Oneida Indian Nation

Oneida Indian Nation
Oneida Indian Nation
Oneida Indian Nation Seal
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States (Vernon, New York)

Onyota'aka, English, other Iroquoian dialects

Related ethnic groups

Oneida tribe, Seneca Nation, Onondaga Nation, Tuscarora Nation, Mohawk Nation, Cayuga Nation, other Iroquoian peoples

The Oneida Indian Nation (hereinafter referred to as OIN) is the Oneida tribe that resides in New York and currently owns a number of businesses and tribal land in Verona, NY, Oneida, NY, and Canastota, NY.



In the early 1990s, the Oneida tribe originally opened a bingo house. One of its active members, Ray Halbritter, opened a gas station, known as SavOn (not to be confused with a gas station chain that exists in the western side of the US) across the street. The cheaper gasoline made the gas station popular among the community, and eventually SavOn was bought by the Oneida Indian Nation and expanded into multiple locations within the area.

Turning Stone Casino & Resort

The most profitable business is the Turning Stone Casino & Resort, which has been expanding continuously since its inception. It began as a bingo hall and quickly grew into a huge facility that is considered a Class III gaming facility.[1] The site includes nationally ranked hotels and restaurants. Many shows are performed throughout the year, at the resort is the host for a fall Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) tournament. There have been, and are, legal challenges to the tribal-state compact between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.[2]

Other business ventures

The Oneida Indian Nation has also purchased a marina on the south eastern shore of Oneida Lake and many plots of land in the area.

The Oneida Indian Nation is the largest employer of the area with approximately 5,000 jobs total.

Disputes arose over the economic disadvantage of having the Class III gaming continue to operate. Vernon Downs opened a casino to attempt to compete with Turning Stone. However, Vernon Downs's operation has had little opposition because it is heavily taxed. Vernon Downs struggles to remain in operation and in late 2007, many of its original investors pulled out of the venture. Upstate Citizens for Equality and supporters attribute this to the fact that OIN's casino is not taxed. OIN supporters attribute Vernon Downs's troubles to the fact that it has to pay 54% in tax revenue, making profitability extremely difficult. In early 2008, Vernon Downs director Steve Gural made true on his threat and closed down the racino at Vernon Downs for three days.[3] The act was a measure to force the state to lower the amount of taxes it collected from Vernon Downs in an attempt to make Vernon Downs more profitable.[4] The move cost the state approximately $1.5 million in tax revenues allocated to education.[5]

If more cooperation occurred, there would be a significant improvement with the economy, as evidenced from the successful fall PGA Tournament OIN hosted in September 2007.

The Nation consistently re-invests in the local economy and aids its neighboring cities. The Oneidas helped pay for and fix Verona's water problems. The Oneidas have worked hard to win the host for a PGA tournament in the Fall of 2007 after a successful B.C. Open, a PGA tournament traditionally held in Binghamton, New York. In 2006, Binghamton experienced significant flooding and could not host the B.C. Open tournament. The OIN — in a matter of a week or two — managed to offer its own course as an alternative. The PGA officials and players were impressed with the venue. OIN and PGA officials entered into negotiations to host another PGA tournament in 2007.

When expanding their businesses or improving their current assets, the Indian Nation will look first to local companies before expanding beyond the tri-county area.[6] Before all the recent turmoil between the Indian Nation, UCE, state, and county officials, the Indian Nation also donated millions of dollars to local school districts through its Silver Covenant Chain of Education Grants Program. Since the beginning of opposition to its casino, the Nation has discontinued that program. Many are hopeful that after the turbulence settles down the Nation will restart the program and enter an agreement with the local politicians to make the program a more permanent fixture for the schools to rely on.


SavOn (or SāvOn) is a chain of gas stations and convenience stores in Oneida and Madison counties of New York, which is owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation, through its business arm, Oneida Nation Enterprises.

The Oneida land claim

Land claim litigation

In 1970 and 1974, the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Oneida Nation of the Thames filed lawsuits in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York alleging that reservation land granted to them by a treaty between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and New York state was taken from the Indian tribes without Congressional approval. In 1970, the Oneidas filed a “test” case in federal court, suing Oneida and Madison counties for two years rent (1968-1969) on county-owned acreage amounting to $16,694. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed the action and the Oneidas appealed. On July 12, 1972, the Second Circuit United States Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision.[7] The OIN petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to grant cert. In Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, the Court decided in the Oneida Indian Nation's favor.[8]

