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IT'S TIME FOR ALL SENECAS TO SETTLE BLOODY DISPUTE

GREED AND power.

Is it worth the price? The price of three men's lives?

Their blood stains the steps of the administration building on the Seneca's Cattaraugus Reservation. It glistened in the midday sun Saturday, on the pavement near the side door. A large, dark red pool of it, signifying the end of the universe for three men, a light gone dark.

Is that worth the control of a multimillion-dollar gas and tobacco empire? Is it worth holding the reins on the $60 million dropped in the Nation's lap by a land settlement a few years ago?

The settlement brought big bucks into the Nation's politics. It transformed a quaint curiousity replete with legal vote-buying into a high-stakes business involving white lawyers and Wall Street.

There were no men lying in pools of blood before the big money came.

Both sides need to think about that. Both sides -- the Seneca Party, the reservation's equivalent of a political machine, and the supporters of Dennis Bowen, who was elected president last November.

The dead men were Seneca Party sympathizers. They apparently launched an alcohol-fueled assault on the administrative building, held by Bowen people.

There is grief and there is regret on the reservation today. There should also be something else. There should be shame.

"We were told in our prophecies that this time would come," Bowen said Saturday morning, fighting back tears. "It would be money, alcohol and greed that would destroy our people."

Said Karen Bucktooth of the Seneca Party, "I urge everyone, regardless of their political views, to come together and find a way to end the violence."

Violence is where all of this inevitably led. The guns, the alcohol, the vote-buying. The vote-buying that allows people -- mainly Seneca Party people, who have most of the money -- to attain power with questionable popular support.

The Seneca Party includes the businessmen who own the bigger smoke shops and gas stations, tax-free enterprises. It controls the 16-member Tribal Council, which "impeached" Bowen and appointed Ms. Bucktooth in January. Which, a year ago, passed a law stripping the presidency of power and patronage.

Still, both sides are to blame for the months-long failure to reach an accommodation.

It almost happened recently, when a man known to many died of a heart attack.

"There was a big funeral, and everyone had to look each other in the face," said Laurie White, a Bowen supporter. "Things seemed to calm down after that."

That's what happens when people are reminded of their similarities. When the human connection outweighs power and greed, as it always should. Particularly when fewer than 3,000 people live on the two area reservations. This is a place where everybody, indeed, knows your name.

Or is a relative.

Myron Kettle's alcohol-fueled 64th birthday party apparently planted the violent seed. Kettle was one of the dead men Saturday. His son, Rich, is a Bowen supporter who was inside the administration building.

But to focus on relative vs. relative is to miss the larger picture.

I spent time on the reservation after a shooting earlier this month. I spoke with numerous residents and talked to experts in Indian affairs.

The sense I got is Bowen has most of the popular support, including the backing of the elders, who are held in high esteem.

Many on the reservation are suspicious of Seneca Party officials. They wonder about the business connections of some, whether they put self-interest ahead of the public interest.

"Elected officials are supposed to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest," said John Mohawk, reservation resident and associate professor of American Studies at the University at Buffalo. "The Seneca Party has not done a good job of it."

For months, each side has occupied its respective "fort," sleeping in shifts. The Seneca Party is in the Saylor Building. Bowen supporters are a alf-mile down Route 438 in the administrative building -- along with the records of Nation business, which they suspect hold evidence of Seneca Party chicanery.

"If we lose that building," said Laurie White, "the fight is over."

The fight is now over for three men, armed and made stupid by alcohol. Stupid enough to launch what, authorities said, amounted to a Wild West assault on a rival "fort."

Now there are distraught relatives, grieving friends. Both sides are devastated. Everyone is calling for peace.

Three men are dead. It should be enough to kill the lust for political power, to dampen the lure of greed.

Enough for all concerned to say "enough."

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