Protest lasts through weekend after demolition at Cayuga Nation properties in Seneca Falls

Over the weekend, a standoff ensued on opposing sides of State Route 89 in Seneca Falls between the Cayuga Nation Police and members of the Cayuga Nation and their supporters, who protested after several buildings were demolished on Cayuga Nation property — at least 12 buildings including a daycare and schoolhouse were destroyed.

“As long as it takes.”

Parking their car along Route 89, protesters are planning on staying for “as long as it takes,” as one protester put it.

Standing along State Route 89, Indigenous and non-Indigenous demonstrators are outraged over the destruction of Cayuga Nation-owned properties in the early morning on Sunday, February 23. Credit: Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com

The state route has been segregated, on one side lies the Cayuga Nation Police near the former Cayuga Lake Trading store and directly across from them resides the protesters and activists who oppose Clint Halftown’s decision to crush an entire Cayuga Nation community — one that he is a part of and actively represents as the Nation’s representative to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Scores of protesters told FingerLakes1.com that a drone has been hovering overhead ever since yesterday near the demolished smoke shop on the opposite side of State Route 89, which has placed the minds of many demonstrators at unease while being actively surveilled from a distance by an operator who is shrouded in anonymity.

Demonstrators firmly believe that Clint Halftown, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ federally recognized leader, is solely to blame for the destruction of 12 Nation-owned properties in late-February. Credit: Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com.

Although it’s still unclear about who has been operating the drone remotely, protesters have voiced opinions, assuming that Halftown alongside his security personnel are controlling the drone since it would occasionally descend from time-to-time in order to recharge its battery behind the battered buildings where the Cayuga Nation Police were stationed nearby the Nation’s headquarters.

Along the roadside, however, drummers banged their instruments and sang — some shouting chants while calling for attention as drivers passed by honking their horns.

At one point when the Seneca Police Department arrived to ask protesters to stay behind the emergency lane line, some protesters acknowledged them as the “real police” cheering them on as they walked past the long line of supporters with signs in their hands that extended past the four-way intersection.

“He does not represent the people. He represents himself.”

Cayuga Nation-owned buildings were demolished during an overnight take-back of the properties, which had been carried out by the Cayuga Nation Police Department on Saturday, February 22. Credit: Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com

Cameron Seneca, a member of the Cayuga Nation explained that this protest was in support of the “traditional Cayuga Nation, not the federal representative.”

“The traditional people that actually want to be living traditionally how we should be living, don’t want federal representation and Clint Halftown wants that federal representation,” Seneca told FingerLakes1.com.

As the Cayuga Nation’s Bureau of Indian Affairs representative, Halftown is allowed to accept federal grants, “and he took that to the extreme by saying I am the leader of the Nation,” Seneca claimed.

“They came in guns drawn, told us to get up, zip tied us, threw us in their little paddy wagon they had. They set us out in front and they made us all watch while they demolished everything.”

While Seneca was at home, he encountered a frightful experience from Saturday evening in the early hours of that morning on February 23.

“I was restless throughout the night and I was trying to figure-out why I’m so restless. I usually sleep until it’s time to get up in the morning,” he recalled.

But then he eventually woke-up when he heard someone come in saying that they took everything. Seneca went downstairs and had been met by a group of men dressed in Cayuga Nation Police jackets while at gunpoint, who later zip tied his wrists together.

“They came in guns drawn, told us to get up, get out. Zip tied us, threw us in their little paddy wagon they had. They set us out in front and they made us all watch all the demolished everything,” Seneca remembered.

Some of their hands still had dug-in impressions from the zip ties being bound around their wrists during the 2 a.m. raid as they watched their Cayuga community get utterly crushed — both physically and spiritually. As the raid unfolded five Cayuga Nation security guards were on-duty, all of whom were unarmed.

“And our security they’re not they don’t have no reason to carry guns,” Seneca said. “Actually, we tell them no guns and then for them to come in here guns loaded to their face, you know, your hands tied and everything is just it’s absurd.”

When zip tied, the Cayuga Nation Police informed them that they had a search and seizure order.

“They were told if they resist, maybe taken in and arraigned over at Clint Halftown’s tribal court, and we Cayuga people don’t believe in a tribal court system,” he added.

Amid the destruction, six were displaced but welcomed into the homes of members of fellow Nations as they “opened our doors to whoever wants to stay in support and help,” according to Seneca.

“Why would you need to demolish everything?”

Among the 12 buildings that were totally demolished from Saturday morning also included the decimation of a daycare and schoolhouse that served as a cultural center for the Cayuga peoples.

Protesters aligned with the Cayuga traditionalists openly oppose the leadership of Clint Halftown. Credit: Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com

Protesters have viewed this total destruction of their as community as a blatant and outright attack upon their culture and even the erasure of traditionalist practices from the properties altogether.