On July 12, 1977, on remand to the District Court with Judge Edmund Port presiding, the Court sided with the Oneidas. The counties then appealed to the Second Circuit, which affirmed Judge Port's decision.[9] The counties next petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of cert., which the court granted. On March 4, 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court opined in the Oneidas' favor in a 5 to 4 vote.[10] The Court opined that the Oneidas had a common law right to sue in federal courts and that such claims were justiciable. Additionally, the Court decided that there was no state or federal statute of limitations that would bar such claims. The majority opinion contains the following footnote: "The question whether equitable considerations should limit the relief available to the present day Oneida Indians was not addressed by the Court of Appeals or presented to this Court by petitioners. Accordingly, we express no opinion as to whether other considerations may be relevant to the final disposition of this case should Congress not exercise its authority to resolve these far-reaching Indian claims." Justice Stevens, wrote in his dissent: "This decision upsets long-settled expectations in the ownership of real property in the Counties of Oneida and Madison, New York, and the disruption it is sure to cause will confirm the common law wisdom that ancient claims are best left in repose. The Court, no doubt, believes that it is undoing a grave historical injustice, but in so doing it has caused another, which only Congress may now rectify." In 1998, the United States intervened in the lawsuits on the plaintiff's behalf in order for the claim to proceed against New York State because the state asserted its immunity under the 11th Amendment.[11] Based on City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation and Cayuga Indian Nation v New York, the Defendants moved for summary judgment.[12] On May 21, 2007, Judge Kahn dismissed the Oneidas' possessory land claims and allowed the non-possessory claims to proceed.[13] Both parties appealed Judge Kahn's decision. In a decision dated August 9, 2010, the Second Circuit opined that the non-possessory claims could not proceed and remanded the case back to the district court to enter a judgement in favor of the State and Counties.[14] The Oneidas plan to appeal to the US Supreme Court.[15]

Status of ancient tribal lands re-acquired on the open market

State law forbids Class III gaming on lands within New York State. For some time, it was believed that the land the Oneida Indian Nation once owned, sold, and since re-acquired automatically returned to its status as Indian Territory. In City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation, Justice Ginsburg determined that the land the casino is on was part of the Oneidas' original tribal lands.[16] The Court continued that although the land may be part of an ancient reservation land grant, over 200 years was too long to be non-Indian territory for the Oneida Indian Nation to re-establish its immunity over those lands.

OIN supporters criticize the decision as asking more questions than it has answered. The issue in Sherrill was whether the city could collect property taxes on OIN's re-acquired tribal lands. The Supreme Court determined that the City of Sherrill could collect property taxes. But the court failed to overturn the Second Circuit's finding that the land qualified as Indian Territory. OIN supporters speculate that Sherrill stands only to say that the OIN cannot re-instate its tax immunity but that the land is still Indian Land. UCE and its supporters disagree and claim that Sherrill is a blanket approval to foreclose on all OIN property that has back taxes. Additionally, some UCE members wish to extend the case to bar the casino's operation as illegal and have it shut down until a new agreement can be reached.

To "re-establish sovereign authority" over ancient tribal lands re-acquired on the open market, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the "proper avenue" for the Oneida Indian Nation was through § 465 of the Indian Reorganization Act and apply to the Department of the Interior to place the disputed lands into federal trust.[17]

In April 2005, the Oneida Indian Nation applied to have this land taken into trust. By letter dated June 10, 2005, Associate Deputy Secretary Cason advised Ray Halbritter that the “Department of Interior’s (“DOI”) position with respect to certain issues related to the status of OIN lands ... we do not agree with [the] assertion that the Court’s ruling in Sherrill recognizes the continuation of restriction on alienation protections over recently re-acquired lands ... it is our opinion that Court in City of Sherrill unmistakably held that the lands at issue (property interests purchased by OIN on the open market) are subject to real property taxes. In the event these taxes are not paid, we believe such lands are subject to foreclosure. Further, please be advised that the BIA is in the process of taking appropriate action to clarify that its recordation of OIN deeds does not have the legal effect of designating these lands as restricted against alienation pursuant to 25 USC 177.”[18]

On February 27, 2008, the BIA released its Final Environmental Impact Statement and recommended that 13,084 acres (52.95 km2) be placed into trust. After this announcement, the DOI gave a 30-day comment period and announced that it would have a decision on or after March 25, 2008.[19]

