Oneida Indian Nation
|Regions with significant populations|
|Onyota'aka, English, other Iroquoian dialects|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Oneida people, Seneca Nation, Onondaga Nation, Tuscarora Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cayuga Nation, other Iroquoian peoples|
The Oneida Nation or Oneida Indian Nation (hereinafter referred to as OIN) is a federally recognized tribe of Oneida people. The tribe is headquartered in New York, where the tribe originated and held its historic territory long before European colonialism. It is an Iroquoian-speaking people, and its early nation was one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, or Hauendosaunee. Three other recognized Oneida tribes are in other locations where they migrated during and after the American Revolutionary War: one in Wisconsin in the United States, and two in Ontario, Canada.
Since the late 20th century, the OIN has been a party to land claim suits against the state of New York for treaties and purchases made without ratification by the United States Senate, as required under the US Constitution. Litigation has been complex, related to trust lands, property, and sales taxes. Agreements and settlements with different levels of governments are still being negotiated.
- 1 Government
- 2 Membership
- 3 Businesses
- 4 Tax issues
- 5 The Oneida land claim
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Potential pact between Oneida County and the Oneida
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 External links
The sovereign Oneida Indian Nation has established its own rules: it requires documentation of at least 1/4 blood ancestry (equivalent to one grandparent) through the maternal line.
Through Oneida Nation Enterprises, the tribe operates a number of businesses in Central New York. It is the largest employer of the area, with approximately 5,000 jobs total. Business interests include:
Bingo and gasoline
In the early 1990s, the Oneida tribe originally opened a bingo hall. Ray Halbritter (Oneida), opened a gas station known as SavOn across the street. The cheaper gasoline made the gas station popular among the community.
Eventually the Oneida Indian Nation bought SavOn and expanded it into multiple locations within the area. Today SavOn (or SāvOn) is a chain of gas stations and convenience stores in Oneida and Madison counties, owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation, through its Oneida Nation Enterprises.
Turning Stone Casino & Resort
The tribe's most profitable business is the Turning Stone Resort & Casino, which has been expanding continuously since its opening in 1993. Begun as a bingo hall, it has been developed as a large, Class III gaming facility and resort. The entertainment site includes nationally ranked hotels and restaurants. Many shows are performed throughout the year. The resort is the host for a fall Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) tournament.
Some parties have challenged the tribal-state gaming compact between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and the state.
Other business ventures
Disputes have arisen over the Oneida Nation's economic advantage of operating the Class III gaming facility without having to collect or pay state taxes on retail sales at the resort. (The tribe does pay a portion of the revenues to the state under the gaming compact, essentially in lieu of taxes.)
Vernon Downs opened a casino to try to compete with Turning Stone. It is heavily taxed under state law. Downs struggles to operate and, in late 2007, many of his original investors pulled out of the venture. The Upstate Citizens for Equality and supporters attribute his failure to the OIN being able to operate its casino tax free.
OIN supporters attribute Downs' troubles to the state collecting a total of 54% of the revenue in taxes, making profitability difficult. ? In early 2008, the director Steve Gural closed down the racino at Vernon Downs for three days. He was trying to make the state decrease its rate of taxation of the facility, to make it more profitable. The closure cost the state approximately $1.5 million in lost tax revenues. (The state has earmarked revenues from gambling for education, which was part of the original campaign to have voters approve the state entering into gambling). Many argue that the state should not call this "lost revenue." Building the track created the revenue; without the track, there would be no revenue. The track was facing insolvency.
The Nation consistently re-invests in the local economy and aids neighboring cities. The Oneida helped pay for and fix Verona's water problems. The Oneida have worked hard to win the host site for a PGA tournament in Fall 2007 after a successful B.C. Open, a PGA tournament traditionally held in Binghamton, New York. In 2006, Binghamton suffered significant flooding and could not host the B.C. Open tournament. The OIN offered its course as an alternative. The PGA officials and players were impressed with the venue. OIN and PGA officials entered into negotiations to host another PGA tournament in 2007.
