The Ithaca Tenants Union came to the aid of Cayugas after their organization and other concerned citizens sought to stand as a watch guard against a possible looming eviction in Seneca County.
The second court date of an ongoing attempt to evict Cayuga Nation members from 14 residences in Seneca County convened inside the Justice Center along State Route 89 this last Tuesday, May 10.
Initially, the first court summons date occurred almost three months ago on Tuesday, Feb. 23. It’s been listed as a $600,000 civil lawsuit, which is still playing out inside the Cayuga Nation Civil Court by Honorable Joseph E. Fahey, a former Onondaga County court judge. Previously, he had been appointed as the Nation’s criminal and civil court judge by Clint Halftown, Nation’s Bureau of Indian Affairs federal representative.
But none of the Cayuga traditionalists, also known as the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ never attended either of the judicial eviction proceedings, which led to grassroots mobilizing. Organizers believed that their goal was “to act as peaceful legal observers upholding basic human rights.”
While the case continues, some within the Nation’s traditional leadership were troubled that Halftown would attempt yet another violent seizure of Nation-owned properties during the middle of the night — quite possibly alongside local, state law enforcement agencies including the New York Park Police, who witnessed the initial “property take-back” while serving as “security detail” on Feb. 22, 2020.
Activists who arrived at the ‘Varick house’ along County Road 124 believed that Halftown and his Cayuga Nation Police Department “clearly violated” human rights principles and are seeking to intervene as non-Indigenous allies to their cause. And so did Ellie Pfeffer, an Ithaca Tenants Union organizer.
“All evictions are evil, displacing natives from their land that they recently re-obtained is especially heinous. Anytime we have a chance to support Indigenous sovereignty, that’s important to us,” Pfeffer said.
Leanne Kettle, a Cayuga who visited the ‘Varick house’, feels that Halftown is “running a corporation” and instead has “taken that money and that power which is a mind changer, and it has corrupted his mind” — including back-owed rent from the 14 properties.
“He thinks because he is seen as this so-called leader that that entitles him to make judgments and act on behalf of the chiefs and clan mothers who he has for the last 25-years been trying to erase and eradicate from Cayuga history,” Kettle said.
However, that hasn’t happened yet, according to sources in Seneca Falls. It’s still unclear whether the Nation’s court has even ruled on the case yet — after contacting Lee Alcott, the Barclay Damon partner who represents Halftown, who failed to respond with a comment.
This conflict has even captured some attention in Albany by State Assemblywoman Anna Kelles [D-125], a progressive, who has succeeded former Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton following the 2020 election cycle, according to organizers from the Ithaca Tenants Union.
However, Kelles didn’t respond to FingerLakes1.com‘s media request for a comment from Friday, May 15.