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Post date: June 19 2008

Governor Paterson And Attorney General Cuomo Announce Lawsuit To Overturn Federal Land Into Trust Decision

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 19, 2008) – Governor David A. Paterson and Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo jointly announced today that the Governor, the counties of Oneida and Madison, and State of New York have filed a lawsuit to overturn an administrative decision by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs authorizing the transfer of more than 13,000 acres of land in Oneida and Madison Counties from being taken into trust for the Oneida Indian Nation.

The State will argue that Secretary Kempthorne’s decision is unconstitutional, because New York State has continuously exercised jurisdiction over its lands since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, including the lands which are the subject of the land into trust decision, and has never consented to the removal of such land from State jurisdiction. The U.S. Constitution does not grant to the United States the authority to remove land from a State’s jurisdiction for the purpose of providing such land to an Indian tribe without first obtaining the consent of the affected State.

On May 20, the Department of Interior made the extraordinary and unlawful decision to take into trust for the Oneida Indian Nation of New York 13,000 acres of land scattered over a two-county area in Central New York. The effect of this unprecedented decision is the permanent removal of Oneida Indian Nation-owned land from the tax and regulatory jurisdiction of the State of New York, the Counties of Madison and Oneida and numerous cities, towns and villages in which the land is located.

If the Department of Interior’s decision is upheld, it will fundamentally and permanently alter the character and governance structure of the affected areas and adversely and irreparably impact the financial stability of those communities.

“This is just the latest action from the Secretary of the Interior and the BIA that is not in the best interest of New York State,” said Governor Paterson. “The state still believes that the best solution to this problem would be a negotiated settlement between all parties involved. Absent such negotiations, we simply can not allow this decision to stand as it will have a devastating affect on Madison and Oneida counties, and set a dangerous precedent for similar cases across the state.”

“My office will not sit back while the Department of Interior runs roughshod over New York’s Constitutional right to determine the best use of its lands,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Interior’s rush to judgment ignored the devastating and permanent financial and environmental impacts their decision will have on surrounding communities and the state as a whole. It also was contrary to U.S. Supreme Court precedent against the creation of a “patchwork” of sovereign jurisdictions. Our legal action will preserve the sovereign rights of the State and the people of New York.”

“The Department of Interior’s lack of concern for the governance and residents of Oneida County has left us no choice but to once again seek Court action to protect our rights, “ said Oneida County Executive Tony Picente. “We stand ready to negotiate a settlement with all parties involved in this long running dispute with the hope that we can once and for all work together for the benefit of all of Oneida County and the State of New York.”

Madison County Board Chairman John Becker says: “I'm gratified the counties and state legal teams have prepared a formidable appeal for challenging the trust application. This is a time for leadership and I encourage the Governor and all parties to workout a final resolution.”

The BIA has agreed to wait before taking the land into trust, at least until a decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has been handed down. A stipulation to this effect will be presented to the court in the coming days. This will allow time for resolution through negotiation, something the State is strongly encouraging all parties engage in.