Before the recent conflict among the Indian Nation, UCE, state, and county officials, the Indian Nation donated millions of dollars to local school districts through its Silver Covenant Chain of Education Grants Program. The Nation has discontinued that program since the legal challenges have been mounted to its casino operations. School supporters hope the tribe will revive its donations and make a permanent commitment to supplement public school funding through its grants.
The Oneida land claim
Land claim litigation
In 1970 and 1974, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Oneida Nation of the Thames filed lawsuits in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York; they alleged that the reservation land granted to them by a treaty between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and New York State was taken from the Oneida people (from their historic territory) and the treaty was never ratified by the Senate, making it unconstitutional. The state did not have authority under the US Constitution to deal directly with the Indian nations. The Oneida said they still owned the lands in question.
In 1970, the Oneida filed a “test” case in federal court, suing Oneida and Madison counties for two years' rent (1968-1969) on county-owned acreage; the rent amounted to $16,694. They said that, as the original action by the state was unconstitutional, they still owned the land and were owed rent by the counties. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed the action, and the Oneida appealed. On July 12, 1972, the Second Circuit United States Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision. The OIN petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to grant cert. In Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida (1974), the Supreme Court decided in favor of the Oneida Indian Nation.
On July 12, 1977, on remand to the District Court with Judge Edmund Port presiding, the Court sided with the Oneida. The counties appealed to the Second Circuit, which affirmed Judge Port's decision. The counties had argued the OIN did not have standing for its claim, and the claim was too old and should not be considered. The counties petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of cert., which the court granted.
On March 4, 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court opined in favor of the Oneida in a 5 to 4 vote. The Court opined three principles"
- that the Oneida had a common-law right to sue in federal courts;
- that such claims were justiciable; and
- there was no state or federal statute of limitations that would bar such claims. The majority opinion includes the following footnote:
"The question whether equitable considerations should limit the relief available to the present day Oneida Indians was not addressed by the Court of Appeals or presented to this Court by petitioners. Accordingly, we express no opinion as to whether other considerations may be relevant to the final disposition of this case should Congress not exercise its authority to resolve these far-reaching Indian claims."
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent:
"This decision upsets long-settled expectations in the ownership of real property in the Counties of Oneida and Madison, New York, and the disruption it is sure to cause will confirm the common law wisdom that ancient claims are best left in repose. The Court, no doubt, believes that it is undoing a grave historical injustice, but in so doing it has caused another, which only Congress may now rectify."
In 1998, the United States intervened in the lawsuits on the plaintiff's behalf in order for the claim to proceed against New York State because the state asserted its immunity under the 11th Amendment. Based on City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation and Cayuga Indian Nation v New York'', the Defendants moved for summary judgment. On May 21, 2007, Judge Kahn dismissed the Oneida' possessory land claims and allowed the non-possessory claims to proceed.
Both parties appealed Judge Kahn's decision. In a decision dated August 9, 2010, the Second Circuit opined that the non-possessory claims could not proceed and remanded the case back to the district court to enter a judgement in favor of the State and Counties. The Oneida plan to appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Status of former tribal lands re-acquired on the open market
The Oneida Indian Nation has purchased lands which formerly were part of its historic reservation, as established by treaty with New York State, but which were later sold to the state and subsequently to non-Indians. For some time, the OIN and the state believed that the OIN's purchase of the land restored the property to its status as Indian Territory under Oneida possession.
State law prohibits Class III gaming facilities. The OIN developed its resort and casino on what was understood to be its federal reservation, where that action was possible.
The city of Sherrill challenged the OIN by trying to collect property taxes on the land which it had bought in that jurisdiction, where it developed its casino. In City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005), which went to the US Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg determined that the land the casino is on was part of the Oneida original tribal lands. But, she said that, although the land may be part of an ancient reservation land grant, as the Oneida Nation had not controlled it for more than 200 years, during which time it was non-Indian territory, the tribe could not re-establish its immunity (from state law) over those lands.
