Leadership struggle in New York tribe descends into ‘domestic terrorism’ as buildings bulldozed

Long-running dispute centres on leadership’s claim to ‘seized’ land

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 26 February 2020 16:16 GMT
Cayuga Nation takes stock after building demolitions

A long-running dispute in the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York took a dramatic new turn when a tribal leader sent bulldozers to demolish buildings belonging to his opponents.

Among the buildings destroyed were a store, a schoolhouse and a daycare centre. A local official called it an act of “domestic terrorism”.

According to an attorney representing a faction of Cayuga members who split with the leadership some 20 years ago, the incident involved direct violence against the buildings’ occupants.

"They came in there with drawn handguns, put them to the heads of the security people who were in the buildings and told them if they moved they would be shot. And they destroyed these buildings," he said.

The dispute in the Cayuga nation centres around the leadership of Clint Halftown, the federally recognised leader of the tribe, who has long faced dissent from Cayuga members who want to see the tribe’s traditional way of life preserved.

In a statement, Halftown’s leadership said that it demolished the buildings to recover land that certain members of the tribe who oppose his leadership seized six years ago.

It also claimed that it demolished them “to eliminate certain public safety issues,” and that it “does not want these buildings to become a target for any further friction in the community going forward”.

Local authorities say they are powerless to interfere in the sovereign nation’s domestic issues. However, the latest turn of events has seen others call for action to investigate the demolitions.

New York senator Chuck Schumer demanded an investigation, saying that laws must have been broken: “If they were violated, appropriate action should follow, and we need the same from New York State,” he said. “What happened was awful, and cannot go unpunished.”

The Seneca County Board of Supervisors has now passed resolutions to freeze all funds going to the Cayuga Nation and request that US prosecutors investigate the incidents.

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