Cayuga Nation files lawsuit against Showtime TV network

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SENECA FALLS — The Seneca Falls-based Cayuga Nation is suing a cable television network, along with the people behind one of its hit series.

The Barclay Damon law firm of Buffalo filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court of New York County. It alleges that the Cayuga Nation and its federally recognized leader, Clint Halftown, were defamed during an episode of “Billions” that first aired May 5.

Showtime Networks Inc. is named as a defendant, as are Brian Koppelman, Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Levien, the creator, producer and writers of the series. An unspecified amount of monetary damages is being sought.

The suit claims the show used the Cayugas’ and Halftown’s names “and in a deliberate and intentional way, went to an offensive stereotype of Native Americans as irresponsible, corruptible and even criminal, thereby exposing the Cayuga Nation and Mr. Halftown to public contempt, aversion and disgrace.” The complaint alleges the episode portrayed the Halftown character as engaging in a conversation with “Billions” main characters Chuck Rhoades and his father, Chuck Rhoades Sr., during which an illegal casino land deal was discussed and a public official was bribed.

“In an age where diversity has been championed and ethnic stereotypes recognized as blatantly offensive, the way this television show depicted our Nation as well as myself was not merely callous and insensitive, it was insulting and defamatory,” Halftown said in a press release issued Tuesday. “At no time did the creators or writers of the show reach out to our Nation or me to seek permission to use our names, nor did they even take the time to research our Nation, its rich history and its reputation.”

“The persistent misrepresentation, stereotyping and falsehoods about Native Americans, often depicted and reinforced by various media platforms, are directly attributable to America’s public opinion and attitudes toward us,” a statement issued by the United South and Eastern Tribes Inc. Sovereignty Protection Fund said. “This sort of narrative further perpetuates societal ignorance and lends itself to even greater misunderstanding and unawareness about America’s first people. The media must do a better job in recognizing that it plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and attitudes about us.”