SENECA FALLS – The Seneca County Board of Supervisors met in emergency session Sunday over concerns about the early Saturday morning destruction of 12 buildings owned by the Cayuga Indian Nation in Seneca Falls.
The buildings were partially knocked down around 2:30 a.m. Saturday on the direction of Clint Halftown, leader of one of two dueling tribal factions battling over control of tribal government.
Damaged and made unusable were a convenience store, a cannery, an ice cream and miniature golf business, a day care center, a longhouse and school and several temporary cottages.
Bob Hayssen, R-Varick, chairman of the county board, called the special session because of concerns about safety of county residents due to escalating tensions between the two factions.
“Many people see this as an act of terrorism, an act of war done in the middle of the night. People are concerned this could escalate,” Hayssen said.
He said six people spoke at the meeting, voicing concerns about the situation. One was former board chairman Bob Shipley of Waterloo. Another was Joseph Heath, a Syracuse lawyer who represents the so-called Unity Council or anti-Halftown faction that was operating the Seneca Falls businesses and properties.
Halftown, by prior agreement, operates CIN properties in Union Springs in Cayuga County.
“This is not Cayuga Nation law. These are clearly unlawful acts of destruction of Nation property and are in complete violation of the Great Law of Peace,” Heath said. “The traditional chiefs and clan mothers have said for years that Halftown is lawless and his newly concocted government, which was created with the illegal, backroom assistance of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Eastern Regional Director, was illegitimate with no defined process or procedure.”
He added: “This is a viciously unlawful act in complete violation of Cayuga Nation law, carried out by a mercenary police force, all white, with no Cayugas. What kind of government destroys a day care center for political reasons It is a very sad day for the Cayuga Nation and its citizens whose jobs they just bulldozed.”
The board then went into executive session for discussion of possible litigation with Brian Lauddadio, a Rochester attorney who represents the county on Indian matters. A lawyer for Halftown also was allowed to attend the closed-door session.
Hayssen said the board returned to open session and passed two motions. One asked for the U.S. Marshal Service to protect people and property because local police feel they are not authorized to act on land owned by the Cayugas. The Nation does not have a federally-recognized sovereign reservation in the two counties, but has an application pending to put 129 acres into federal trust.
The second motion asked the BIA to withhold a recently-announced HUD housing grant to the Nation of more than $287,000 “until responsible leadership” can be established.
The anti-Halftown faction staged a peaceful protest Sunday at the Route 89 site of the demolished buildings.
“It’s sad to see things come to this,” Hayssen said.