Two national Indian leaders are on the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus and Allegany reservations, trying to mediate a bitter political dispute that contributed to the deaths of three men last weekend.
"I had hoped that all the Seneca people would be eager to begin talks leading toward peace," said Wabun-Inini, a Chippewa Indian mediator, "so that the deaths of Myron Kettle and two other men would not have been totally in vain. "
Although one Seneca president, Dennis Bowen Sr., has agreed to the mediation efforts, the other president, Karen Bucktooth, rejected the offer.
And she identified Wabun-Inini as Vernon Bellecourt, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement whose name is inevitably linked with the 1973 armed take-over of the reservation at Wounded Knee, S.D.
Mrs. Bucktooth also pointed a finger at Bowen, claiming that his association with the movement "goes back 25 years."
"Anyone with ties to militancy is unwelcome here," she said, "including Bowen's past cronies."
Mrs. Bucktooth also noted that there are two federal mediators now on the reservations.
"I see no reason to change horses in mid-stream," she said.
The mediation efforts occurred as funerals for the three men killed Saturday were held here and in Canada.
Traditional Iroquois Indian funeral services were held for Myron Kettle, 62, Patrick Thompson, 29, and Samuel Powless, 25.
Thompson's funeral took place at his mother's home on the Cattaraugus reservation, while Kettle's was held at a tribal office building a few hundred yards from where he was shot. Powless' funeral was held on the Six Nations Reserve near Hamilton, Ont.
"It was peaceful," said Gerald Mack, chief of detectives for the Erie County Sheriff's Department. "There was a very heavy presence of both our department and state troopers that I am sure helped to avoid any possible confrontations."
The dead men were supporters of Mrs. Bucktooth and her Seneca Party, which has been in a struggle for control of the Seneca Nation since Bowen was elected president Nov. 1.
Bowen was later impeached by Seneca Party members on the Tribal Council, which then appointed Mrs. Bucktooth president. The two competing factions occupy two different administrative buildings on the Cattaraugus Reservation, and one was the site where the three were slain during a gun battle Saturday morning.
Bowen said he was "disappointed" that Mrs. Bucktooth did not accept the Indian mediators.
"They are deeply spiritual and committed to the well-being of all Indians," Bowen said. "It is critical that a healing process for our nation begin."
Wabun-Inini has been president of the American Indian Arbitration Institute of Minneapolis for the past 25 years.
"It is regrettable," Wabun-Inini said, "to reject us with an excuse of our association with AIM.
"We have successfully negotiated issues for Indian tribes across the country and for the last several years have been used by the Communications Relations Department of the (U.S.) Justice Department.
"Just last year, they asked us to mediate an armed stand-off between the Paugeeshug Nation near Colchester, Conn., and that state's law officers."
Wabun-Inini said he and Michael Haney, a Seminole from Oklahoma, will stay and continue to try help resolve the conflict.
"But let me also emphasize that we are not here to decide who is the president of the Seneca Nation," Wabun-Inini said. "Only the Seneca people can make that decision.
"However, what has happened on Seneca territory has affected our tribes across the country."
Haney, who is vice president and executive director of the American Indian Arbitration Institute, called Bowen and offered the institute's services immediately after hearing of Saturday's violence.
Haney said he was confident that he and Wabun-Inini would be able to help.
"I brought with me the power of the Cheyenne Keeper of the Arrows, a most sacred person of the Northern and Southern Cheyenne tribes," he said. "He performed a special ceremony for me before I left Oklahoma.
"It was a ceremony that he told me he did for Cheyenne people who went to Vietnam, and they did not lose one Cheyenne warrior. Everyone came back."
Haney said Indian leaders will be very troubled to learn that some Seneca leaders took their fight for control of the Seneca Nation to a state court.
"This could have been the kiss of death for the nation's sovereignty and affected the sovereign status of every tribe in this country," he said.
One of the first moves some members of the tribal council made, in their effort to remove Bowen from the presidency, was to ask the State Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction in the dispute.
U. S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara subsequently ruled against state jurisdiction.