Senate confirmation of Deb Haaland carries serious stakes in possibly reconciling Cayuga Nation conflict resolution

“The Biden administration will not turn a complete blind eye to things, and if the Halftown faction presses their luck, I believe they will get involved.”

Editor’s Note: Almost three weeks after the hearings started, Deb Haaland has been confirmed by the Senate, becoming the first Indigenous U.S. Secretary of the Interior on Monday, March 15, 2021.

In Washington, the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings continue chugging along for a second day to consider Rep. Deb Haaland [D-NM] to become the next Secretary of the Interior — a monumental decision, which may result in major repercussions for New York State and the ongoing Cayuga Nation leadership saga.

If she gets confirmed — she’ll become the first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior, the top-ranking official within the U.S. Department of Interior. 

However, her appointment as a part of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet has caused a stirring controversy particularly among Senate Republicans, but Senator Joe Manchin [D-WV] as well. 

Haaland, who currently represents New Mexico’s first congressional district, and elected to her first-term as a part of “Blue Wave” in 2018, now faces mounting partisan pressure, which bogged down her Senate confirmation hearing.

In her opening statement, she primarily focused on COVID-19, environment efforts, climate change and renewable energy — but she still didn’t forget about recognizing the Nations and their struggles either.

“I will honor the sovereignty of tribal nations and recognize their part in America’s story,” Haaland said during yesterday’s hearings.

Despite an anticipated delay in the Senate confirmation process, the Biden administration’s top pick to lead the Interior can play a critical role in bringing justice and accountability to the Cayuga Nation.

Even prior to obtaining the Senate’s approval — an old guard is returning, one that has already occurred inside the nation’s capital during the post-Trump era.

Many staffers who once served during former President Barack Obama’s administrations are in 2008 and 2012 are reportedly returning to reassume prominent positions within the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

During the Obama years, Larry Echo Hawk and Kevin J. Washburn, both of whom formerly served as the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, and former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Lawrence S. Roberts all “took a no nonsense approach to the type of insurrection you’re seeing at Cayuga,” according to Galanda Broadman’s managing lawyer, Gabriel Galanda.

Although Echo Hawk, Washburn and Roberts aren’t returning to serve, their legacy still stands among the newly-minted Biden administration.

The Nooksack Indian Tribe, which resides in Washington State, had their federal funding suspended and the Bureau of Indian Affairs “refused to recognize their tribe as a legitimate government.” 

“In places like Nooksack, which was also experiencing insurrection at that time, they interceded and basically told the tribe to knock it off,” Galanda told FingerLakes1.com

Recently, Galanda called for the federal agencies to suspend the Cayuga Nation’s recognition and halt the distribution of federal monies, a year after the demolition of 12 Nation-owned properties occurred in Seneca Falls on Feb. 22, 2020.

In the immediate aftermath, protesters parked their vehicles along State Route 89 adjacently to the demolition site where Cayuga Nation-owned properties were destroyed overnight with some even calling the event “acts of domestic terrorism.” Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com.

In August, Tara Sweeney, the Assistant Secretary to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, denied the Cayuga Nation’s longstanding 15-year federal land-into-trust application.

A Trump appointee in her own right, Sweeney sought to rescind some powers that her own office granted Clint Halftown, the Nation’s federal representative, following the violence that occurred on their own lands during last February.

Yet it’s “very likely” that the federal government’s position on the Cayuga Nation “will transcend both the Trump and Biden administrations” in Galanda’s eyes. 

“The Trump administration saw fit to reject a fee to trust application because of the insurrection. The Biden administration may take things a step further,” he added.

Oftentimes, labeling tribal leadership disputes as an “internal matter” is a commonly-held precedent that has been continually espoused by the federal government for nearly four decades, which actually limits the United States’ role in remediating and resolving conflicts.

Ten Cayuga Nation-owned buildings were demolished around this time last year by the Cayuga Nation Police Department at the direction of Clint Halftown, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ federal representative. Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com.

Haaland, general speaking “likely subscribes to that ideology” — one that “leaves it to Indigenous peoples to resolve their differences,” according to Galanda.

Similarly, the Obama administration’s returnees to the Department of Interior also defer to that same ideology — but that conventional mentality might deviate from the norm when it comes to dealing with the Cayuga Nation’s exceptional case.

