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SENECA PRESIDENT ASKS PATAKI TO CLARIFY POSITION ON LAND CLAIM

The president of the Seneca Nation of Indians has asked Gov. Pataki for clarification of the state's position on settling the tribe's Grand Island land claim.

Michael W. Schindler noted that in recent days Pataki has said the state is working to resolve Indian land claim cases, while state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco has said the state intends to fight the Grand Island claim.

"Given your statement and Mr. Vacco's statements, we do not know who is speaking for New York on this matter," Schindler wrote Thursday to Pataki.

He expressed hope that the issue can be settled out of court.

Noting Vacco's comment last Friday that he "is not in a settling mood," Schindler described the attorney general's position as "particularly unfortunate."

The Senecas' 5-year-old claim contesting the 1815 sale of Grand Island to New York State got a boost when the U.S. Justice Department agreed that Congress never ratified the sale.

"While we prefer a resolution of the case that does not displace any homeowners," Schindler wrote, "the nation and the United States are fully prepared to litigate the case. It is up to the state how this case will proceed from here."

Schindler denied Vacco's contention that the Senecas are using the Grand Island claim to obtain land -- not necessarily on Grand Island -- or money for a casino.

"Since before the case was filed," Schindler wrote, "the Seneca Nation has steadfastly refused to engage in gaming activity.

"Gaming was actually voted down in one tribal referendum in 1994.

"Only recently have tribal members requested a second referendum on gaming. That referendum is now scheduled for May. I can assure you that there has never been a link between gaming and the Grand Island case."

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