Oneida Nation agreement finalized

By: Elizabeth Cooper

The agreement between the Oneida Indian Nation, New York state and Oneida and  Madison counties has cleared a final hurdle.

It’s finally final.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn signed off on agreement between the Oneida Indian Nation, New York state and Oneida and Madison counties Tuesday.

“After years of investing in local communities and developing enterprises that sustain thousands of jobs, we are pleased that the State of New York has become a formal partner in our continuing efforts to strengthen this region’s economy and that we have settled all of our legal disputes between our peoples once and for all,” Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said in an emailed statement. “This agreement is a product of the hard work of those like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and county leaders who believed that we have far more to gain when we reject divisiveness and embrace a spirit of collaboration.”

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente called the sign-off “historic.”

“March 4 will be remembered as the day when all the past tensions between neighbors have finally been laid to rest,” he said in a statement. “With this approval in federal court, the final hurdle has been cleared. We are all partners as we work together to grow this community; economically and culturally.”

The agreement, first signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Halbritter, Picente and Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Becker, also had to be approved by the state Legislature and the federal Department of the Interior.

The agreement grants the Nation exclusive gaming rights in a 10-county swath of Central New York and caps the amount of land the Oneidas can put into federal Indian trust. In exchange, the state and counties get a share of the Nation’s slot machine revenue.

Suits filed by outside parties over an earlier Department of the Interior decision over the Nation’s push to place about 13,000 acres of its non-reservation land into trust will continue.

The Cayuga Indian Nation, whose reservation lands in Cayuga County are within the 10-county exclusivity zone, has been granted gaming rights on that land, as well.

The agreement has faced opposition from the start.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to trade your tax base for slot revenue,” said county Legislator Chad Davis, D-Clinton. “Especially in light of the fact that enhanced gaming throughout the state will inevitably result in less volume at Turning Stone.”

Now that the agreement has been signed, Picente said the next steps can be hammered out. It needs to be determined when the Nation’s payments will begin, and the relationship between the Nation police and the county Sheriff’s Office needs to be formalized.