Some government officials have expressed concern with creating a "patchwork of taxable and tax-exempt properties" in addition to a "jurisdictional nightmare." However, a recent sting operation conducted in conjunction with Oneida Nation Police and the Oneida County Sheriff disproves this argument.[20] In opposing the OIN's land-into-trust application, New York has raised the question of whether the Indian Reorganization Act even applies to the Oneidas because they specifically rejected the Indian Reorganization Act 12 to 57 in a vote conducted on June 17, 1936.[21] According to the letter from Richard Platkin, Counsel to the Governor, to Franklin Keel citing Michael T. Smith's Memorandum to Director, Office of Indian Services, Bureau of Indian Affairs, dated February, 24, 1982 at 8 "the Oneida were considered not eligible, but in a reconsideration based on the discussion in the case of 'US v Boylan', the Department of Interior changed its position and conducted the referendum."[22]

On March 2008, County Executive Anthony Picente held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of negotiating a settlement before the March 25th deadline.[23] The Oneida accused Congressman Arcuri of unprofessional backdoor politics to try and stall the decision when he sought to block the move legislatively.[24] While criticized by both sides for killing any progress made between the two sides, Mr. Arcuri explained that it was his attempt to try to encourage negotiations.[25] But there has not been any attempt to negotiate since then.[26] On January 2008, Mr. Ray Halbritter sent a proposed settlement offer to the state and the county, but has not received a response to date.[27] The Nation has offered to negotiate an agreement pertaining to future trust applications, but the state and local government have not responded to this offer.[28]

On May 20, 2008, the DOI announced that it intends to take 13,004 acres (52.63 km2) into trust.[29] The Oneida Indian Nation offered to negotiate and settle the issues involved, while the state and county officials promised more continued litigation.

On or about June 17, 2008, two groups filed separate lawsuits in federal court challenging the DOI's decision.[30] UCE's suit challenges the DOI's authority to take the land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934; alleging that this trust decision violates the United States Constitution.[28] The other group alleges that the DOI's decision was arbitrary and capricious because some of the trust land is subject to outstanding litigation between the group and the OIN.[28] On June 19, 2008 — the deadline to file suit — New York State, Oneida County, and Madison County filed their claims in federal court as well.[31] The state and county governments' arguments are similar in nature to the arguments UCE has raised. The two main arguments appear to allege that the DOI's decision violates the United States constitution and that the DOI's decision was arbitrary and capricious.[28]

By letter dated January 7, 2009, Steven Miskinis, Esq. of the U.S. Department of Justice notified the Court in which the above mentioned challenges to the May 20, 2008 determination are pending that the U.S. has taken 18 acres (73,000 m2) of land known as the former United States Air Force Space Command Complex at the Verona Research Facility, Germany Road, Verona, New York into trust for the Nation.[32] By letter dated January 9, 2009, by Robert A. Siegfried, Esq., Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York objected to this action and requested an expedited conference and that the United States voluntarily refrain from any further efforts to transfer land into trust for the Nation.[33]


The Oneida Indian Nation has both internal and external opposition. Internally, members of the Wolf Clan in particular protest Halbritter's assumption of power and dissolving of the traditional Oneida government.[34]

Internal governance issues

According to Shenandoah v. United States DOI, 159 F.3d 708, (2d Cir. 1998), there are serious question as to the legitimacy and authority of Ray Halbritter to act on behalf of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York. Specifically, “In 1977, members of the Oneida Nation appointed Halbritter and two other Nation members as interim representatives of the Nation. On April 25, 1993, the Grand Council, consisting of representatives from all six Iroquois nations, including the Oneida Nation, purported to remove Halbritter from his position as interim Nation representative. The Department acknowledged the removal on August 10, 1993, but the next day stayed its acknowledgment pending BIA review. After requesting the Nation to conduct a referendum to select a representative, the Department agreed to Halbritter's proposal to submit "statements of support" from Nation members. On February 4, 1994, the Department notified Halbritter that it would continue to recognize him as the Nation's permanent representative until such time as he resigned or was removed by the Nation in accordance with certain procedures. According to plaintiffs, on May 21, 1995, the Nation once again removed Halbritter from his position as Oneida representative. Although informed of Halbritter's alleged second removal, the Department had not acted upon that notification by the time of oral argument, and as of the time of this opinion, we have received no information to the contrary.”

External opposition comes from groups like the Upstate Citizens for Equality, a group that opposes Haudenosaunee land claims in upstate New York and the tax free basis under which the tribe's enterprises can operate despite the nation's limited sovereignty.[35]

Tax issues

Land owned by the Oneida Indian Nation was generally thought to be tax free until City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation, 544 US 197 (2005).

