SENECA FALLS — The state’s highest court heard arguments in Albany Sept. 5 on the long-standing internal dispute between two rival factions of the Cayuga Nation.
A decision from the New York State Court of Appeals is pending.
Unity Council attorney Margaret Murphy of Hamburg and Nation Council attorney David DeBruin of Washington, D.C., argued to the state Court of Appeals.
The two competing factions vying for leadership of the Seneca Falls-based tribe are the Cayuga Nation Council, led by Clint Halftown, and the Unity Council, led by William Jacobs and Samuel Campbell. The Cayuga Nation Council and Halftown have been recognized by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as the Cayuga’s governing body for purposes of federal funding and other interactions between the Nation and the federal government. The Unity Council has gone to court to challenge Halftown’s status.
In 2014, the Unity Council seized the Nation’s offices and security center, as well as a Nation-owned cannery, gas station and convenience store, and ice cream business in Seneca Falls and took control of operation of those offices and businesses. The Nation Council retained control over tribal properties in Union Springs, Cayuga County.
In 2016, the two factions submitted competing requests for federal funding to the BIA, including funding for the seized offices. When the BIA failed to negotiate a settlement between the two parties, the regional director asked them to submit material supporting their respective claims to legitimate authority.
The Unity Council presented evidence they said supported its claim that it represented the Nation’s leadership under its traditional governmental structure of chiefs and citizens appointed by clan mothers. The Halftown group presented evidence from a mail survey sent to the tribe’s 400 or so members in which a majority supported Halftown group as the lawful leaders of the Nation.
In 2017, the BIA recognized the Cayuga Nation Council and Halftown as the lawful governing body, citing the majority support the group received from the mail survey.
The Cayuga Nation Council then took legal action to evict the Unity Council faction from their Seneca Falls properties and businesses. They filed a lawsuit against Campbell and 13 other members of the Unity Council, claiming they were trespassing on Nation property. They sought monetary damages and recovery of the seized properties.
The Unity Council moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over internal governmental disputes of an Indian nation. The state Supreme Court denied the motion to dismiss and issued a preliminary injunction requiring the Unity Council to vacate the properties. The Unity Council appealed.
State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, voted 3-2 to uphold the lower court ruling, initiating another Unity Council appeal.