As binding arbitration between New York state and the Seneca Nation of Indians drags on, we see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Last week, the Oneida Nation of Indians reached an agreement with the state granting the Oneidas exclusive gaming rights at the Turning Stone Casino and its surrounding property. Vernon Downs, a raceway three miles away from Turning Stone, will keep its racinos but will not expand them. The Oneidas, meanwhile, are dropping land claim disagreements it has had with the state in various forms for nearly 40 years, will pay back money owed to municipalities for hosting Turning Stone and will resume making regularly scheduled payments.
On Tuesday, the state agreed to a deal with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to resolve a three-year dispute over gaming issues. The state will remove the eight-county Saint Regis Mohawk exclusivity zone from the proposed casino-siting legislation and the tribe will pay $30 million of payments owed and 25 percent of future gaming revenues to the state. The agreement also initiates discussions between the state, tribe and local governments to resolve unrelated land claim disputes.
These aren't perfect deals for anyone - but they are apparently workable enough for all sides to move forward.
Why, then, are things so hard between the Seneca Nation and the state?
On the very day the Oneida deal was announced, Cuomo felt the need to twist the knife with the Senecas, saying he wasn't sure the state would renew its compact with the Senecas if their differences aren't worked out by 2016.
Barry Snyder, Seneca Nation president, responded with this statement, "Yesterday we all witnessed another symptom of the unfortunately strained relations the Seneca Nation of Indians has with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Yet again he has chosen a path of playground bully tactics rather than one of maturity, dignity and mutual respect. Apparently he fails to see the error of his way lauding job creation and stability throughout the state while at the same time threatening the economic security of thousands of hard working families in Western New York employed by the nation or its vendors."
The Senecas have proven themselves a willing partner in Chautauqua County, including a large planned development in the town of Hanover. They were willing partners in Cattaraugus County, too, until their disagreement with the state ended up biting the county, the city of Salamanca and the Salamanca school district. Area residents who aren't part of this dispute are caught in the crossfire.
It's time for both sides to act like the grown-up, elected leaders they purport themselves to be. These childish actions need to stop if we are ever to see a resolution of the longstanding dispute between the state and Senecas. Deals that help both sides are rarely struck when the parties continuously antagonize each other.
We're sure relations haven't always been smooth between the Oneidas and New York state. Yet, an agreement was reached that was acceptable to all parties involved.
The Senecas and the state should take note and begin acting accordingly.