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Opinion. Leaders of the Onondaga Nation, near Syracuse, New York, were excited about New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s visit late last month. 

It was the first visit to the Onondaga Nation by a governor of the Empire State in more than 50 years. The enthusiasm of tribal leaders stemmed from the fact the governor initiated the visit to their homelands to discuss health care and education.

“We extend our gratitude in hosting Hochul, an occurrence that marks the first visit by a Governor of New York to our Longhouse in no less than five decades. Anticipating collaboration with both her and State officials, our focus rests on securing the educational and healthcare support that our treaties guarantee for our community members,” Onondaga Nation Tadodaho (Chief) Sid Hill, who was joined by representatives from the Council of Chiefs and Clan Mothers, said. 

Hochul called the visit a significant step in strengthening the relationship between the Onondaga Nation and the State of New York.

“This meeting follows the momentous event of returning over 1,000 acres of land to the Onondaga Nation,” Hochul said. “During our constructive and profound conversations, we delved into the distinct challenges that the Onondaga Nation faces,”

The meeting marks a significant shift in the relationship between New York tribal leaders and Hochul, who became governor when former Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned on August 23, 2021, over several sexual harassment allegations. 

Up until her visit to the Onondaga Nation, Hochul has had a horrible record working with New York Tribes. 

“I hope it’s the beginning of some meaningful dialogue with the governor who has been at odds with a number of tribes here in the state,” Lance Gumbs, ambassador for the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Long Island and vice president of the northeast region for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said. 

Perhaps the most significant rift between the New York tribes and the governor came whe, as the clock ticked down on 2022,  she vetoed a bill called the Protection of Unmarked Graves Act that would have protected unmarked burials of Native American ancestors from unintentional excavation.

The law, which passed the state legislature unanimously in June 2022, would have implemented several measures to protect unmarked graves, including requiring construction be stopped on private property if human remains were encountered; creating a Native American burial-site review committee; and allowing tribes and individuals to seek injunctions against violators.

Hochul vetoed the bill because it failed to “balance the rights of property owners with the interests of the families of lineal descendants and other groups,” she wrote in her veto memo.

According to proponents of the bill who negotiated with Hochul’s legal counsel daily for roughly a week leading up to her veto, Hochul’s staff added an amended clause to the bill that negated its intent.  

“We were working up until the day that she vetoed it,” Tela Troge, a member of the Shinnecock Nation and the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society, told Native News Online in January 2023. “We were going through the hypothetical situation: what if the development of either a residential or commercial project unearthed a mass burial site of 250 individuals — what would the process be?”

New York tribes were angered by Hochul’s veto. At its first official meeting of 2023, the Seneca Nation Council unanimously approved a resolution condemning New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s veto. 

And then, after five months of continued negotiations between the Assembly, the Senate, and representatives from five tribal nations of New York—Shinnecock Nation, Seneca Nation, Oneida Nation, Unkechaug Nation, and St. Regis Mohawk—a grave protection new bill was inserted into the state budget. 

Hochul signed it without objection.

For decades, New York tribes have fought the state on a variety of fronts, including cigarette taxes and Indian gaming compacts. 

Currently, the Seneca Nation is involved in negotiations with the State of New York for a renewal of a state gaming compact. The current 20-year agreement expires this December. So far, the talks have not gone well. 

“Frankly, for New York’s negotiators to propose such outrageous terms, especially this far into the negotiation process, is absurd and an insult to the Seneca Nation,” Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong said in a YouTube video posted August 11.

At that time, Hochul had recused herself from any involvement in talks between the state and the tribe due to a conflict of interest stemming from her husband being employed as an executive in a gaming company that competes with Seneca Gaming. Since then, Hocul’s husband has left his position, and the governor has sent signals she may involve herself in the gaming negotiations with the Seneca Nation’s gaming agreement.

Hochul’s visit to the Onondaga is a step forward in the right direction. She needs to continue on this pathway of working to improve relationships with all New York tribes.

Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].