To "re-establish sovereign authority" over ancient tribal lands which the Oneida had re-acquired on the open market, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the "proper avenue" for the Oneida Indian Nation was through § 465 of the Indian Reorganization Act. It needed to apply to the Department of the Interior to place the disputed lands into federal trust.
Comments on the court decision varied. The issue in Sherrill was whether the city could collect property taxes on OIN's re-acquired tribal lands. The US Supreme Court determined that the City of Sherrill could collect property taxes. But the court failed to overturn the Second Circuit's finding that the land qualified as Indian Territory.
OIN supporters speculate that Sherrill stands only to say that the OIN cannot re-instate its tax immunity, but that the land is Indian Land. UCE and its supporters disagreed; they believed that the Sherrill ruling provided a blanket approval for the jurisdictions to foreclose on all OIN property that has back taxes. Some UCE members interpreted the ruling as making the OIN casino operation illegal under state law. They believe that it should be closed until the state and the tribe reach a new agreement on gaming.
In April 2005, the Oneida Indian Nation applied to the Department of Interior to have this land taken into federal trust on its behalf. By letter dated June 10, 2005, Associate Deputy Secretary Cason advised Ray Halbritter, the tribe's lead on this issue, of its position:
“Department of Interior’s (“DOI”) position with respect to certain issues related to the status of OIN lands ... we do not agree with [the] assertion that the Court’s ruling in Sherrill recognizes the continuation of restriction on alienation protections over recently re-acquired lands ... it is our opinion that Court in City of Sherrill unmistakably held that the lands at issue (property interests purchased by OIN on the open market) are subject to real property taxes. In the event these taxes are not paid, we believe such lands are subject to foreclosure. Further, please be advised that the BIA is in the process of taking appropriate action to clarify that its recordation of OIN deeds does not have the legal effect of designating these lands as restricted against alienation pursuant to 25 USC 177.”
In order to accept the lands as federal trust property, the BIA had to prepare an environmental assessment of the action. On February 27, 2008, the BIA released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on taking the lands in question into trust on behalf of the Oneida. It recommended that 13,084 acres (52.95 km2) be placed into trust. After this announcement, the DOI gave a 30-day comment period and announced that it would have a decision on or after March 25, 2008.
Some government officials have expressed concern about creating a "patchwork of taxable and tax-exempt properties," making a "jurisdictional nightmare." However, a recent sting operation conducted in conjunction with Oneida Nation Police and the Oneida County Sheriff disproves this argument.
In opposing the OIN's land-into-trust application, New York State has raised the question of whether the Indian Reorganization Act applies to the Oneida. They had rejected reorganizing according to its rules, by a vote of 12 to 57 on June 17, 1936. According to the letter from Richard Platkin, Counsel to the Governor, to Franklin Keel, citing Michael T. Smith's Memorandum to Director, Office of Indian Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs, dated February 24, 1982, "the Oneida were considered not eligible, but in a reconsideration based on the discussion in the case of 'US v Boylan', the Department of Interior changed its position and conducted the referendum."
On March 2008, County Executive Anthony Picente held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of negotiating a settlement before the March 25th deadline. Congressman Arcuri tried to stall the decision by seeking to block such a settlement through legislation. While criticized by both sides for killing any progress made between the two sides, Arcuri said he wanted to encourage negotiations.
On January 2008, Halbritter sent a proposed settlement offer to the state and the county, but did not receive a response before DOI announced its decision. The OIN offered to negotiate an agreement pertaining to future trust applications, but the state and local governments have not responded.
On May 20, 2008, the DOI announced that it would take 13,004 acres (52.63 km2) into trust. The OIN offered to negotiate and settle the issues involved, while the state and county officials promised continued litigation.
