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Town of Enfield gets involved in Cayuga Nation controversy, unanimously agreeing to send letter to BIA

The Town Board of Enfield unanimously passed a resolution which will send a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, urging for the federal government’s intervention on the Cayuga Nation conflict.

Its five-member board within Tompkins County ultimately believed it was their moral obligation to voice their solidarity alongside the traditional Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ Cayuga faction. 

But it wasn’t a knee-jerk decision made overnight either.

“Last month’s meeting, I felt was pushing us to basically, I’ll be blunt, flaunt our white privilege to try to tell an Indian nation how to govern itself,” Councilperson Robert Lynch insisted. “And I really felt uncomfortable about that, ethically, this resolution does not do that.”

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The motion, originally introduced by Councilperson James Ricks during October’s meeting, had been tabled in an effort to revise the proposed letter until after consulting Antiracist Enfield, a local advocacy group, and Sachem Chief Samuel George of the Cayuga Nation’s Bear Clan.

It’s gone through a lot of oversight and changes and trying to make it applicable to our situation, and I think that is a timely thing,Ricks said. I think its something that has been well investigated, and that we need to proceed with this to see exactly what the town of Enfield…

“We recognize there’s a lot of passion behind this issue, and I think from a challenging perspective, it’s important for us to be a little less passionate, perhaps, but I absolutely support this letter,” Councilperson Jude Lemke added.

After the resolution passed, Lynch presented a drafted resolution which he read in its entirety, wishing to send a separate letter to Attorney General Letitia James and calling for her to investigate the February 2020 incidents, much like how the Seneca County Board of Supervisors’ letter recently did, but based in a more condemning tone.

The unflinchingly written resolution suggests “Seneca County law enforcement officials, including its District Attorney Mark Sinkiewicz, stand unduly compromised, conflicted, disinterested or unwilling to perform their own sworn official responsibilities in upholding the law to protect property rights and public safety affecting either Indigenous or non-Indigenous residents….,” as Lynch kept reading the entire proposition during the town’s monthly public forum for the very first time.

If passed, the letter would be sent to the state’s attorney general, Sinkiewicz, Chairman Bob Hayssen of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors as well as the Tompkins County Legislature.

During a Nov. 8 phone call ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Lynch revealed that “there was not a grand jury action taken for the destruction of the buildings,” according to Sinkiewicz. 

“I would say as the introducer of this resolution, that in my opinion, the Seneca County law enforcement community and its leaders have been so woefully negligent in this matter,” Lynch added.

Ricks immediately seconded the proposed resolution, but the remaining town members were more reserved and hesitant.

Councilperson Virginia Bryant was concerned with whether this supplemental resolution “would undo what we’ve already passed.”

Fayette’s Charles Bowman, a non-Native, who joined the Zoom call during last night’s town board meeting, had an opportunity to speak after Lynch read his resolution, which openly named him because he had been detained by the Cayuga Nation Police Department

“I mean, the most important thing here is that the destruction of that property was absolutely wrong and should be investigated thoroughly. The charges that I’m going through…. it’s a disgrace to our judicial system,” Bowman said. “I’d really love for the attorney to look into the actions of the DA because the way he ran the grand jury was just a show for our community that he did something, which he absolutely did not.” 

Enfield Town Supervisor Stephanie Redmond wholeheartedly agreed with Lynch’s letter, but still suggested tabling the matter until their next meeting to allow for others to read his words in advance of a possible vote.

“I follow the story and I am equally appalled with the actions of this police force that has been, I feel inappropriately formed and utilized,” she later elaborated.

Although the initial resolution passed unanimously, Lynch’s second resolution has been set aside for further review until their next town board meeting on Wednesday, December 8.