“There is no negotiating with Halftown”: Seneca County recognizes traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ sovereignty after Rule 29 passes, resulting in a new letter to BIA 

Everyone expected a federal representative to appear before the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, but were met with a surprise — a sachem chief instead. 

Sam George, sachem chief of the Cayuga Nation’s Bear Clan, spoke to county officials at their latest regular meeting on Tuesday, August 10, resulting in an unexpected Rule 29 passing and a monumental victory for the traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people and leadership.

During a special session in late-July, supervisors invited Clint Halftown, the Nation’s federally-recognized representative, to join one of their upcoming meetings in an effort to reinvigorate communications, which could’ve led to future negotiations on issues like taxation and cannabis.

James Garlick, a Seneca County resident, stood at the podium during the public comment portion of the evening and asked whether supervisors have already reached out to Halftown about scheduling a meeting. Chairman Bob Hayssen assured him that a message had been sent to Halftown, which went unanswered for two weeks.

Last meeting, supervisors ran off a list of parties who should be brought to the table if they were going to speak with Halftown: excluding the traditionalist faction. Unlike Halftown, who didn’t attend their meeting, George came as an ambassador — an educator of Haudenosaunee teachings. He thanked Hayssen, a man George has admired ever since 2013, especially now for allowing him an opportunity to speak his mind — in his own Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ words. 

All they can do is tell their story as traditionalists since they hold no official power in the eyes of the United States’ federal government. 

After offering the Thanksgiving Address, George never uttered Halftown’s name — except for once and by mistake. Otherwise he kept referring to him as “the sick one.” Halftown has been “outside of the circle” for years and the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ Council “cannot protect him anymore,” he claimed.

“When people commit treason in our circle, that person gets banished from all the people,” George said. “He is no longer one of us.”

George asked the supervisors why they would be willing to meet and work with “a domestic terrorist” who destroyed occupied cabin residences and commercial buildings in the middle of the night along State Route 89.

With Halftown shunned by Cayuga traditional faction’s leadership, the official title of “federal representative” has never been a recognized distinction or honor in traditional Haudenosaunee forms of governance — except for the Oneida Nation. There was another federal representative. His name was Ray Halbritter and Halftown got his “playbook” from one representative to another, as George explained. 

“We’re trying to get that message to the government,” he added. 

It’s important for the supervisors to put their words together “before he hurts more of our people and yours because that’s still possible.”

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To prevent future acts of violence, George advises all of them to “come to the right people next time” — not Halftown, his lawyers or spokespeople. 

The “right people” include Ken Wolkin, a master’s student at the University of Washington’s Department of Geography, who has been closely connected to this issue as a long-time resident of Rochester and considers himself as an ally to the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ community. 

“Every time we speak to Clint Halftown, every time you speak with his attorneys, you give him power,” Wolkin said. “You license and underwrite his ability to make representations and claims in the name of the Nation.” 

Wolkin challenges and charges the Board of Supervisors with writing a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs once again — this time around affirming the county’s opinion that their “leadership recognition decision is incorrect” regarding Halftown and how their municipal offices will only to work with Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ governance from now on.

Supervisors valued his insights and expertise, especially the chair of the Special Indian Affairs Committee.

“I’m sure this board can write a fresh letter to the BIA stating that issue; we believe the clan mothers, the traditional chiefs should be leaders and recognized,” Hayssen said.

Wolkin is even willing to help the county draft its own letter.

While county officials still feel helpless when it comes to airing with their grievances about the Cayuga Nation through federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Interior following the appointment of Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, who has been mute on the subject, Wolkin says power still lies in Seneca County in “how you relate with the Cayuga Nation.”

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He’s telling them to “stop relating with Clint Halftown,” essentially cutting him off altogether.

Echoing the comments of George and Wolkin, Dylan Seneca, a Cayuga Nation member and one of the defendants named in the ongoing rent civil lawsuits, cautioned supervisors by saying “there is no negotiating with Clint Halftown.” 

Hayssen swiftly answered back, stating: “I agree with you.” 

The Halftown Council is simply just a “fake it to make it council” even though the courts have sided with their opposing faction in 2016, according to Seneca. 

He pleaded with supervisors, asking them to work with the condoled chiefs and clan mothers — warning them that cooperating with Halftown will only “continue to deal with disruption in your county.”