Seneca asked: “Why would you need to demolish everything?”

While the reasons still remain unclear for Seneca and other behind why the cultural center was destroyed during the raid, he hopes that Halftown will give an honest explanation to his own people aside from a press release statement. But for now, Seneca is focused on one-day having the traditional Cayuga Nation people unite to reclaim home and community from Halftown.

“Hopefully, soon the Cayuga people, right Cayuga people can get back what’s rightfully theirs and ours,” Seneca said.

The schoolhouse was considered to be “the cultural heart of the community” and it was destroyed under Halftown’s orders and along with their traditionalist way of life, which directly impacts how the Cayuga Nation educates their children through their cultural teachings.

“We are not after the money or anything. We are greatly devastated that it was taken away from our kids,” Seneca later continued.

This space served as the place where cultural knowledge was passed along for generations and had been preserved — until now.

“Even though while we were still learning the plant, we’re incorporating our kids to come with us and learn and they were also learning how to plant,” Seneca explained. We’re learning our language, we’re incorporating it into learning the language also.”

But now the Cayuga Nation has been forced off their own land and the teachings that were once with it.

For Seneca, this issue was personal for him who was a student in the cultural program for about two and a half years at the schoolhouse.

Seneca mentioned that their schooling is continuous and some students had been learning for four or five years, which was a staple for the traditional community that Cayuga strives to maintain, especially in connection to their cultural roots.

While the physical space of the schoolhouse has been erased, Seneca believes that his people can always remember their teachings and carry them elsewhere in the meantime until a new schoolhouse can be built long after this conflict is eventually resolved.

“As of right now that where we were learning was taken away from us, but what we learned hasn’t and that’s one thing that we all still hold onto greatly,” he said. “We can always rebuild. But he can never take away from what we learned.”

Even though their community has been systematically crushed, Seneca has holds onto hope for the future of the Cayuga Nation since his people have faced similar historical conflicts in the past and still survived to tell the tales from that troubling past.

“Still trying to wake up from a nightmare. Every time we come by, or the whether they’re driving by it’s just disgust or heartbroken at the same time and but yet, we’re a community here, the Cayugan members,” Seneca said. “We come from a long line of survivors and colonization. We know that we have it in our blood to keep moving forward so we can’t let something like this destroy us.”

During the protest, FingerLakes1.com received a press statement from Samuel George, a sachem chief of the Cayuga Nation, that reads:

“In order to call yourself a Cayuga Nation Council you must have condole chiefs, a ceremony by which the Haudenosaunee Confederacy recognizes those condoled chiefs, their clan mothers and faith keepers. Clint Halftown has been recognized by the BIA as a federal representative whose only function is to accept federal monies. We have no idea what he does with this money meant for the Cayuga people.

The properties that were destroyed were used by the Cayuga people, for their livelihood, for learning our culture, our history and our language, to provide daycare for our children, to have our traditional garden with all of the people, especially our children, learning about our seeds and growing traditions. This area was our hub for Cayuga people.

Ask Mr. Halftown how this action is for his people that he accepts money on behalf of The Cayuga people here have thrived off of the properties he destroyed. No leader of the Cayuga people would bring in guns, we are a peaceful people. Today, while reeling from the action, my people have shared their fears with me, including little children. How can the BIA justify such actions against one’s own people? The decision spoken of in recent articles affirmed that the Great Law of Peace, traditional oral law of the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is based on consensus decision making and clan mothers, and still governs the Cayuga Nation and its leadership decisions.

This is much more than ‘Those properties were under the control of the group that opposes Halftown’. It has been about the people who have come home to their territory living and thriving in their own community, their traditional land.

The Cayuga people who used these properties never asked Mr. Halftown or the Federal government for a penny, as sovereign people we govern through the Great Law of Peace, we don’t take another government’s money. If you know the Two Row Wampum Treaty, we believe that we stay in our canoe and the surrounding people stay in their own boat. It saddens and distresses us that all of the news articles refer to him as ‘the leadership.’ The actual Council and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy for many years have tried to work with him but someone who is full of ego will not budge to work with his people.

One silver lining here is that many groups of people have contacted us offering help, both Native and non-Native, our allies. The other is our ways that have been going on for thousands of years. Our law is a law of the mind from giving thanks through condolence to one mind in council to the realization that the Good Mind pursues and accepts Peace. This law is created and maintained by the Good Mind, one that is both ‘used well’ and ‘used for good’ since one will inevitably lead to the other.

It is the sincere hope of all those affected that these wanton acts of destruction will cause the Bureau of Indian Affairs to finally see that Halftown does not have the interests of his own people at heart. It is only the recognition of the BIA that has given him the power to perpetuate these abuses.”


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