SENECA FALLS — The Sky Dancer Smoke Shop and Gas Station, closed since 2013, has been reopened at 126. E. Bayard St. by a faction of the Cayuga Nation, drawing the ire of Cayuga Council leader Clint Halftown.
The business once known as the Andrews Service Station was purchased by the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma in 2010. The tribe, which claims to have an interest in the former Cayuga Nation reservation in Cayuga and Seneca counties, constructed a new building and reopened it as Sky Dancer Smoke Shop and Gas Station in 2011.
It closed in 2013 after agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raided it and seized dozens of case of untaxed cigarettes and more than $550,000 from the store’s bank account. Authorities alleged that the store illegally sold untaxed cigarettes because New York state does not recognize the Oklahoma-based tribe.
In 2012, the state Attorney General’s Office ordered the store to stop selling untaxed cigarettes. The tribe went to court, claiming it has the right to sell the cigarettes and asking for the return of the seized money and cigarettes. The tribe argued unsuccessfully that it is a successor in interest to the historic Cayuga Nation, according to the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, which established a 64,015-acre Cayuga reservation in Cayuga and Seneca counties around the north end of Cayuga Lake.
That reservation included parts of Seneca Falls, Fayette and Varick in Seneca County. The Sky Dancer store is within that area.
Those who reopened the store are reportedly leasing it from the Oklahoma tribe.
In response, the Cayuga Nation issued a statement, saying that the smoke shop “has no affiliation with the Cayuga Nation.”
“It is not a Cayuga-owned or rented property and it is not licensed by the Nation,” the statement read. “We have noted this directly with authorities, advising them that the shop has opened and is operating unlawfully and in violation of zoning restrictions.”
The statement continued: “According to Cayuga Nation ordinance, only Nation members with Council approval may operate businesses under the Nation’s sovereignty. The individuals operating this store do not have such approval and therefore a code enforcement action against the store would not be covered under tribal immunity.
“We encourage authorities to investigate the store’s operations, as well as individuals responsible for its illegal opening.”
The Cayuga Nation Council, led by Halftown, said it believes a small number of Akwesasne Mohawks are operating the store, along with Dusty Parker and members of the John family.
The Nation statement said the John family has a history of taking over Nation business operations by force and operating them for their own benefit, not the benefit of Nation members. Lakeside Trading convenience store and gas station on Route 89 and Garden Street Extension was said to have been taken over by a dissident, anti-Halftown faction in 2014 until Halftown ordered its demolition in February 2020.
The statement said plans to rebuild new structures and businesses on the bulldozed properties are underway.
Mike Ferrara, town supervisor, said the Sky Dancer store was reopened over the Labor Day weekend by members of the former Unity Council — a so-called “traditionalist” faction that leases the property from the Oklahoma tribe.
“Our town attorney is researching this operation to make sure it meets our zoning code in terms of a use variance,” Ferrara said. “Right now, they are only selling untaxed cigarettes but are working on restoring gasoline sales.”