On or about June 17, 2008, two groups filed separate lawsuits in federal court challenging the DOI's decision.; UCE's suit challenges the DOI's authority to take the land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934; alleging that this trust decision violates the United States Constitution.
The other group alleges that the DOI's decision was arbitrary and capricious because some of the trust land is subject to outstanding litigation between the group and the OIN.
On June 19, 2008 (the deadline to file suit), New York State, Oneida and Madison counties filed their suits in federal court. The state and county governments' arguments are similar to those of UCE. The opposing parties allege that the DOI's decision violates the United States constitution and that the DOI's decision was arbitrary.
By letter dated January 7, 2009, Steven Miskinis, Esq. of the U.S. Department of Justice notified the Court (in which the above mentioned challenges to the May 20, 2008 determination are pending) that the U.S. has taken 18 acres (73,000 m2) of land known as the former United States Air Force Space Command Complex at the Verona Research Facility, Germany Road, Verona, New York into trust for the OIN. Two days later, the Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York objected to this action. He requested an expedited conference and asked that the United States voluntarily refrain from any further efforts to transfer land into trust for the Nation. Judge Kahn dismissed several portions of UCE's complaint, including the failed theory that the IRA is unconstitutional, on the basis of longstanding and settled law on this issue.
On May 16, 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Becker, and Oneida Indian Nation leader Ray Halbritter announced a deal that settles all of their differences. Before the deal is effective, the majority of each government's legislative branches must approve it. The most controversial issues that the deal resolves are as follows: 1. The Oneida will pay 25% of its profits from its new slot machines to the state; 2. The State agrees to allow a maximum of 25,000 acres to be placed into federal trust; 3. The Oneida will have exclusive gaming rights within a 10-county region; 4. All pending litigation will be withdrawn; and 5. The Oneida will charge its own sales tax on cigarettes and gas sales made to non-Indian purchasers. Of the 25% revenue that the state will receive, half will be given to Oneida and Madison counties.
The Oneida Indian Nation has both internal and external opposition. Internally, members of the Wolf Clan in particular protest Halbritter's assumption of power and dissolving of the traditional Oneida government.
Internal governance issues
According to Shenandoah v. United States DOI, 159 F.3d 708, (2d Cir. 1998), there are serious questions as to the legitimacy and authority of Ray Halbritter to act on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Specifically,
“In 1977, members of the Oneida Nation appointed Halbritter and two other Nation members as interim representatives of the Nation. On April 25, 1993, the Grand Council, consisting of representatives from all six Iroquois nations, including the Oneida Nation, purported to remove Halbritter from his position as interim Nation representative. The Department [of Interior] acknowledged the removal on August 10, 1993, but the next day stayed its acknowledgment pending BIA review. After requesting the Nation to conduct a referendum to select a representative, the Department agreed to Halbritter's proposal to submit "statements of support" from Nation members. On February 4, 1994, the Department notified Halbritter that it would continue to recognize him as the Nation's permanent representative until such time as he resigned or was removed by the Nation in accordance with certain procedures. According to plaintiffs, on May 21, 1995, the Nation once again removed Halbritter from his position as Oneida representative. Although informed of Halbritter's alleged second removal, the Department had not acted upon that notification by the time of oral argument, and as of the time of this opinion, we have received no information to the contrary.”
External opposition comes from groups including the Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE), a group that opposes Haudenosaunee land claims in upstate New York. It also opposes the Oneida Nation being able to operate its enterprises tax-free on land for which there is a question of sovereignty.
The Oneida Indian Nation and other parties believed operations on property it controlled were tax free. City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 US 197 (2005).
The Oneida Indian Nation has asserted that it made up for this lack of land tax by donating to local schools in amounts that exceed the taxes which the county would normally receive from the land plots, in a program known as the Silver Covenant Chain Education Grants. In recent years, due to the increased tensions between the local governments, the state government, and the Oneida Indian Nation, it has decreased or stopped the donations.
