The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Department of Interior, has recognized a new Cayuga Nation council formed from members of the Clint Halftown delegation.
Clint Halftown, Tim Twoguns, Gary Wheeler, Donald Jimerson and Michael Barringer led a voting campaign against those formerly known as the Unity Council this past summer. The ballots were mailed to a select list of Cayuga Nation members, and did not provide another body to vote for besides Halftown's new council.
The BIA's recent action comes after it had issued decisions in the past stating it would not take a position on the tribe's leadership dispute. In August, the BIA had told The Citizen it had no "contractual business for Mr. Halftown to attend to," and said his position as a federal representative "was separate from being a leader within the Nation."
The federal government seems to be reversing that statement, now, calling Halftown's council the "governing body of the Cayuga Nation." In a letter to both sides, the BIA's Eastern Regional Office Director Bruce Maytubby said the campaign "was a valid resolution of an intratribal mechanism."
Maytubby wrote that the BIA has waited nearly two years for the Nation to work out its leadership dispute, and called that "an increasing concern." After reviewing the polls Halftown sent out to 392 citizens on his membership roll, 237 were accepted statements of support for his new council. Maytubby also said that the campaign included "a way by which Cayuga Nation leaders can be removed from office, so adopting these results should not freeze the Nation with its current configuration of leaders but will, it is hoped, allow the Nation to proceed and adapt, as necessary, to the needs of the future."
In a release, Halftown said his council is "supported by an overwhelming number of Cayuga citizens."
"The resolution of this leadership dispute will allow the Nation to move forward on a number of important matters, including reacquiring control over misappropriated Nation properties and improving relations with its neighbors in the community," he wrote. "And to those Cayuga citizens who may have opposed some of our policies and decisions in the past, we invite you to work with us as we strive to rebuild our Nation."
Attorney Joseph Heath, who represents several members of the former Unity Council, said Maytubby's decision goes against Cayuga Nation law, which relies on clan mothers to appoint leaders to the ruling council, not votes.
"He (Maytubby) has just thrown aside centuries of tradition and culture because he's never seen a traditional government," Heath said in a phone interview Friday. "If it (the decision) were not overturned, it would be another act by the United States to assimilate the Cayuga Nation and its citizens."
Heath also said he believed the BIA has been meeting with Halftown secretly, and Heath was not aware until recently that a decision would be made. Maytubby's announcement goes against years of BIA rulings, where Franklin Keel, the former Eastern regional director, had ruled that it was up to the Nation to settle the dispute, and the federal government would not make a decision.
"It's a heavy-handed attempt by the BIA to set aside Nation law and to impose its own sense of how it should do things," Heath said. "That just won't stand up."
Heath said he plans to challenge the decision "very vigorously," and he's researching whether or not that will be in federal court.