The Senecas claim to the land on which the NYS Thruway crosses their land has been previously raised and addressed by the federal government and the federal courts. The lawsuit initiated by the Senecas over this land was dismissed based on the State of New York’s sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The federal government had an ample opportunity to review the merits of this claim and intervene on the Senecas behalf so that their claim would not be dismissed like the federal government did with the Senecas claim to Grand Island (Click here to read the Thruway decision.). For more information on the history of the effort to collect taxes from non-Indian on Indian land see our Taxation page.
Additionally in the Treaty of Canandaigua the Senecas and other New York Indian tribes agreed that they "will forever allow to the people of the United States, a free passage through their lands." Despite this provision the Senecas were paid $75,000.00 for the thruway to be placed through their reservation and now they want to charge a toll.
Regarding the issue of the collection of taxes from non-Indians on Indian land, there is not one single treaty with an Indian tribe or nation in New York that grants an exemption from taxation to any non-Indian. The taxes that the State seeks to collect are imposed only on non-Indians. The arguments raised by the Senecas in opposition to the collection of these taxes have been repeatedly defeated in the courts of this State as well as by the United States Supreme Court.
It is interesting that Mr. Porter states that the Senecas do not acknowledge the U.S. Supreme Court decision Attea v. N.Y. Dept. of Taxation and Finance. Particularly since they relied so heavily on various U.S. Supreme Court cases in support of their claim to Grand Island.
It is also interesting that a few years ago Mr. Porter wrote a paper on Tribal Disobedience where he advances the argument that it would not be difficult to construe the act of blocking a thruway as a terrorist act under the Patriot Act. Click here to read Mr. Porter's article on Tribal Disobedience
The tax burden on the People of the State of New York is too high and must be reduced. However, the selective enforcement of the New York Tax Laws to give relief to a few while raising the burden imposed on others is no answer to this problem. This is particularly so when this policy, established under former Governor Pataki, was not made by the people's representatives in our State Legislature, but by the executive branch of our government in contravention of the expressed policy of our State Legislature which requires the collection of the sales and compensating use taxes from non-Indians making purchases on Indian land and the Executive Branch's constitutional duty to enforce all laws. If this policy is allowed to continue it poses a constitutional crisis due to a violation of the separation of powers doctrine that our government was founded upon.
Governor Paterson is mandated by our State Constitution to enforce all laws. Governor Paterson has recognized this constitutional duty and has vowed to carry it out. However, despite these statements there has been no visible action from our Governor to collect these taxes and assert the Sovereign right of the State of New York.
The various Indian governmental entities should be ashamed of the manner in which they handled this issue in 1997. If they desire to be treated on a government to government basis they should act like a government. They should have acted on their own to prevent such violence and to end such violence if it should occur. That is not to say those who oppose this policy do not have a right to speak their position, but they cannot disturb the peace and act in a violent manner. If Indian governmental entities fail to keep the peace on their land they may be considered condoning this violence against the state and the President of the United States will be called upon to invoke his powers under 25 USC 72 to declare all treaties abrogated with such Indian governmental entity.