Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo preached putting politics aside and "coming together" to make change he feels is necessary for New York state, Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said an improved change in relations with the nation he represents is dependent upon "respect, not confrontation."
Porter, who was invited by the governor to Thursday's speech at the Robert H. Jackson Center, said part of the governor's message focused on improving the economy of Western New York, something he feels the nation can have a role in making a reality. Porter said when the state recognizes nation treaty rights, jobs such as the 4,000 at the nation's three Western New York casinos can be created.
Porter said he is "optimistic" the two governments can work together on making that happen.
Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter shakes hands with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown.
P-J photo by Sharon Turano
"I'm pleased to see Gov. Cuomo focus on the particular needs of Western New York with his initiatives," said Porter. "When the state is willing to recognize our treaty rights and sovereignty and avoid unnecessary confrontations, we are able to create more jobs for our people and all of the residents of this region.''
The two leaders chatted briefly after the speech when Porter told the governor how he was "inspired" by the message Cuomo gave, adding he hoped the governor's words would translate into a new state approach in dealing with the Seneca Nation.
Porter reports giving the governor his "personal commitment" to work hard to improve relations between the nation and state, which soured under the Paterson administration due to state taxation collection attempts on sales to non-Native Americans on Seneca land and conflict regarding a state/Seneca compact providing for three Western New York casinos.
During his address to Jamestown-area officials, students, business representatives and the public, Cuomo said the state is "at a fork" in the road, which, he said, provides a "moment of opportunity." He said decisions made today will influence the future, adding, "denial is not a life strategy."
Cuomo said the state is "at a point of no return," adding in order to make changes he would like to see, there needs to be a change in attitude.
"It's all about spurring economic growth," he said.
Despite that, during a news conference held after the speech, Cuomo was asked whether he plans to collect state sales tax on goods sold to non-Indians on Native American land, an issue that has plagued relations between the two governments.
"I intend to collect all revenue the state is entitled to collect," he said. He also said he plans to "reach out to places alienated" by state government in the past, adding he wants to "emphasize commonalities" to create change he thinks could improve the state, leaving room for speculation regarding the relationship with the nation.
Assemblyman Andrew Goodell said he thought Cuomo's message was right on target in relation to cutting spending, private-sector job creation, education and Medicaid. He said he has been encouraged by Western New Yorkers being named to play "key roles" in addressing the issues, but, he said, "the devil's in the details," adding he will be interested to see how Cuomo moves forward.
In dealing with the nation, he said, he thinks there is "room for compromise," which he hopes can happen.
State Sen. Catharine Young said she too is "very enthusiastic" with the governor's approach, adding she was glad to see the Seneca president at the Jamestown speech. She said she is hopeful it is a sign that greater communication can commence between the two that will lead to a better relationship.
"Change can only happen if New Yorkers from Jamestown to Johnstown believe the government can work for them, and they become an active part of the transformation," said Cuomo.
"Just as the challenges we face in Jamestown and Western New York resonate across the state, so too will the solutions we create here together," he said.
Whether the state and nation will work on those solutions together remains to be seen.