The Oneida Indian Nation has asserted that it made up for this lack of land tax by donating to local schools in amounts that exceed the taxes that the county would normally receive from the land plots, known as Silver Covenant Chain Education Grants.[36] In recent years, due to the increased tensions between the local governments, the state government, and the Oneida Indian Nation, the amount of donations have either significantly decreased or stopped. Stockbridge Valley school has several Oneida Indian children, and yet the nation refuses to give them any money because of the views of one teacher.[37] In late fall 2003 a representative of the Nation contacted the Stockbridge Valley Community School District and advised that it would not receive the Silver Covenant unless a particular teaching assistant was fired.[38]

Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v Gould, 14 NY3d 614 [2010], adds yet another twist in the complex issue of whether Indian Tribes, like the Oneidas, have to collect state sales taxes from non-Indian consumers. According to the Court of Appeals in Gould, the Indian Tribe is not subject to State tax law. Accordingly, for purposes of the State Tax Law, Nation lands reacquired on the open market are still reservation lands.

Potential pact between Oneida County and the Oneidas

On May 8, 2009, Anthony Picente, Oneida County Executive, announced a pact between Oneida County and the Oneida Indian Nation.[39] The Oneida County Board of Legislators and the State legislature must approve this pact within the next 60 days. If this pact is approved, the Oneidas would have to pay $55 million to Oneida County over the next 10 years, beginning with a $30 million lump sum payment this year. Additionally, the Oneidas are to make silver covenant grants for the next five years before the Oneidas would be able to apply for more trust land without county opposition. In return for this, the county agrees to drop its lawsuits and satisfy all pending tax lien and tax foreclosure proceedings. The Oneidas also agree to impose a sales tax on all businesses situated on Oneida Indian Nation lands that is equal to Oneida County's sales tax rate. This nation sales tax will be imposed on all non-Indian patrons as well as tribal members.[40]

The pact also would require the Oneida County Sheriff and the Oneida Indian Nation Police Department to negotiate a law enforcement pact as well.[41]

See also


  1. ^ Class III gaming is the broadest class of gambling under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
  2. ^ For more information on these challenges see the Turning Stone Casino & Resort page.
  3. ^ Vernon Downs Racino To Close; Vernon Downs Racino Back On Track
  4. ^ Id.
  5. ^ Id.
  6. ^ Although there is no single document to provide "fact" on this statement, one only need to look closely at OIN's local investment efforts. Several local firms have benefited greatly from the business OIN provides them. Among other firms, Par Tech, a local technology firm, is often queried first to work on some project for the OIN. If a definitive article is required, it is suggested someone conduct an interview with OIN officials, publish it, and link to it here.
  7. ^ 464 F2d 916
  8. ^ 414 US 661 [1974]
  9. ^ 719 F2d 525 [1983]
  10. ^ County of Oneida v Oneida Indian Nation, 470 US 226 [1985]
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ uce motion
  13. ^ Judge Kahn's decision
  14. ^ Second Circuit decision
  15. ^ Oneidas to Appeal Claim decision
  16. ^ 544 US 197 [2005]
  17. ^ City of Sherrill v Oneida Indian Nation, 544 US 197, 217-221 [2005]
  18. ^ James E. Cason Letter, June 10, 2005
  19. ^ Final Environmental Impact Statement
  20. ^ Prostitution Sting At Turning Stone Nets Three
  21. ^ Letter from Richard Platkin, Counsel to the Governor, to Franklin Keel, Regional Director, Eastern Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs
  22. ^ "Letter from Richard Platkin, Counsel to the Governor, to Franklin Keel, Regional Director, Eastern Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  23. ^ Picente Seeks Compromise with Oneidas; for a copy of the transcript of that hearing, FOIL it from Oneida County Government page
  24. ^ Arcuri Attempts to Stall Decision; Nation Spokesman Says Arcuri's 'Secret' Legislation Is Discriminatory, Immoral
  25. ^ Nation Spokesman Says Arcuri's 'Secret' Legislation Is Discriminatory, Immoral
  26. ^ The lack of documentation of or publication on any negotiation talks is the source of proof.
  27. ^ In his initial "reaction" to the DOI's announcement, he made mention of this information, it was on the late news.
  28. ^ a b c d Id.
  29. ^ DOI Decision
  30. ^ 2 Suits Filed Opposing Land Into Trust Decision; UCE article regarding UCE, et al v. United States, et al; Actual Complaint filed in court
  31. ^ State, counties file land-into-trust suit
  32. ^
  33. ^ Transfer memo
  34. ^ ONYOTA'A:KA ~ People of the Standing Stone ~ the Oneida
  35. ^ (see Oneida Tribe)
  36. ^ Oneida Indian Nation - A Brief History
  37. ^ School caught in Oneida Nation dispute : ICT [2004/01/24]
  38. ^
  39. ^ Picente Announces Agreement
  40. ^ Proposed Pact on the Oneida County website; Oneida Indian Nation informational site
  41. ^ Id.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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