Albany sources confirmed this week that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will launch an investigation into the fate of the New York Power Authority's $100 million settlement with the Tuscarora Nation of Indians.
The news comes on the heels of reports that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have begun conducting preliminary interviews with members of the nation in an effort to determine why $12.5 million paid to the Tuscaroras since 2005 under the settlement agreement has not benefited the people in any concrete way.
And prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei told the Niagara Falls Reporter he expects that court papers in the class action lawsuit against the Tuscarora leadership on behalf of the nation's membership may be filed as early as this week.
All of this is bad news for the Tuscarora Tribal Council, currently made up of tribal Clerk Leo Henry, Neil Patterson Sr. and his son, Neil Jr., and Kendra Winkelstein, a white woman from Grand Island who has acted as the tribe's attorney for the past 18 years. Collectively, they are known as the "Gang of Four" on the reservation.
Neither of the Pattersons are Tuscarora chiefs, and in fact were denied the honor in a ceremony on the Tonawanda Seneca reservation in April of this year. According to Tuscarora custom and tradition, once a man has been denied chiefdom by the tribe's Clan Mothers, he never again can put himself forward as a chief.
Furthermore, documents made available to the Reporter last week show that under the custom and tradition of the Tuscaroras, Leo Henry took himself out of the running to be a chief back on April 16, 1964, when he agreed to become a "runner," or sub-chief, for Chief Eleazer Williams.
"It's not like being vice president," one Tuscarora elder told the Reporter. "Once you become a runner, you can never be a chief."
This assertion was backed up by numerous Tuscaroras interviewed last week.
Still, Henry and Neil Patterson Sr. both have signed documents using the "chief" title before their names, and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state Power Authority apparently have bought into the fiction hook, line and sinker.
Power Authority checks made out to the Tuscarora Nation regularly are mailed to the addresses of Henry's and the Pattersons' private residences. And checks from the nation's account to individual Tuscaroras also bear these addresses. Copies of several of these checks bear the phrase "For Loyalty" on the memo line.
At the same time, hundreds of Tuscaroras -- apparently deemed disloyal by Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein -- routinely are denied basic human rights in the form of health care at the Tuscarora Clinic, along with telephone service, access to electrical power through Niagara Mohawk, and permission to install wells or septic tanks on their own property.
Tuscarora businessman "Smokin' Joe" Anderson, who never has been permitted to have electrical power connected to his home on the reservation and uses generators for light and heat, said that Henry and the Pattersons seemed to have changed their minds of late.
"They said I could have permission to hook up to the electrical lines," Anderson said. "I told them to forget it. I'll hook up when everyone on the nation is hooked up."
The denial of electrical service by the Gang of Four is particularly ironic, given that the nation receives one megawatt of power annually as part of the settlement agreement. This would be enough to provide free power for every single residence on the reservation. Currently, it is believed that the power, valued at approximately $450,000 a year, is being sold on the open market.
State Sen. George Maziarz said Henry also reached out to him recently, trying to set up a meeting for the purpose of smoothing over the trouble that has been brewing since the Reporter began an investigative series looking into the situation on May 17 of this year.
"I'm not sure there's really anything to talk about," Maziarz said. "It's pretty plain what's been going on there, and none of it looks good."
Native Americans traditionally have invoked sovereign immunity when confronted by the legal system of the United States in order to avoid scrutiny. The Tuscarora situation may be a bit different, however, in that the questionable payments Henry and the Pattersons are receiving come directly from the state of New York and the federal government, that tribal attorney Kendra Winkelstein is not a Native American, and that as much as $9.5 million the tribe received currently is sitting in various New York City-based financial institutions.
Many questions remain. How much are Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein paying themselves in order to determine what happens with the nation's wealth and who does or does not deserve to have access to medical care and electrical power? Who is collecting the monthly interest and dividends on the invested money and what are they doing with it? Are the Tuscarora victims of wholesale theft at the hands of a few "leaders" -- with no real standing among the people themselves -- appointed by the white bureaucracies of the New York Power Authority and the Bureau of Indian Affairs?
Since the Power Authority seized more than 1,300 acres of Tuscarora land back in 1958, questions about the legitimate leadership of the tribe have festered. At that time, every enrolled member of the tribe -- men, women and children -- received a payment directly connected to what the nation settled for.
Since the relicensing settlement of 2007, no such payments have been made. In fact, Neil Patterson Sr. told numerous Tuscaroras that they would simply spend the money on "drugs and alcohol," and that everyone would be better off if his family, Henry and Winkelstein kept it for them.
But the lack of transparency and accountability and the suspicious secrecy and contempt shown by the Gang of Four toward the Tuscarora people as a whole have raised red flags from Niagara Falls to Albany to Washington, D.C.
The photo on the cover of this week's Reporter was taken in 1957 and shows Turtle Clan Mother Harriet Jones Pemberton, flanked by Chief Tracy Johnson on the left and Tuscarora activist Mad Bear Anderson on the right.
Pemberton was one of many Tuscarora thrown off their land as the state Power Authority, backed by 250 state troopers, seized 1,300 acres of Tuscarora land for the state Power Project.
This was in direct violation of the 1796 treaty, signed in the name of George Washington, that granted the land to the Tuscarora in return for the tribe's invaluable service during the Revolutionary War.
Since the seizure, the Power Authority has paid millions in reparations to the Tuscarora Nation.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Oct. 4, 2011|