Gov. David Paterson’s administration said today that the agreements announced this week between the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of Mohican Indians, of Wisconsin that lay the groundwork for a casino in the Catskills is not public at this time.
Peter Kiernan, counsel to the governor, said the litigation settlement and signing of a gaming contract are contingent on approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior and won’t be in effect legally until that happens.
The agreements settle a 150-year-old land claim the Stockbridge-Munsees have on land in New York. Under the settlement, the Stockbridge-Munsees will drop its claim to 23,000 acres in Madison County in exchange for 300 acres in Sullivan County. The tribe will be able to build a casino and resort on the property.
But the Oneida Indian Nation disagrees on whether the agreements are public. This is part of a statement it issued in response to Kiernan:
“The Governor signed the agreement and committed the State of New York to it. The public has a right to see agreements which the Governor signs. The fact that the agreement requires the approval of the United States Department of the Interior to go into effect does not mean that it is not final or that the public cannot see it. The Governor did not make a mere settlement proposal. He signed an actual agreement and will now submit it to the Department of the Interior for approval. There is absolutely no legal impediment to public release of the agreement. The public can only comment on the State’s agreement, and express opinions to the Department of the Interior, if it is released and made public. The public has a right to know what the Governor agreed to, and the fact that the agreement will be submitted for federal approval only makes it more important for the public to know.”
The Oneida Indian Nation has a similar claim to land in Madison County.
At the same time, the Oneida and Seneca tribe are disputing the state’s right to collect taxes on the sale of cigarettes to non-Indians on reservations. Litigation is pending, and the state has not been able to collect any of the taxes.