawsuit in September 2017 challenging the BIA's decision in federal court in Washington D.C. Monday's decision came a little less than year after the court had rejected a request for an immediate injunction to block the BIA decision.
“The Nation is grateful for this decision which, we hope, will allow our Nation to move beyond the differences that have divided us for so long and unite us going forward,” Halftown said in a press release.
An attorney representing nation citizens opposed to Halftown said they are reviewing the decision to determine their next steps.
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"The Cayuga Nation Chiefs and Clan Mothers are reviewing the ruling on the federal contracting matter and considering all available options," said Alexandra Page of the firm Berkey Williams LLP in Washington. "They remain firm in their belief that only the Nation, not outside courts or governmental agencies, may determine the Nation's lawful leadership, and that federal contracting decisions have no bearing on Cayuga governance law."
The court decision comes as the Cayuga Nation awaits a federal government decision on an application to take tribe-owned land into trust, which would exempt it from taxes and local and state regulations. Halftown has been establishing a Cayuga Nation police force and judicial system in anticipation of that decision.
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Meanwhile, the nation is involved in at least two other federal court battles: one with the village of Union Springs regarding the legality of its gaming business in that community and another with Seneca County regarding attempts to foreclose on nation-owned properties over unpaid taxes.