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  • Zaim Radoncic

Governor Hochul Extorts Seneca Nation to Fund New Buffalo Stadium

On Tuesday, March 29, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced the budget for the construction of the new Buffalo Bills stadium. She stated it would be in part funded by the $564.8 million relinquished by the Seneca Nation to the State on that same day. This payment follows years of contested legal disputes between the Seneca Nation and New York State.

The Seneca Nation officially agreed to hand over the money the day before, March 28, but only came to this decision after a subpoena sent by the Governor’s office froze all Seneca Nation bank accounts. The President of the Seneca Nation, Matthew Pagels, has released a statement in which he addressed the frozen bank accounts:

“The governor froze all of the Seneca Nation’s bank accounts without regard for thousands of individuals, both Seneca, and non-Seneca, who rely on the Nation and our gaming operations for their livelihood. In addition to business accounts, Gov. Kathy Hochul targeted governmental accounts, from which our Nation’s health system pays for medications and medical costs of patients at our clinics, and our housing program writes checks for rental assistance. Paychecks for workers, most of whom are non-Native, were held up, while Hochul decided to teach the Seneca Nation a lesson for having the gall to stand up and fight on behalf of our people. It was, clearly, business as usual in Albany.”

President Pagels further argued that the state’s continued aggression in their pursuit of “ransom money for a new stadium” was done for Governor Hochul’s own personal gain. Governor Hochul’s husband, Boston University alumni (QST ‘17) William Hochul Jr., is employed by the Delaware North Corporation, which is not only the main food distributor for the new Bills stadium but has also built three racetrack casinos that violate the gaming compact made between the Seneca Nation and New York State in 2002. In reference to the Governor and her husband, President Pagels said:

"I’m sure that was welcome news to the governor’s husband, whose company not only operates video lottery terminals within the Seneca Nation’s supposed gaming exclusivity zone with the state’s blessing, but the company will also make millions of dollars in concession business inside the state-owned stadium, […] And it’s being paid for on the backs of the Seneca Nation. Quite a sweetheart deal."

The dispute began in 2002 when the Seneca Nation negotiated a gaming compact with New York State in order to construct the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino. This compact established an exclusivity zone, which allowed only the Seneca Nation exclusive rights to casino facilities within the area. In exchange, New York State required the Seneca Nation to pay a portion of the casino’s revenue for the first 14 years of the agreement. At the end of the fourteen-year period, the Seneca Nation had paid roughly one billion dollars to New York State. The compact’s term ended in 2016 but was automatically renewed due to neither party submitting a written objection. The current dispute is over whether the Seneca Nation is required to keep paying New York State after the renewal of the compact, something that was never a part of the original agreement. Not only has the Seneca Nation denied the validity of New York State's claims to the money in the original agreement, but also that New York failed to uphold its end of the bargain by allowing the violation of the exclusivity zone by businesses that have direct ties with William Hochul. The Seneca Nation requested the US Department of the Interior review the situation. The Department of Interior responded with a letter in 2017 saying:

“The state engaged in bad faith negotiations when it repeatedly demanded increased revenue sharing without offering new meaningful concessions in exchange. Here, Rincon supports our understanding that an extension of the revenue sharing requirement beyond the 14-year Compact duration would be tantamount to an increase in revenue sharing, requiring additional meaningful concessions from the State with corresponding substantial economic benefit to the Nation. […] The 2002 Compact demonstrates that the Nation and the State understood that if the State reneged on its concessions involving exclusivity or other matters, then the Nation’s revenue-sharing obligations would be eliminated. In our view, the Nation’s 14-year revenue-sharing obligation granted the Nation 21 years of exclusivity.”

The Seneca Nation sued New York State over this dispute, but they were forced to drop the lawsuit in January when the Seneca Nation announced that it would seek to reach a new compact with the state through negotiations. Thereafter, the Seneca Nation waited until after official review by the National Indian Gaming Commission to hand the money over to New York State. In an effort to intimidate the Seneca Nation into submitting the money, on March 27, Governor Hochul’s administration froze all bank transactions within the Seneca Nation, economically pressuring the Seneca government into submitting to the Governor’s demands. In an open letter to The Buffalo News, Odie Brant Porter, a Clan Mother of the Seneca Nation, described the current situation by saying:

“It’s reminiscent of how American governments treated Haudenosaunee nations in the 18th and 19th centuries when our lands were taken. Treaties gave guarantees and then were broken, always abrogating and taking more. Unfair interpretations by court after court have never favored us, and yet we are dishonored and blamed as we fight for justice.”

Another Clan Mother, Leslie Logan, told NBC 2 WGRZ:

"The state having completely violated the court action and instead moved to freeze the nation's account,[…] This is economically devastating to most in the nation, that it impacts virtually every member of the Seneca Nation, in all likelihood. It's economic terrorism.”

Historically, the Seneca Nation is the “western door” of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, better known as the Iroquois. At the peak of their power, the Haudenosaunee held dominion of lands as far as Quebec in the north, Kentucky in the south, and Ohio to the west. The Seneca Nation has fought for centuries for the right to remain in its homeland. The Seneca Nation was a military ally of the United States during the War of 1812, in which they helped to defend New York State from the Canadian invasion. The Seneca Nation, along with the Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora Nations, have worked diligently throughout the years to grow both economically and politically through economic plans such as the 2002 gaming compact. However, New York State Government’s continued hostility towards its indigenous communities is only the continuation of almost 400 years of New York State's overreach into sovereign indigenous nations.

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