“But when something happens so egregiously as the demolition of buildings or the assault and battery of protesters or the assertion of judicial or police jurisdiction when it does not exist, the Biden administration will not turn a complete blind eye to things and if the Halftown faction presses their luck. I believe they will get involved,” Galanda elaborated. 

Haudenosaunee Nation members retreat from a violent brawl with Cayuga Nation Police officers after a few of them stepped onto the demolished site following the conclusion of a press conference held by the Grand Council on Feb. 29, 2020. Photo Courtesy: Greg Cotterill.

“The last four years have been catastrophic for all Indian Nations relative to Washington.”

Joe Heath, a lifelong ally to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, who also served as their general counsel for 40-years and counting, admitted that there’s revitalized hope among the traditional Cayuga leadership to “renew that relationship” with the federal government, and specifically Haaland herself.

“We are hopeful that within the next several months, there will be an administration in the Interior that we can go talk to, but at this point, she hasn’t been approved,” Heath told FingerLakes1.com ahead of Haaland’s ongoing Senate hearings.

In stark contrast, however, “there was no conversation” with the BIA or Interior amid the previous Trump administration, claiming that the “last four years have been catastrophic for all Indian Nations relative to Washington.”

“We didn’t have any communication for help from Washington over the last four years. We had chaos created by an irresponsible corrupt decision by the BIA, rubber-stamped right up to the Assistant Secretary’s desk,” Heath recalled.

That aforementioned decision from Sweeney’s office, which anointed Halftown as the Cayuga Nation’s federal representative is one that’s “corrupt and wrong” in Heath’s mind.

“We prefer to have a federal voice there because of the treaty obligations, and we find that the state listens to them in ways that they may not listen to the Nations, but that’s the ultimate solution.”

Looking to the future, Heath believes that there’s now a chance for the Cayuga traditionalists to finally have a seat at the table with the potential confirmation of Haaland.

“Hopefully, we will have a regime where the treaty partners can talk to each other in a helpful way, that’s the way it works best,” Heath said.

This has been a recurring conversation circling among Cayuga clan mothers and condoled chiefs one that’s been years in the making, and now an ideal opportunity has arisen through consulting Haaland, if she’s officially confirmed.

Currently, Biden is taking aim at aiding and strengthening connections between Indian Country through his newly-transitioned administrative team.

Earlier on, an executive order titled a Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships,” was signed by Biden behind the Resolute Desk inside the White House during his first week in office on Jan. 26. 

His message by way of memorandum that’s directed toward Indian Country is astoundingly clear, penning he’s committed to honoring Tribal sovereignty and including Tribal voices in policy deliberation that affects Tribal communities.

Biden’s new mandate actually reenforces a predated 2000 executive action from the Obama and Clinton presidencies by forcing each federal agency to submit a memorandum within 90-days, each containing a detailed plan of action on how to proceed while in consultation with Nation leadership.

Those reports will not go unread either because the new executive order directly stipulates for these same federal agencies and offices to remain in continual contact with the White House a promise and pact that his administration seeks to honor and uphold.

“Respect for tribal sovereignty will be the cornerstone of our engagement with you,” Biden later told leaders, while signing the new order.

Recently, the 46th president also delivered a virtual message, saying that he’s planning on writing a new and better chapter in the history of our Nation-to-Nation relationship” during the National Congress of American Indians winter session on Feb. 23, 2021.

As for Heath, heading to Washington is just a part of his routine job description, mentioning that “we will go again” because those federal agencies are “our treaty partner” — even though Halftown is recognized as the Nation’s federal representative, not the Grand Council based on a recent 2019 court decision

Even though Heath and the Cayuga traditional leadership are seeking to rekindle their relationship at the federal level through the Biden administration, Galanda insists that state oversight is also needed to carry out a peaceful conflict resolution between the dueling factions within the confines of the Cayuga Nation.

This outcome is especially important ahead of Biden’s new executive order taking effect during the upcoming Nation-to-Nation consultation phase since the decades-long Cayuga internal leadership dispute is still ongoing with no end in sight.

The State of New York needs to shore up local government and work with the federal government including the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Department of Justice, to keep the peace. Better yet, they need to figure-out what they’re going to do to resolve this long-standing saga at Cayuga in a way that does not cause any further demolition of property violence against any individual or other chaos and insurrection, which is unsettled the entire region in New York for way too long,” Galanda ended.