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U.S. transfers Cayuga Nation land into trust marking historic moment in the Finger Lakes

After 18 years of waiting, the Cayuga Nation has finally received approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to transfer land within its historic reservation boundaries into trust. The decision was delivered earlier today by Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, who notified Clint Halftown, Heron Clan member of the Cayuga Nation Council and federal-representative for the Nation.

The Cayuga Nation submitted its fee-to-trust application in April 2005, making it the longest pending trust application before the BIA. Despite years of delay and opposition, the BIA rejected the Nation’s application in July 2020, causing the Nation to challenge the decision in court. In December 2021, the BIA withdrew its decision and announced that it would reconsider the Nation’s application, leading to yesterday’s decision.

The trust application’s approval will place 101 acres of land in Cayuga County in federal trust status. The Nation currently operates a number of businesses on the newly acquired land, including an electronic gaming facility, a gas station, and a convenience store. The revenues from these businesses will fund services for the Nation’s citizens.

Although the trust land represents a small portion of the Nation’s reservation in Cayuga and Seneca Counties, the decision reaffirms the Cayuga Nation’s rights under the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua and sends a clear message to those who questioned the Nation’s sovereignty.

Halftown expressed his gratitude to the BIA and Assistant Secretary Newland for approving the application. “Today is a historic day for the Nation and its citizens. We applaud the BIA and Assistant Secretary Newland for seeing the merit of our application and having the courage to approve it after all this time,” he said in a press release.

The Cayuga Nation was landless for almost 200 years due to a series of illegal land sales to the State of New York in 1795 and 1807. Since 2005, the Nation has acquired over 1,200 acres of its homeland and used that land to offer housing and start businesses that support its citizens. The Cayuga Nation plans to transfer more of its fee-owned land into trust to continue building a strong economic foundation for its citizens.

The decision’s impact extends beyond the Nation’s acquisition of additional land. The BIA’s approval reaffirms the Cayuga Nation’s sovereignty and sends a clear message to those who have opposed it. Mr. Halftown called upon local leaders to accept the BIA’s decision and stop wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits.