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By Mike Hudson

At a meeting of the Tuscarora Tribal Council last Tuesday, four of the nation's Clan Mothers were ejected by Neil Patterson Sr. -- who has no official position within the tribe -- so that he could consult with Grand Island attorney Kendra Winkelstein.

Traditionally, the Clan Mothers are the highest authority among the Tuscarora, and throwing them out of the meeting constituted an egregious insult. Furthermore, by making them leave so that he could talk to Winkelstein, a white woman, Patterson displayed utter contempt for the custom and tradition of the Tuscarora people.

What could Patterson have wanted so badly to talk to his attorney about in private?

Perhaps it was the $12.5 million the Tuscaroras already have received under the terms of the $100 million settlement the tribe was awarded as part of the state Power Authority's relicensing agreement for the Robert Moses power plant. Outside of Patterson, Winkelstein, tribal Clerk Leo Henry and Patterson's son Neil Patterson Jr., no one on the reservation seems to know what happened to the money.

Or maybe it was the questionable $421,280 two-year contract the Pattersons' private company -- Tuscarora Environmental Program -- received from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

It could even have been the $87,000 Patterson Sr. pulled down for less than a year's work as a "consultant" on the construction of the new Tuscarora Nation House, a building that should have cost around $2 million to erect, but ended up costing $7 million. The Nation House was built on the former site of Leo Henry's outhouse, though how much he received for the property remains a mystery.

Perhaps the most logical reason for the secretive tete a tete was to discuss the council's continued denial of basic human services like health care and electrical service to members of the tribe viewed as disloyal to what many Tuscaroras now refer to as the Gang of Four.

At Tuesday's meeting, Tuscarora brothers Alex Anderson and Joseph Anderson Jr. had their requests for permission to hook their homes up to National Grid power lines rejected by the council. Both men own their own businesses, and are the sons of longtime Niagara Falls Reporter advertiser "Smokin' Joe" Anderson.

Henry told the brothers that they needed to come up with information from their telephone accounts in order to be considered for electrical hookups, but the council's behavior in a large number of similar cases makes it far more likely they were rejected because of their father's longtime association with this newspaper.

Horror stories concerning the denial of electrical service and health care by the Gang of Four are legion on the Tuscarora reservation. Infractions as small and personal as dating a particular person have resulted in the denial of services.

An attempt to cut off electrical service to Brandon Rickard two weeks ago was derailed by calls to National Grid executives, who say the council has no right to issue disconnect orders. Rickard said the Gang of Four simply wants his house and land, which has been home to four generations of his family.

As for the Pattersons, they have not given up in their attempts to be elevated as chiefs of the Tuscarora tribe, an obvious ploy to gain some legitimate authority other than that bestowed on them by the white bureaucracy at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In April, they attempted to be made chiefs at a condolence ceremony held on the Tonawanda Seneca reservation, but were rejected following vocal protests by the Clan Mothers. Custom and tradition hold that, once a man is rejected for a chief's position, he never again can be considered for the honor.

But last week, Susan Patterson -- sister of Neil Sr. and aunt of Neil Jr. -- asked Stuart Patterson whether her relatives could be made chiefs at an upcoming condolence ceremony on the Onondaga reservation. The answer, made in front of witnesses, was an emphatic no.

"It wasn't a whispered no, it was a loud no," one witness told the Reporter. "They (the Pattersons) think this is like joining some kind of club."

For their part, the Tuscarora Clan Mothers have been taking more and more of an active role in trying to determine where the millions of dollars awarded to the tribe by various state and federal agencies is going. They have officially requested a list of those Tuscaroras who currently are receiving reduced electrical rates under a provision in the Power Authority settlement that gives the Tuscaroras one megawatt of power annually.

That one megawatt would be enough to power all of the 376 Tuscarora households at little or no cost, but currently is being handed out to just 130 households. Ironically, that's about the same number of households that currently are being denied the right to have any electricity at all.

The power not used by the Tuscaroras is being sold off on the open market, though no one outside the Gang of Four seems to know where those profits are going. One megawatt of electricity is worth between $40,000 and $60,000, depending on the season.

The continued heat from his own people apparently became too much for Leo Henry to handle, and he has fled the reservation for a home he owns in Bradenton, Fla. This left the actual running of last week's council meeting to Patterson Jr., despite the fact that he has no recognized right even to be on the council.

"Leo ran out," one Tuscarora told the Reporter. "He's running from his problems."

The controversy has attracted the attention of various federal and state law enforcement agencies, and a class action lawsuit prepared by prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei on behalf of a number of tribal members may be filed as early as this week.

It is clear that the authority of the Pattersons and Henry has eroded significantly, despite Winkelstein's best efforts to keep it intact. Egregious acts like the tossing of Clan Mothers from a tribal council meeting and the continued denial of basic human services and civil rights to many Tuscaroras serve only to spur further outrage on the reservation against the now notorious Gang of Four.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 7, 2011