“He’s all about power and money. That’s not our way of life. Like Sam [George] said, we’re all about peace, love, compassion…. working together as one,” Seneca said. “The people are resistant against his fake council.”

It’s a resistance that has become a daily lived-experience, one filled with their federally-recognized leadership “harassing us every single day.” 

With Cayuga Nation Police officers allegedly sitting across from their homes, watching, recording and even following traditional dissidents who oppose Halftown’s power grab, Seneca firmly believes “none of it is real” — his Nation police department, tribal court or sovereignty claims. 

“We want to work with you guys as the neighbors of Seneca County,” Seneca emphasized. 

As neighbors, its their obligation to respect one anothers way of life in accordance with the Two Row Wampum Treaty, which has been violated by Halftown through the eyes of Seneca.

“Clint has one foot in the canoe and one foot in the ship. He’s utilizing both systems to get as far as where he is now,” Seneca explained. “If you work with the clan mothers and the chiefs, you can dismantle that because that’s not our way of government.”

“He’s got more than a foot in your vessel,” George added. 

Sachem Chief Sam George of the Bear Clan hoists a Two Row Wampum Treaty belt over his head inside the Seneca Falls Community Center on March 12, 2020. Credit: Gabriel Pietrorazio, FingerLakes1.com.

After Seneca finished speaking, Fayette Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti admitted she’s willing to invoke Rule 29, allowing for a motion to come before the board to approve the writing of a new letter, claiming “we’re ready for us to do what you need us to do.” 

Supervisors and traditionalists found common ground on Tuesday evening with Lorezentti recognizing “we’re in a hard spot because we have no power either, unfortunately.” 

Yet the traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people haven’t stepped down either. A march ensued organized by the “solidarity campers” had occurred along State Route 89 earlier on Tuesday afternoon — one that wasn’t positively received by all county officials, particularly Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Mike Ferrara. 

With the public highway temporarily blocked, vehicles were unable to commute, causing the town of Seneca Falls to take “a backseat” to the peaceful demonstration.

Traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people and their allies march along State Route 89 on Tuesday, August 10. Credit: Submitted Photo.

Although no arrests were made among any protesters who refused to abide by a police order, Lorenzetti shouted back, cutting Ferrara off, acknowledging the fact that Halftown should’ve been arrested as well following the violent acts that occurred on county property. 

“Thank God, Mike, cause nobody arrested Clint when he did what he did; and everybody took a backseat then,” Lorezentti admitted. 

Ferrara back-pedaled, insisting it’s “a totally different situation” as his defense to the overnight demolition of Nation-owned properties on February 22, 2020

Later on, Charles Bowman of Fayette, explained he’s the only individual who had been indicted several months later following a violent brawl that occurred a week after the overnight demolition.

“I’m not quite sure why our DA sided with these mercenaries, baton-wielding thugs,” Bowman said. 

Mark Sinkiewicz, the county’s district attorney, sat from afar and watched the entire meeting unfold just weeks after a FingerLakes1.com investigation revealed vital information regarding Bowman’s case from a shocking recorded conversation back in late-September 2020. 

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Bowman believes the latest round of civil litigation against traditional Nation members over rent is an act of retaliation and simply all about getting rid of the people that “should be running the government.”

“He’s going after his enemies: the traditional people that want to see him gone,” he added.

A brief discussion ensued about Bowman’s comments regarding the latest development in the Nation’s approach to collecting more than $600,000 in back-owed property rent from Nation member tenants, which admittedly caught supervisors off-guard.

Dave Ettman, a county attorney, explained to a vocal Lorenzetti that their county civil officers are required to comply with whatever judgement is lawfully handed down by the presiding judge at the Seneca County Supreme Court. Although the Nation is solely after monetary judgments thus far, evictions may still arise because of the registration of a foreign judgement motion. 

“It’s a civil matter. We have no authority to keep him from going to court to do that,” Ettman said.

With a meeting overwhelmingly consumed by conversations about the Cayuga Nation, county officials have finally come to a crossroads: cooperate with a no-show Halftown or stand beside the unexpected arrival of George and Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people. 

Starting to draft a new letter to the BIA can result in the faster dismantlement of Halftown and his council, Seneca suggested.

The motion for a Rule 29 passed unanimously, causing a separate vote for supervisors on creating the letter, also passed without any objections as well.

Wolkin, who promised to work together with the county the write the letter that underwent an expedited approval, already got started that same evening as soon as their meeting ended, according to sources at FingerLakes1.com.