Cayuga Nation community services contract expires: Prompting allegations of discrimination by marginalized faction

As Congress tries to raise the debt-ceiling before mid-October, the 2021 fiscal year for the federal government has already ended, so too did contracts for the Cayuga Nation, which some Nation members claim to be discriminatorily distributed.

The Cayuga Nation’s “Community Services Program,” a three-year Public Law 93-638 contract, expired a few days ago on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

Originally administered to the Nation in 2015 and later renewed in 2018, the contract utilizes funds from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Eastern Regional Office to “operate its government and administer certain programs and services for Nation citizens” through the Nation Council led by Clint Halftown.

FingerLakes1.com acquired all of the Cayuga Nation’s public law contracts from 2015 to 2021 through a half-yearlong Freedom of Information Act request completed by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The scope of work, a statement of purpose which outlines the reasons to obtain funding from a contract, accompanies each application. That same document, filed separately, five years apart in 2015 and 2020, does not read all too different, except for a key distinction.

“A portion of the funds the Nation will receive under this community services grant are used to distribute a monthly newsletter to Nation citizens most of whom do not reside within the borders of the Nation’s reservation,” the original scope of work reads.

The newsletter included pertinent information like births, deaths and wedding announcements, accomplishments and accolades of Nation members, the latest news about legal and economic developments and event postings including the annual picnic, which has been a less than peaceful occasion in previous years.

A closed Facebook group is a dedicated space for members of the Cayuga Nation to plan their annual picnic.

Shari Seneca, a Cayuga Nation member, was escorted from the Nation’s annual picnic in August 2019 by Sharon LeRoy, executive administrator, who drafted the community services program budget requests, according to acquired FOIA records. She alleged LeRoy approached her children before they were finished eating their food, escorting them all away while claiming they weren’t actually Cayuga, which scared the youth, in an encounter captured on Facebook.

Among the Nation’s estimated 550 enrolled members, less than 10 percent are affiliated with the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ who reside around Cayuga Lake, Bear Clan Sachem Chief Sam George says, but there are others who also align with their way of life who now live across the United States.

Still an overwhelming minority, the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ faction faces discrimination during a decades-long leadership dispute with Halftown and the Nation Council, which most recently boiled over during the overnight demolition of Nation-owned properties on February 22, 2020.

George told FingerLakes1.com how most, if not all, traditionalists are never invited to the Nation’s picnic and unable to access the newsletter. He’s unsure of whether the newsletter is still being published today since he, like others, have never been able to subscribe to the service.

Sachief Chief Sam George of the Bear Clan [center] attends the “Ripples of Change” statue dedication ceremony in Seneca Falls on Friday, Sept. 24. (Greg Cotterill, Finger Lakes Daily News)
In 2020, the Nation requested $220,400 for the award’s final year, just a few weeks after the Interior denied their land-into-trust application. This time around, there wasn’t any mention of picnics or newsletters.

More than half of all funds, amounting to $142,000, was slated to compensate the salaries, at least in part, of three Nation employees, who are tasked with issuing Nation identification cards as well hunting and fishing licenses, producing certificates of enrollment and education, recording the births and deaths of Nation citizens, distributing information about Nation enterprises, updating the Nation’s history, among other responsibilities.

“In sum, the funding provided by the BIA under the community services grant program allows the Nation to render critical services to its citizens,” the scope of work, accompanied by the 2021 fiscal year budget reads. 

Aside from paying their employees, the grant also includes an additional $29,000 in fringe benefits. It also allocates thousands of dollars in spending for various office expenses, telephone services, equipment, postage and delivery fees as well as $12,000 to cover rent for the Nation’s headquarters along State Route 89.

Although there’s no actual dedicated budget line, the narrative also notes how the Nation’s government office shares “critical information and services to Cayuga citizens” about accessing medical assistance through the Seneca Nation Health Clinic, located in Salamanca, on their federally-recognized reservation lands.

George claimed the Cayuga Nation has not released any information about the health clinic. He is, however, well aware of the alleged discriminatory practices that have persisted for the last six years. He is reminded about them whenever speaking with relatives who live beyond the boundaries of the Nations ancestral land claim who even receive gift baskets containing organic products during the Thanksgiving season. Traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ families are never the recipients either, according to George.

Maria Stagliano, a Nation spokesperson, declined to comment to FingerLakes1.com about whether the Nation Council seeks to renew the community services contract upon its recent expiration.

Haudenosaunee children stand beside the statue of Laura Cornelius Kellogg, an Indigenous writer, feminist and activist. (Greg Cotterill, Finger Lakes Daily News)