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U.S. ASKED NOT TO PUSH INDIAN CLAIMS

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, is calling on Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to reverse Janet Reno's policy of "aggressively prosecuting Indian land-claim cases" in New York State.

Reynolds, in a letter to Ashcroft, called on the new attorney general to refrain from intervening in any new cases against the state's residents and to study whether the Department of Justice can withdraw as an active participant from several lawsuits pending across the state.

"(The lawsuits) have caused divisiveness, anxiety and outright anger across New York State," Reynolds said Saturday from the federal building on West Huron Street. "Under the previous administration, little was done to ease the fears of local homeowners, who had nothing to do with what may or may not have happened 200 years ago."

The most prominent case locally involves the Seneca Nation of Indians and Tonawanda Band of Senecas, who claim that Grand Island was never conveyed properly to the state.

The Town of Grand Island and the state don't agree.

Last month, the federal government ended its attempt to make 6,000 individual property owners liable in the land-claim suit on the island but still seeks to hold the state liable if the Senecas win their lawsuit. The Senecas continue to name the property owners in the suit.

For that reason and others, Reynolds is calling for the Justice Department to end its involvement here and across the state, if possible.

"The fact that these nations are acting against the stated wishes of the (Department of Justice) even while receiving assistance from (the department) is reason enough to remove your department from these proceedings," Reynolds' letter to Ashcroft said.

However, simply removing the Department of Justice from the cases will not prevent Indian nations from proceeding with any suit they wish to file, Reynolds conceded.

"(Indian groups) would still receive assistance from the federal government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs . . . but the residents of this community have a reasonable expectation that the entire federal government isn't lined up against them."

The Senecas claim the 1815 sale of Grand Island and several other smaller Niagara River islands to New York State was never properly ratified by Congress, pursuant to a 1790 federal law.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara is continuing his evaluation of summary motions filed by both sides of that land-claim issue.

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