BRANT, N.Y. - The Seneca Nation, a native American tribe known for its defiant stances on sovereignty, said Friday that it would evict around 80 families living in a lakeshore community on its territory because the residents aren't members of the tribe.
The action covers an area on the shores of Lake Erie called Snyder Beach, now dotted with summer cottages, many of which are occupied by people who have been there for decades. Tribal leaders said in a written statement that they want the families out by Nov. 8.
"This is a long-standing issue of unlawful occupation and is key for the Seneca Nation. The Cattaraugus Territory is for Senecas and removing the unlawful occupants will make more land available for Senecas," Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter said in the statement. "It is quite clearly an illegal occupation, even if that may surprise some of the current residents and the general public."
The statement said tribal authorities had issued permits in the past for the last, but hadn't done so in many decades.
The eviction threat outraged longtime Snyder Beach residents, who acknowledged that they lived within the Seneca's Cattaraugus Territory, but said they leased the property annually from a Seneca businessman.
"I built this house. My family has been here 55 years," retired Buffalo firefighter William McNamara, 81, told the Buffalo News. "We built this ourselves. For a lot of us who live here, it's been a lot of hard work, blood and memories. My neighbor is 92 years old, and he says, 'I'll be damned if I'm going to turn my property over to the Indians.'"
The businessman renting the land to the families, John Metzger, told the newspaper he believed the tribe had no right to throw out his tenants.
"It verges on a cleansing operation, in my opinion," he said. He said Seneca Nation leaders had threatened a similar action six times before, but had never before gone as far as to serve eviction notices.
Seneca officials said Metzger isn't allowed to give leases to people who are not Senecas. Only the Tribal Council has the power to grant permission to the families to live on the territory, they said.
People on both sides said the dispute is certain to wind up in court.