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The U.S. government will decide within 10 days which of the two would-be Seneca Nation presidents it will recognize.

Both would-be presidents -- reformer Dennis J. Bowen Sr. and Seneca Party member Karen Bucktooth -- and their lawyers met here Wednesday with representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

And while federal officials refused to answer inquiries about the three-hour meeting, both sides in the Seneca Nation dispute acknowledged that the agency had said it will make its decision within 10 days.

The decision will not resolve who is really president of the Seneca Nation, which is an internal matter for the Western New York Indian tribe. But the U.S. officials will determine which faction will get $1.4 million in federal aid that is due to the Seneca Nation.

"We felt it was a very powerful meeting," said Bowen, who was elected as Seneca Nation president by three votes last November and who has subsequently ignored the Tribal Council's effort to impeach him. "We're very confident about what the result will be."

Mrs. Bucktooth, who was selected by the council Feb. 11 to replace Bowen, quickly rushed into a cab after the meeting and could not be reached for comment. But the Seneca Party's lawyer, Joseph Crangle, said: "The only option they (the federal officials) have is to recognize the Tribal Council's decision."

Bowen stressed that the federal officials "are not stepping in to solve anything." He said they are merely trying to determine whom they should do business with as Seneca Nation president.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has to make that determination because it owes the Seneca Nation its annual payment for housing programs, adult education and other social services.

After the meeting, Crangle left the federal offices through a back entrance in hopes of avoiding an angry crowd of about 20 Bowen supporters, who stood in front of the building carrying signs that said, among others: "Strangle Crangle -- legal crook."

Reporters pursued Crangle, however, and were quickly followed by a handful of the Bowen backers. One of them, who identified himself as Virgil Seneca, pushed a reporter aside, shoved his face into Crangle's face and shouted repeatedly: "Who ordered the shots at the building, Crangle?"

That prompted Crangle to run into traffic on a busy suburban boulevard to find a cab. By the time he found one, the crowd of Bowen supporters had caught up and surrounded the cab, shoving their placards into the windows and shouting: "Can you read these, Crangle? Are you deaf?"

The cab driver, who also picked up Mrs. Bucktooth, then drove away. Crangle could not be reached for comment.

Seneca later said he was asking Crangle about an incident Sunday night, in which gunshots hit the tribe's William Seneca office building.

The nation's government has been virtually paralyzed by the struggle between Bowen and the Tribal Council.

Two people were beaten and a man was shot during a confrontation Feb. 27 when Bowen supporters attempted to take the Saylor Building on the Cattaraugus Reservation back from Seneca Party supporters of Mrs. Bucktooth.

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