Indian affairs office for state?
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| By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
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First published: Monday, January 26, 2009
| Amid an escalating war of words between the Seneca Indian Nation and state government, aides to Gov. David Paterson are talking about recreating an Office of Indian Affairs, an executive-branch unit with "job lines" formerly held in the Department of Economic Development, which Paterson proposes to trim through merger.
The office was created under Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, but abandoned under Gov. George Pataki. The office would help Native American governments work with state agencies and negotiate with tribes on a myriad of thorny issues, including taxation. Cuomo’s original executive order should give Paterson the ability to fill slots without going to the Legislature.
Several tribal members say relations with the state have been poor recently, especially after Paterson signed into law a cigarette taxation bill that is supposed to take effect Feb. 13.
All this has made for a potentially volatile situation at the Seneca reservations, recalling tax revolts in 1992 and 1997 that closed a part of the Thruway and the internal fighting that led to three deaths in 1995.
Several tribal representatives, including Seneca leaders, went to Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., but other than Ray Halbritter of the Oneida, no New York tribal leaders came to Albany for Paterson’s State of the State address — an event that commonly draws a few chiefs or tribal presidents.
The inauguration of Obama, dubbed "Black Eagle" by the Crow, is believed to have drawn a record number of tribal members, estimated in the thousands, because he is seen as a friend of Native Americans, said Randi Rourke, a Mohawk and an editor of Indian Country Today.
Catskills sports book
A new bill would allow three privately owned casinos in one Catskills county to offer all the gambling options available in Las Vegas — including betting on professional sports.
The measure, introduced by Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) and state Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), is unlike any other piece of legislation ever produced in the long history of attempts to get casinos up and running in Sullivan County.
The legislation would call for changing the state constitution to allow the casinos, currently allowed only if built by a Native American tribe on tribal property or on grounds held in trust by the U.S. government for a tribe.
The two lawmakers have hedged their bets: They also introduced a separate bill that would simply change the constitution to allow for any type of casino in Sullivan County.
As for the highly lucrative sports wagering, the lawmakers put it in just in case the federal government changes its prohibition on such betting, currently allowed only in states grandfathered under a 1992 U.S. law: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.
Getting sports books in New York would be a difficult lift. Even if the federal government opened the door, professional leagues would fight such attempts.
The process of changing the constitution, which requires two Legislatures and the public to pass resolutions, would play out through 2011 at the earliest.
Reach Odato at 454-5083 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.