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Duane J. "Jim" Ray, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, may be facing the toughest battle of his short political career.

At a meeting next Saturday, the tribal council is to consider a request to open impeachment proceedings against Ray, who has been entangled in a power struggle with the councilors -- including those from his own Seneca Party -- for most of his first year in office.

A simple majority of the 16-member council can impeach the president.

One of the casualties of the internal struggle has been a high stakes Indian gambling casino in Western New York.

"There can be no casino negotiations until the mess in the president's office is cleaned up," a high-ranking Seneca official insisted. "We must do everything possible to insure that if there ever is a casino, it is kept free of any suspicion of crime-related activities and its profits are used only for the good of the entire nation."

Ray, who could not be reached to comment Friday, has persisted in his attempts to override the casino compact negotiating team appointed by the tribal council by naming his own executive negotiating team.

He also has held secret meetings with members of Gov. Pataki's negotiating team and with interested casino developers both in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

Official negotiations with the state have been in limbo more than 14 months since the nation approved a referendum allowing nation leaders to negotiate a gaming compact with New York.

The compact would have to be approved in another nation referendum, and if a casino was built, it would have to be on Seneca land outside the Cattaraugus and Allegany Reservations.

Ray was elected president on Nov. 3, 1998, when the Seneca Party, after a four year hiatus, swept the entire slate and regained control of the Indian government.

Rumbles for impeachment of Ray have been circulating through both the Cattaraugus and Allegany Reservations for the past several months as many Senecas, especially younger members, have grown impatient and frustrated with the casino compact impasse.

The door for impeachment was opened this week when Robert Jones filed the impeachment request charging that Ray refused to enforce a direct order of the nation's appellate court and of the tribal council.

Jones won a two-year court battle with Ross John Jr. for possession of a 20-acre tract of land on the Cattaraugus Reservation.

Jones plans to build a gas station on the property, which is located across the highway from John's gas station and smoke shop.

In April and again on Aug. 31, the tribal council directed Ray to enforce the eviction of John's sister, Beverly Snyder, from the house on the property but Ray has failed to act.

John, one of the most successful businessmen in the nation and former leader of the Seneca Party, backed and helped finance Ray's election.

"I have little doubt that once the impeachment hearings begin, there will be many more complaints brought against Jim Ray for actions he has taken as president," Jones said.

"Ray seems to have forgotten that the last word in how our nation functions comes from our tribal council, not the president," Jones said.

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