Stockbridge Valley School has several Oneida Indian children students, but the Nation has discontinued grants to the school because it disapproves of the views of one teacher. In late fall 2003, a representative of the Nation contacted the Stockbridge Valley Community School District and advised that it would not make the Silver Covenant unless a particular teaching assistant was fired.
Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v Gould, 14 NY3d 614  is a case brought by someone on the issue of whether federally recognized Indian Tribes, such as the Oneida, have to collect state sales taxes from retail sales within their reservation to non-Indian consumers. According to the Court of Appeals in Gould, the Indian Tribe is not subject to State tax law. For purposes of the State Tax Law, the Nation's retail operations on its lands, even if reacquired on the open market, are not subject to state tax law.
Potential pact between Oneida County and the Oneida
On May 8, 2009, Anthony Picente, Oneida County Executive, announced a pact between Oneida County and the Oneida Indian Nation. The Oneida County Board of Legislators and the State legislature must approve this pact within the next 60 days. If this pact is approved, the Oneida would pay $55 million to Oneida County over the next 10 years, beginning with a $30 million lump sum payment this year. Additionally, the Oneida would make Silver Covenant Grants for the next five years, in order to apply for more trust land without county opposition. In return for this, the county agrees to drop its lawsuits and satisfy all pending tax lien and tax foreclosure proceedings. The Oneida agree to impose a sales tax on all businesses situated on Oneida Indian Nation lands that is equal to Oneida County's sales tax rate. This Nation sales tax will be imposed on all non-Indian patrons as well as tribal members.
The pact would require the Oneida County Sheriff and the Oneida Indian Nation Police Department to negotiate a law enforcement pact to settle questions of jurisdictional authority and operations
- "Tribal Directory." National Congress of American Indians. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- Oneida Nation Enterprises website. Accessed: September 3, 2013.
- Class III gaming is the broadest class of gambling under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
- For more information on these challenges see the Turning Stone Casino & Resort page.
- "Vernon Downs Racino To Close", Utica OD; "Vernon Downs Racino Back On Track"
- 464 F2d 916
- 414 US 661 
- 719 F2d 525 
- County of Oneida v Oneida Indian Nation, 470 US 226 (1985)
- [dead link]
- UCE motion, Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE)
- Judge Kahn's decision, Upstate Citizens for Equality
- Second Circuit decision
- "Oneidas to Appeal Claim Decision", Upstate Citizens for Equality
- 544 US 197 
- City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 US 197, 217-221 
- James E. Cason Letter, June 10, 2005
- Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oneida Nation Trust
- Prostitution Sting At Turning Stone Nets Three, Utica OD
- Letter from Richard Platkin, Counsel to the Governor, to Franklin Keel, Regional Director, Eastern Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs
- "Letter from Richard Platkin, Counsel to the Governor, to Franklin Keel, Regional Director, Eastern Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- Picente Seeks Compromise with Oneidas; for a copy of the transcript of that hearing, FOIL it from Oneida County Government page
- Arcuri Attempts to Stall Decision
- "Nation Spokesman Says Arcuri's 'Secret' Legislation Is Discriminatory, Immoral", United Citizens for Equality
- DOI Decision
- "2 Suits Filed Opposing Land Into Trust Decision", UCE
- Article re: suit , UCE
- Copy of complaint: UCE, et al v. United States, UCE
- "State, counties file land-into-trust suit", UCE
- Transfer memo
- "Judge dismisses citizen-group's claims", Utica OD
- "Oneidas, State, and counties reach a revenue sharing deal", Utica OD
- Cuomo Announces Landmark Agreement between State, Oneida Nation, and Oneida and Madison Counties", Governor of New York
- ONYOTA'A:KA ~ People of the Standing Stone ~ the Oneida
- (see Oneida Tribe)
- Oneida Indian Nation - A Brief History
- School caught in Oneida Nation dispute : ICT [2004/01/24]
- R Richards, Madison County
- Picente Announces Agreement, WKTV
- Proposed Pact on the Oneida County website; Oneida Indian Nation informational site